Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Confusion Over Roofing Defects

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  When we bought our house, the home inspector identified several roof defects and recommended repairs by a licensed roofing contractor. The seller hired a roofing contractor to repair the conditions in the inspection report. But now we are having leaks in places that were not mentioned in the inspection report. Do we have recourse against the inspector?  Frank

Dear Frank:  The home inspector identified the fact that roof repairs were needed. It is possible that he failed to recognize other problem areas. However, it is also possible for a roof to leak in places where there are no visible defects. You should call your inspector and ask for a re-inspection of the places where the recent leaking occurred.

You should also ask the roofing contractor to attend that meeting. It was the job of the roofing contractor to review the entire roof to make sure that there were no visible defects besides the ones mentioned in the inspection report. If the contractor merely repaired the reported defect, without reviewing the entire roof, then he was not doing a thorough job.

Another possibility is that the roofing contractor did review the entire roof and did discover additional defects. In that case, it would have been the seller’s decision whether to pay for the additional repairs.

Whatever circumstances led to the lack of adequate roof repair will be matters for discussion when you meet with the inspector and the contractor.


Did Sellers Commit Insurance Fraud?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We are buying a home and have received the sellers’ disclosure statement. The sellers say they received an insurance payment for hail damage on the roof, but they admit that the repairs were never done. We have two questions about this: Did the sellers commit insurance fraud by receiving payment for roof damages, without completing the repairs?  And, are the sellers obligated now to repair the roof?  Jen

Dear Jen: The sellers would only be guilty of insurance fraud if the claim for hail damage had been false. If the insurance company paid for actual damages, then the sellers had the choice to spend the money on repairs or to accept the money as compensation for the loss. What matters in this case is that the sellers honestly disclosed that there are unrepaired roof damages.

The sellers are currently under no obligation to repair the roof, although you can request repairs as part of your negotiations with them. What is needed now is a professional evaluation of the roof by a qualified home inspector or roofing contractor. Once you know the extent of the damages, you can decide whether repair or replacement of the roof is needed. With this information, you’ll be better prepared to negotiate with the sellers.

Home Inspector vs. Roofing Contractor

Dear Barry: I am presently buying my first home and am bothered by a difference of opinion between my home inspector and the seller’s roofing contractor. My home inspector has 20 years of experience. He found the shingles to be worn and brittle, with two years of remaining life. But the seller’s roofing contractor says the roof has five years of life. My agent says we should get a third opinion, but I’m thinking of canceling the deal. Why can’t the experts agree on the condition of the roof?  Mikel

Dear Mikel: No one can assign an exact amount of remaining life for roof shingles. It is a subjective assessment, not an exact, scientific prediction. Whether two years or five years, the point is the same: The shingles show significant signs of aging and wear and have limited remaining life. They will soon need replacement.

If you really want the house, try to negotiate a cash credit for roof replacement as part of the deal. That would be reasonable for a roof with 2 to 5 years of remaining life. The amount of the credit should be based on a labor and material estimate from a licensed roofing contractor. For that purpose, it would be wise to take your agent’s advice regarding a third opinion from another contractor.

Buyers Demand New Roof From Sellers

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Before we sold our house, I repaired a roof leak above the bedroom, and just to confirm that the repair was good, I climbed into the attic during the next two heavy rains. No leaking occurred. The people who bought the house hired a home inspector. He didn’t find any problems with the condition of the roof, but he disclosed the water stains in the attic and recommended further evaluation of the roof by a licensed roofing contractor. The buyers did not follow that advice and proceeded with the purchase. A few weeks later, it rained again and two roof leaks occurred. When the buyers contacted us, we asked them to get three written estimates for roof repairs. Instead, they sent us one estimate for a completely new roof. We repeated our request for three repair estimates, but they insisted that we should replace the entire roof. What do you think we should do?  Lesley

Dear Lesley: The buyers were advised by their home inspector to have the roof evaluated by a licensed roofing contractor. They chose not to follow that advice. By disregarding the inspector’s expressed recommendation, they failed to exercise due diligence and are therefore in no position to make demands at this time. By waiving the home inspector’s recommendation, they were, in effect, accepting the roof in as-is condition.

A second vital point is that their home inspector did not cite any physical damage or other observable defects on the roofing itself. He merely reported evidence of past leakage in the form of water stains in the attic. If roof replacement is necessary, that fact should have been reported by the home inspector. The lack of such disclosure indicates that the home inspector regarded the roof as needing possible repair, rather than total replacement.

Given the buyers’ acceptance of the roof as reported by their home inspector, and given the inspector’s lack of major defect disclosures, it would appear that the buyers’ demand for a new roof is unreasonable and overreaching. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee that they will not continue to pressure you for a new roof or to use legal pressure to achieve that end.

What you need at this point is a detailed written report of the roof’s condition by a qualified expert, with lots of pictures of the existing roof. It would also help to have the buyers’ home inspector reinspect the roof to see whether he will confirm or alter his original findings. If the buyers are intent upon pursuing the demand for a new roof, they should cooperate with this discovery process.

Walking the Line on Roof Inspections

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I find it hard to understand why home inspectors refuse to walk on concrete tile roofs. I know handymen, cable guys, chimney sweeps, and others who walk on tile roofs all the time and never break a single tile. But home inspectors routinely wimp-out on tile roof inspections, choosing to inspect from the ground, sometimes using binoculars. In my opinion, inspectors who do this are shortchanging their customers. To put it bluntly, there is no way to perform an adequate inspection of roofing tiles from the ground. To do a competent inspection, it is necessary to walk on the roof. What is your opinion on this? Brad

Dear Brad: You raise some valid issues about tile roof inspections, but clarification is needed on a few points. It is true that the best roof inspections include a walk on the roof. It is also true that roof tiles don’t break easily underfoot. Nevertheless, nearly all home inspectors refuse to walk on tile roofs, and here is the reason why:

The majority of tile roofs have one or more broken tiles. In most cases, these are not visible from the ground and are unknown to homeowners. When a home inspector walks on a tile roof that is believed to have no broken tiles and then reports that some broken tiles were observed, the inspector can then be blamed for breaking those tiles in the course of the inspection. This has actually happened to a number of inspectors and is the reason that nearly all home inspectors use other inspection methods for tile roofing.

Fortunately, it is possible, in most cases, to conduct a thorough roof inspection without walking on the tiles. On single story buildings, a competent inspector can place a ladder against the eaves at various places around the building, providing full view of all or most roof surfaces. A comprehensive evaluation of roofing tiles can then be performed from atop the ladder. With second story roofs, decks and balconies enable ladder placement against the eaves. For second story roofs that can only be inspected from the ground, a good pair of binoculars provides an adequate close-up view of the tiles in most instances.

In the minority of cases where the tiles are not viewable by these any of these methods, the inspector should report that the roof inspection was limited and that further evaluation by a roofing contractor is advised.

Dear Barry: The home we just purchased has a swimming pool that leaks badly, but we were not told about this leak before we bought the property. The repairs are estimated to be several thousand dollars. Do we have any recourse against the sellers for not telling us about this problem? Rod

Dear Rod: Whether you have legal recourse against the sellers depends upon the disclosure laws in your state. In most states, full disclosure of known defects is a requirement.

If the sellers lived on the property, they must have known the pool was leaking because the water level would have gone down continually. The sellers should be formally notified about this breach of disclosure. If they are unwilling to address the issue, you should consult an attorney for advice.