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Roof Certifications and/or Home Inspections

You may only want to read this if you are buying or selling a home or if you know someone that is. If you are buying or selling a home many agreements of sale will call for a roof certification (cert) to be done. It will always state that the seller is to obtain the cert. This is always bad for the buyer. Whoever obtains the cert has the advantage at settlement. Also, keep in mind that in PA (where we are) all real estate agents (for both the buyer and the seller) must legally work only for the seller since that is who is paying all agent fees. The agents get paid from the seller only so they must only work for the seller.

Why a roof cert?
Most of the time a roof cert (short for certification) is not required by the bank. It is usually common practice for the buyer to ask for it in the agreement of sale along with other certs to try and get the most from the sale. A roof cert should not require a roof to be in good condition. After all, the buyer is allowed to buy an old house and fix it up. The purpose of a roof cert should be to tell the buyer what condition the roof is in so that the buyer can make a proper offer on the house. The cert should just be a report of the condition of the roof but most people go along with the notion that the cert should give a good report on the roof or the cert is invalid.

Getting an honest cert
The first thing to keep in mind is that you don't get a cert from the seller. In essence, you would be asking the seller to tell you the roof is good. Would you buy a used car without looking at it because the seller told you that his mechanic said it was in good condition? No, you would check it out yourself. You should get your own roofer to look at the roof. If the seller gets the cert you don't know anything about the roofer that wrote it up. Some people think that only certain roofers can give certs- roofers that are certified. There is no such thing. The word  “certification” means that a person is putting his reputation and experience behind what he is saying. In other words, it is his opinion. His opinion could be stretched to help out the seller, it could be faulty if he doesn't know what he is talking about or it could be deceptive.

It is absolutely absurd to ask a person you are buying something from to, in essence, tell you that his product is in good condition. If you fall for that one I have a bridge to sell you. Yet it is usually done this way. It's your job not to accept this method for your own protection.

If you get a cert from the seller you only get a pass-fail report with no mention of any details. If you get your own cert then you have a conversation with your roofer as to exactly what he found. Even minor things can be used for negotiations or the seller could have them fixed first.

A cert from the seller could easily be deceptive. There are roofers that will write up a cert without seeing it. You don't know where they got their roofer. Some roofers might have put on a bad roof for the seller in previous years and it is not supposed to go bad yet, therefore they have to give a good cert. They can't tell the seller their roof is bad. Or a roofer might know that a seller is not going to put on a new roof if they are moving so why not just give the cert and get some money out of them. After all, if they don't the seller can easily find someone else to give the cert

Also, if the seller gets the cert the buyer must specify the wording that is to be used. If the buyer has in the agreement of sale that the seller is to obtain a cert, that is all the seller has to do. Many times agreements of sale don't specify that the cert show that the roof is in good condition; only that a cert be obtained.

There are many ways to write a cert to get it passed settlement. If a roof is bad and the roofer writing the cert doesn't want to lie then he can play with words. I have seen many certs that just say that “the roof does not leak at time of inspection”. This doesn't say that the roof is good only that it doesn't leak. That's like selling a used car and saying that it runs. It may not run tomorrow but today it does.

A seller may tell the roofer to coat the roof. This usually looks good at settlement. Some people think that if it was coated it must be in good condition. Others think that a coating is like a new roof. If a cert only says that the roof was recently coated that does not say anything about the condition. After all, it is possible to paint rotted wood so why should coating a roof mean anything?

A cert might also state that the “main roof is in good condition”. If the “main” roof is mentioned does that mean there are other roofs or shingles that have been left out of the cert? They were probably left out because they are too bad to mention.

It is up to the buyer or their representative to scrutinize a cert if they are forced to accept one from the seller. The problem is no one ever reads them. If the roofer does not lie it could be obvious that the cert still is meaningless and says nothing about the roof  but usually someone just checks off on a list that the cert was obtained. Read it and ask questions in advance of settlement.

I have come across many roofs that have problems where the new owner has lived there a short time. The new owner says that they obtained a cert before they moved in and in most cases the cert is only good enough to stuff in the hole that is leaking. If you complain to the roofer he will only say that the roof was in good condition when he checked it. You have no legal recourse unless you can prove deception and in most cases it would only boil down to one opinion against another. He says it is half full and you say it is half empty. It might have really been his opinion that the roof was OK. You can not sue someone for a bad opinion - it's their opinion. If it is really his opinion then that's what he believes. You could only sue on a bad opinion if you can show that no reasonable roofer would have said that the roof was good. It would also be difficult to later sue the seller. They would just claim that they obtained a roofer in good faith. Is it their fault that the roofer's opinion was faulty? 

It would certainly be worth the cost for the buyer to pay for the cert and therefore know that they are getting an in-depth report about the roof. The roofer works for and helps out the person that hired him. It's only natural for a business person to be concerned about his customer. If the seller hires the roofer then the roofer would be loyal to the seller. Have your agent put in the agreement of sale that the buyer will obtain the roof cert and that this inspection must be approved by the buyer. This will also give the buyer another way out of the deal if the roof turns up bad and the seller refuses to fix it. In most deals a buyer can only get out of the deal if they are unable to obtain a mortgage. 

Another way to go would be for the buyer to get a complete house inspection but keep in mind that home inspectors are not experts in all aspects of a building. They know some stuff about each system in a building. They could not have spent their lives in plumbing, roofing, electrical, or mechanical combined. They could have been around all these systems many times but doing the same thing (one trade) day-in and day-out gives that person an experience and knowledge level that can not be obtained by anyone else. Home inspectors in PA (and many other states) now must be a member of a national home inspection organization. There is no definition of what those organizations must consist of but it's a start.

There is no such thing as a certified roofer - as well as many other trades. Many people use the phrase but it is only to boost their image with something that doesn't exist. To certify someone means that an organization has examined this person and the organization feels that this person is qualified. For instance, doctors and lawyers take state test to prove their qualifications. The state is then certifying that they know their stuff. Plumbers and electricians generally take state tests to prove their qualifications also. But most all other blue collar trades people do not get certified. You pay your fee and get your license to run a business. That's it. When someone says that their "certified" ask them "by what organization" and "what test did they take"? If you own a hammer you're a carpenter!

Free certs!
Since the only real reason to obtain a cert is to inform the buyer of the condition of the roof you can get a free cert if you do not need anything in writing. Just call us and we will look at the roof and tell you its condition. It's just like a free estimate. We would be working for you and not the seller and therefore would be meticulous in our inspection. The reason we would do a free inspection is because most roofs need something and we would be in a good position to get the work. If the seller had called us they would be doing their utmost to avoid any repairs. The buyer will do the utmost to get the work done. The only time we would charge is if you need it in writing or if it is a complicated roof.

When the roof needs work or is bad
If an inspection shows that the roof needs to be replaced then the buyer has ammunition for negotiating the price lower - even after the agreement of sale has set the price. That price is only set on things that can be seen. If you find out later that the house needs things repaired you can bargain your price lower and this is frequently done.

There are two ways to handle a bad roof. One would be to get the seller to put on a new roof out of their pocket. This would be great if you knew that they were getting a good roof. If they are moving they are not going to be spending a lot of money on a new roof. They will get the cheapest roof that will get them past the sale. The other option would be for the buyer and seller to split the cost of the roof. If you are buying a house that is not new then you can not expect that the roof would be new. It should be an average roof. If you find that the roof is bad then you have to decide what the difference in cost would be between an old roof and an average roof. My advice would be 50%. Each side should pay 50% of the cost of the roof. Negotiate the price of the house down by 50% of the roof (about $500 - $1000 for flat roofs). Let the seller give you that money at settlement and then get your own roofer to put the roof on. DO NOT LET THEM GET THE ROOF THAT THEY WANT. YOU WILL BE LIVING THERE - NOT THE SELLER!

As you can see, if you are a buyer of one house and a seller of another you have the advantage to supply the cert on both transactions



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