The ROOF – Things you should know

Whether you are buying or selling real estate, or just trying to decide about your own roof replacement, there are a few things you should know about a roof. As I look out of my window, 95% of the neighbors have a composite shingle roof. So let’s talk about those.

When you are buying or selling a house with a composite shingle, do the math. The house next door to me has a 20 year shingle. The house next door to that one has a 30 year shingle. It is easy to tell a 20 year shingle, because the shingles lay flat, with almost no “definition”. As the shingles get thicker on a 25 year, 30 year, 35 year and up shingle, there is definition and a “layered” look. Even some of the best home inspectors can’t tell a 30 year from a 35 year shingle, so if you are a seller, and know you have a 35 year shingle, it would be good to tell your agent to highlight that feature, and you should also put it on your Seller Disclosure Form.

Sellers: Don’t forget to put GOOD things on the Seller Disclosure form, so it is not merely a highlighting of “bad” things. Add a list of good things, as an attachment if needed, and have the buyers initial the attachment too.

It took me about a week in the real estate business to learn the simple lessons of “roof math”. When I was selling my own home in Cherry Hill NJ, the home inspector went up the ladder to the roof. He came down and told the buyer that the roof was about 18 year’s old and may need to be replaced in 2 years, because it was a 20 year shingle. I said, “The house was built 8 year’s ago. Are you saying they found some 10 year old shingles to put on the roof of a new house?” I really wasn’t trying to be “flip” or nasty, it just popped out of my mouth like that in true “Philly” style.

Everyone should know how to do the simple math of a roof without relying on the inspector. Not because the inspector will be wrong, but because a roof can be just fine and still be “due” for replacement soon. I’m not going to go into second shingles and third shingles, because something tells me these will be obsolete in the future, given most roofs are no longer flat enough to go that way. I will mention roof color briefly. Mr. Cherry Hill Home Inspector was somewhat correct, in that it was a black shingle. Often black shingles will not make it to 20 years, while gray or tan ones can go to 23 or 25. Heat absorption issues. You see very few black roofs in year round sunny climates, like Florida and CA.

Buying a condo? Think you don’t need to look at the roof? Not so. A few weeks ago I attended a home inspection of a condo built in 1986. I walked across the street and climbed up on something to see the roof. The inspector and buyer said “What the heck are you doing over there?” I said I’m checking out the roof. The inspector said “Why? That is the condo association’s problem.” By then both the buyer and inspector joined me under my “perch”. I said look, it’s flat, it’s a 20 year shingle, right?” Inspector said yes. I said “This place was built in 1986. 1986 plus 20 equals 2006. When I get the resale certificate, I need to check to see if they have enough money in reserves to replace the roof, or warn the buyer about a possible special assessment. I need to check the Reserve Study for cost of replacement. I need to check the dollar amount currently in reserve for all replacement items. If there is not enough money there for all things, I need to divide the shortfall by the number of units, or prorate per total square footage of complex by unit size, and give a range of possible special assessment amount.

Buyers note: The condo association is YOU. There is no Fairy Godmother, named HOA, with a magic wand.

I’ll end with this “red flag” for both buyers and sellers. I ask the owner or listing agent, “How old is the roof, especially when I can’t do the math well on a 1917 built home…too many roof changes to do simple math. Owner responds: “I just had the roof checked and it’s fine.” Big red flag! That is not the correct answer to “How old is the roof” 🙂