Buying a new home is a huge life decision. Prospective buyers know they need to make sure their new dream home has a sound foundation and safe electrical wiring, but inspecting the roof is often overlooked. This is surprising, considering how integral roofs are to protecting a home, and how expensive a new roof can be.
According to the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association, roof deficiencies are the most common problem reported by home inspectors. But as we’ll explain, you won’t want to rely on just the home inspection. A certified Roof Inspector will be much more thorough and will be able to warn you about major upcoming expenses.
First Impressions: Inspecting the Roof Yourself
You can start to get an idea of the condition of a roof from the moment you go to view a potential home. Look for damaged or missing shingles on the roof, dry rot, and the condition of the gutters. Can you see moss growing on the roof? Is the roof sagging on one side?
When you can spot major problems from the ground, then you know there are likely to be costly repairs needed in the new future. If you know you won’t have the capital to buy the home and repair or even replace the roof, then you’ll know right off the bat that this home is not for you, before you spend money on a home inspection and roof certification.
However, buyers should be aware that in all likelihood, the homes you’re looking at will have roofs with some degree of wear and tear. Houses on the market will not usually have a new roof unless they have just been built.
So your goal is to find out where in its lifespan this particular roof is. How old is it? Has it been properly maintained? How long before major repairs or a complete re-roof are needed? What quality of shingle was used? In our hot Texas summers, you’ll be lucky to get 15 years out of a standard 3-tab shingle, while the more high-end architectural shingles could last up to 25 years, and metal roofing can last 50 years or more.
What Do You Need to Know About the Roof Before Buying a Home?
In order to make an informed decision, you need a few crucial documents:
How Much Will This Cost?
We know you’ll be wanting to save your pennies when you’re just about to shell out a lot of money on a new home, so you are probably wondering how much this will cost you. The average cost for a roof inspection is $650 and the average cost of a home inspection is between $500 to $700.
But in context, this is a very worthwhile investment. Paying for both a home and roof inspection is a small price relative to repair costs if there is something very wrong with the roof that you were unaware of.
How to Choose a Home Inspector and Roofing Contractor
Your real estate agent will often be able to recommend inspectors they have worked with but. But, as with all recommendations,a lot depends on how you feel about the recommender.
You can really argue both sides of the coin on this one. On one hand, your realtor is anxious to close the deal and collect their commission. On the other hand, a qualified home inspector is important to an agent’s business and their reputation. If you trust your realtor, then you can generally trust their recommendations – but be wary of any real estate agent who insists you use only their approved inspectors.
Why Do You Need a Roof Certificate as Well as a Home Inspection?
If you are detail-oriented and want to know exactly is and isn’t included in the home inspection, read on. However, if you would rather skip over the details and get to the point, OK!
Here’s the bottom line: a home inspection does not thoroughly inspect the full health of your roof. The home inspector could miss crucial warning sighs that will cost a lot of money in upcoming years. ($5,000 to $10,000 for an average home, and $30,000 or more for a larger home with high-quality shingles.) A roof inspection will make sure you understand how much you’ll need to invest in the roof in the near future, so that you can negotiate the asking price or decide that this isn’t the house for you.
For our detail-oriented readers, under the Standards of Practices of the National Association of Home Inspectors, a home inspection should examine the roof components listed in the image below, note their condition, and if there are any signs of water penetration.
But here’s the important part: home inspectors are not required to walk on the roof or remove any debris to conduct their inspection. More often or not, they will do a roof inspection from the ground with binoculars, which is a rather limited way of assessing potential issues that could cost you. The image below shows what is and isn’t covered in a home inspection in relation to a house’s roof.
A more thorough and in-depth assessment can be requested by getting a licensed and certified roofing contractor to do a roof certificate. A roof inspector will walk on the roof for an in-person inspection and will go into the attic to thoroughly examine the roof’s interior. You should expect a roofing certificate to:
- Report any movement on the roof
- Report the condition of the roof and roofing shingles
- Report the condition of flashing around roof vents, pipes, valleys, chimneys and HVAC mountings
- Report the condition of ridges, drip edges and caps
- Note the performance of drains, gutters and downspouts
- Estimate the lifespan left on the roof
- Note whether any repairs are required
- Determine whether the existing manufacturer’s warranty is valid and transferable to a new buyer
- Verify that routine maintenance and emergency repairs were conducted in accordance with the terms of both the workmanship and materials warranty, ensuring the potential buyer is covered
If a roof doesn’t require any repairs, the roofer will estimate the remaining years of life for the roof and issue the certificate, which is usually good for 2 to 5 years. However, if repairs are needed, they will not issue the certificate until after the repairs have been made.
Make sure you review both the home inspection and the roof certificate carefully. It is amazing how many homeowners just read the summary! There are plenty of smaller issues that may not get listed in the summary, but could add up to something major, so don’t get caught out. Some roof certificates include a warranty and you’ll want to ensure you are clear about whether yours does or not.
Does a Bad Roof Inspection Mean I Shouldn’t Buy the House?
Getting a thorough report on your roof will help you decide if your purchase aligns with your personal goals and budget. If the house you love does need roof repairs, then by doing a little homework you can better understand the financial impact now and in the future. A couple of questions that may impact your decision will be:
- How long do you plan to live in your new home?
- Do you have the budget to make any immediate roof repairs, and will the seller work with you on that?
- What other additional repairs are needed in the foreseeable future, how much will they add up to?
If the roof requires some major repairs upfront, you may wonder whose responsibility is it to pay for them. It depends! Normally, roof repairs can be negotiable, but it can also depend on how far in to the process you are and whether your initial offer is contingent on your approval of the inspection results. Your estate agent should be knowledgeable on how to navigate this process. It’s also important to consider market conditions. In a seller’s market your bargaining power will be greatly reduced. If the repairs are serious, such as mold, the buyer is likely to have more leverage.
What to Do if There Are Issues With the Roof
If you have discovered significant roof issues, you have a few options.
- Accept the house “as-is.”
- Lower your offer by how much the repairs will cost. (Make sure you get several quotes!)
- Ask the seller to fix the roof problems. (However, be wary that the seller may hire the cheapest contractor they can find to fix the repair. Their goal is going to be to save money, so you might end up with a roof repair lacking in quality.)
- Back out of the sale, as allowed under the inspection contingency in your contract.
Sometimes a roof can be in such poor condition that it’s best to walk away. Of course, this will vary depending on each buyer’s budget, expectations and how much they want the home, but here area few roof issues that should give you pause for thought before signing on the dotted line.
There is structural damage to the roof. Replacing cracked or deteriorating roof beams is a huge up-front expense for a homeowner. You may also need to be a cash buyer, as obtaining financing on a structurally damaged property can be all but impossible.
Signs of previous water damage. Roof leaks are never good. Make sure the home inspector checks the root cause and how much damage there was throughout the house. Water damage can cause mold, structural instability, and all kinds of problems that are difficult to fix.
Age issues. Your insurance company or your lender may want a roof replaced simply because it’s too close to the end of its expected useful life.This is a preventative measure and doesn’t imply there is an actual “problem” with the current roof. The standard practices of insurance companies and lenders vary, so be sure to consult your insurance agent or lender about this if you’re looking at a house with less than ten years’ projected life remaining on the roof. Once the inspection period allowed in your contract has expired, it may be too late to negotiate on the basis of the roof needing to be replaced.
Building Code Issues. This is uncommon, but occasionally a roof has been replaced without the proper permits. Once you purchase a home, any building code violations become your problem. Without an inspection, you can’t know whether or not the roof is up to code. As the buyer,you need to ensure the situation is resolved prior to purchase. The resolution to the problem and how much trouble it requires will depend on the local building official. The official may simply do an inspection and issue the permit. More commonly, a bunch of fees will need to be paid along with a signed-and-sealed engineer’s report that states that the roof is installed to current code. Scarily, they can require the work to be redone from scratch!
We know we’ve given you a lot of information to digest in this article and brought up some of the more negative and worrying aspects of buying a home. However, if you reach out to certified roofing professionals to help you through the buying process, you can rest assured that there will be no roof-related surprises when you have moved into your new home. So you can sleep easy at night knowing that you have a good roof over your head! Good luck house hunting!