Forget about granite countertops. Check out the roof first!

Real Estate Review

Today’s home buyers are heavily influenced by cable channel HGTV, which has progressed beyond programs that report on design trends, to the point where the network is driving those trends. An example is how granite countertops in kitchens and baths—formerly “luxury” items—are now standard, even in entry level homes.

I sometimes tell people that I “hate granite countertops.” Not because I do, but because I think that the focus on style items has led many buyers to overlook or ignore serious problems with the house structure. I have shown too many houses that had updated interiors, but also had roofs that were badly in need of replacement. Compared with granite counters, roofs matter—a lot.

Buyers purchasing a home with a marginal roof may find after closing that their budget just cannot handle the $7,000+ one-time cost of a new roof. This work, however, must absolutely be done to preserve the home and its value, especially if leaks have begun to develop. Would some homeowners trade their fancy granite countertops for a new roof if they could? I think so!

Roofing contractors on the Peninsula are doing a very brisk business these days. A building boom between 1990 and 2007 was focused on larger homes, with value builders saving construction money by installing 15-year three-tab shingles instead of slightly more expensive architectural shingles, which are typically rated for a 30-year service life. Homes built during the boom that still have original roof shingles are in need of a new roof—either now, or within the next few years. Second, house “flipping” investors buying up distressed properties since the housing recession have focused on cosmetic improvements, with many only undertaking roof replacement if the roof has already failed. Never mind that the buyers might be buying into a money pit, with some big ticket repairs ready to pounce within a few years.

An additional factor that sellers need to consider if they are marketing to VA buyers (a significant percentage of the local market), is that the VA appraisal will specifically take a look at the condition of the roof. If a VA appraisal requires that a new roof be installed prior to closing, this can cause a deal to fall through, which means “delay of game,” if sellers want to move.

Insurance companies have their underwriters photograph insured homes for record purposes after closing. If the insurance underwriter determines a new roof is required, the new owners of the property must get this done in order to maintain insurance coverage—and maintenance of insurance is not just a good idea; it is a requirement of the mortgage.

The lessons of all of this are fairly simple. Sellers (and homeowners) need to take a look at their roofs, and budget for replacement if they are nearing the end of their service life. Don’t wait until they start to leak! When replacing a roof, go with architectural shingles, which carry minimal additional cost to a three-tab shingle, but which can double the longevity. One manufacturer provides a 50-year shingle warranty. Additionally, architectural shingles can significantly improve the curb appeal of many homes, resulting in a “best value” return on investment.

Buyers should not be buying a home with a roof in need of replacement unless the price is discounted appropriately for the cost of the new roof, and they will be financially capable to pay for the cost of the new roof. Buyers can request a new roof installation in the purchase contract, but should be aware that they may need to increase their offer to cover the cost of installation if the listing price was already discounted for the existing condition. A contract clause should also give the buyers the right to select the roof shingle color.

I don’t really hate granite, but I sure would hate to see someone lose his or her home because of the inability to afford needed roof replacement. A little attention to this issue during the sales process could be of real benefit to buyers down the road.


John Brooks is a Realtor® with Howard Hanna William E. Wood at its Port Warwick office. He can be contacted at 757-813-0160 or by email at jbrooks@howardhanna.com.

John Brooks
About John Brooks 4 Articles
John Brooks is a Realtor® with Howard Hanna William E. Wood at its Port Warwick office. He can be contacted at 757-813-0160 or by email at jbrooks@howardhanna.com.

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