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.

Roof Defects Overlooked by Home Inspector

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We’ve owned our home for nearly a year and now have a complaint about our home inspector. During the inspection, he spent about 10 minutes walking on the roof and then reported that there were no problems with the shingles or the skylights. When we asked him about the ceiling stains, he said they were from old roof leaks that had been repaired. But when the rains came, we had leaks all over, especially at the skylights. The leaking, in fact, was so bad that we had to replace the roof. According to our roofing contractor, cracked shingles were patched in many places, especially near the skylights. He also found three layers of roofing overall and four layers in some places. If we had known the roof was no good, we’d have negotiated with the seller, but we accepted the roof on the basis of a false inspection report. Is the home inspector liable for roof replacement? Kerry

Dear Kerry: According to your description of the roof, the extent of leakage, and the lack of disclosure in the inspection report, it would appear that your home inspector was professionally negligent. On that basis, he could be liable for some or all of the costs of roof replacement, depending on the liability limitations set by state laws and those that that are contained in the inspection agreement.

Some home inspection contracts require that you inform the inspector of problems prior to having them repaired. When home inspectors are denied the opportunity to reinspect conditions that are subject to dispute, their accountability may be nullified. If you replaced your roof without inviting your inspector for a second look, you may have relieved him of legal liability.

When home inspectors properly evaluate roofs, they disclose defects that are visible and accessible at the time. That is their primary purpose and objective, or at least should be. If your inspector surveyed the roof by walking its surface, he should have reported all pertinent conditions that were visible, including cracked shingles that had been patched. If multiple roof layers were discernible, he should have disclosed that also, especially since the number of layers was at and beyond the legal limit. If he observed ceiling stains, he should have reported these as evidence of potential leakage, rather than assuming that prior roof repairs had been successful. He should not have assumed that the ceiling stains were old or unrelated to current roof conditions. No home inspector can determine the age of water stains by visual examination. And in most cases, leak status can only be confirmed if the home is inspected on a rainy day.

It may or may not be too late to call the home inspector to account for the lack of adequate roof disclosure. Hopefully, you took plenty of photos before having the shingles replaced. If so, you should contact the inspector for a full review and reconsideration of these conditions. If he denies liability, you can seek legal advice to determine the strength of your position.