Roof Inspections — You get what you pay for

Yesterday I saw the face of a new homeowner go ashen when I showed her what the price of replacing her roof would be.  She had a home inspection and the inspector didn’t tell inform her of the extent of her roof problems.  As part of his quickie-inspection he recommended in his report that she have a roofer do a separate inspection prior to purchasing.  (What you should look for in an inspection is at the end of this article.)

Are you sure you don’t have cedar shake underneath your shingles? It’s best to find out before your roof is torn off and you have thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses.

Instead of paying for an inspection, she called a roofing company for a free estimate.  That “free” estimate she got is going to cost her $18,000 when she replaces her roof.  It turns out that she has 3 layers of shingles plus a layer of cedar shake and requires complete redecking.  Had she paid for a qualified roofer to inspect it, she would have likely only spent about $100 and then she would have been well prepared to negotiate with the home seller to reduce the selling price by the cost of a new roof.

Understand that there is a difference between a free estimate, and an inspection.  Someone who understands intricacies of homes in your region and has taken the coursework needed to assess and solve problems is going to charge for an inspection if you do not own the home.

In recent years I’ve received an increasing amount of calls for people calling under the guise of getting a “free estimate” on a house they have an offer.  These calls are often inspired by people who have had a home inspector who included wording in the inspection report urging homeowners to have a roofer inspect the roof in addition to what they’ve paid the home inspector for.  Realtors often counsel people to make calls to get a free estimate and use that time to pick the brain of the roofer so they won’t reduce their own buying power or bear additional costs.  Many roofers have become savvy to this ruse and your better roofers will charge a nominal fee to at least cover their expenses.

So what should a roof inspection find, and what do you need to ask about if you have paid for an inspection?

Here’s a basic list of things I look for when inspecting a roof:

  • Are the shingles in good shape?
  • How many layers of shingles are on the house?
  • Is there proper ventilation?
  • If there is not proper ventilation, is there a way to improve or remediate the roof to provide ventilation?
  • If roof replacement were to be delayed, how many approximate years should the homeowner be expected to defer the project?  (How many years are left on the existing roof?)
  • Is there any damage that is happening on the inside that is evident to the homeowner that would provide me an area to focus some special attention on to sleuth out the cause of the damage?
  • Is there a uniformity in the shingles?
  • Do the cap shingles appear to be from the same manufacturer?
  • Are all perforations (vents and pipe flashings) properly sealed?
  • Is the chimney flashing in good shape?
  • How was the chimney flashed?
  • If there is some damage, how extensive is the damage and what is the cause of it?  If the cause can be discovered, is there a way to pinpoint the cause and remediate or solve the problem?
  • What kind of shape is the roof decking in and is it a suitable foundation onto which a new roof could be installed?
  • What would be a range of costs that would be incurred to solve any problem?
  • Are there options to solving the problem or is there only one solution?


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