Buying a House with a Sagging Roof
LESLIE: Mike in Texas has a sagging roof.
Mike, tell us what’s going on with the roof.
MIKE: Well, I have a house that I’m looking at buying but I noticed, the roof, it has a bunch of pebbles and rocks on it in a neighborhood that typically has asphalt shingles. I didn’t know if the sagging was normal or if it’s something I need to be concerned about.
TOM: Is this a flat-roof building, Mike?
MIKE: No, it’s kind of a low slope.
MIKE: It has a regular pitch on it but kind of not a very steep pitch.
TOM: OK, yeah, a low-slope pitch. It sounds like what we typically call a tar-and-slag roof which is basically a built-up roof that has some sort of a stone or a pebble surface to it. The purpose of those rocks is to reflect ultraviolet radiation from the sun back out to make the roof last longer.
LESLIE: Tom, are these roofs more common in certain parts of the United States than others?
TOM: They’re more common with low slope or flat roofs.
LESLIE: So you can find them everywhere, though.
TOM: You can find them everywhere and certainly there’s a ton of commercial buildings out there. These days they’re not putting on too many new tar-and-slag roofs because they’re using some of the more modified, bitumen roofing materials; the rubberized roofing materials and things of that nature. So I’m not quite sure, if I was buying a house, that I would be terribly excited about this because it typically does need a lot of maintenance. But more importantly, you mentioned that it was sagging.
MIKE: One side of the roof, if you’re facing the house from the street – I guess the right side – there was kind of a sag right in the middle portion on the right side.
TOM: Well, that would be important to determine why that’s happening. Now if you look across the ridge of the roof, do you see that it sags in the middle of the ridge?
MIKE: No, only on that one side.
TOM: So it sags across the surface of the roof?
MIKE: Yeah, across the surface.
TOM: Well, there’s something that’s causing that sag, Mike, and you need to figure out what that is. Is there any access to the underside through an attic space or crawl …?
MIKE: The only access is to the opposite side of the attic, so there is no access to that unless you cut through the sheetrock into the garage.
TOM: Well, there’s a reason it’s sagging and if I was buying the house, I would want to know why that is sagging.
MIKE: That’s what I thought and so it’s definitely something to raise an eyebrow about, huh?
TOM: Have you had the home inspected yet?
MIKE: No, I haven’t.
TOM: Alright, well I would recommend that you do this. I would contact the American Society of Home Inspectors. Their website is ASHI.org – A-S-H-I.org. That’s an independent society of professional home inspectors. The best of the best all over the nation are members of that group. You go to that website, you put in your zip code, you will get a list of qualified home inspectors in your particular area. Then, through that list, you can call and interview those guys. At least you know that they have at least that ASHI qualification. Find a really good home inspector and then go send them out to take a look at that roof as well as all the other things in that house; you know, heating system, cooling, plumbing, electric, and so on. You really need a thorough, thorough inspection before you put any money down on that house.
MIKE: Of course. That sounds good. The only thing, would an inspector be able to, I guess, get underneath that part of the attic since there’s no access?
TOM: He’s not going to be able to see where he can’t see but I know that home inspectors can tell an awful lot just by what they can see; they can determine an awful lot. I spent 20 years as a home inspector and just because of sheer experience of seeing this particular style of construction over and over again, I was able to deduce, many times, what was happening even if I couldn’t see it; or at least speculate, pretty intelligently, as to what was going on and come up with some direction.
But you know what? If it gets to a situation where I say to you, as your home inspector, “Mike, I absolutely have to see what’s going on in there. I can’t give you any advice as to how serious a problem this is if I can’t see it,” then you’re going to have to make a decision if you want to move forward and buy the house or not. You could go back to the seller and say, “Look, my inspector really needs to see this. Obviously there’s something going on. No one’s going to be able to tell the extent of this problem unless they can see it. Would you be willing to open up the ceiling and let us take a look?” You know, and if they freak out and say, “No way. Take it or leave it,” then you’ve got to decide what you want to do.
MIKE: Then maybe they’re trying to hide something, too. (chuckles)
TOM: That’s possible as well. But that’s really what you have to do. Now is the time, though. I’m so glad that you’re calling us now to ask these questions before you buy the house and you have a good opportunity to learn a lot about this place before you start paying the mortgage for it. Okay, Mike?
MIKE: It is an older home, so I was like – you know, I didn’t know if that type of roof was used on older homes and how long that type of roof usually tends to last either.
LESLIE: The benefit though, Mike, of having an inspector come in is that not only will you find out everything that’s going on with the house but they’ll also be able to assess for you what the cost of fixing something might be, so then you have a bit of a bargaining chip in sort of placing a price on the property. Because maybe you and the previous homeowner can agree on splitting up the cost or they’ll fix it for you. It’s something that you’ll work out in your contract. So it’s a good bit of – yeah, it’s a good bit of information to have in your hand.
MIKE: Hey, well thanks a lot, guys.
TOM: You’re welcome, Mike. Good luck with that house.
MIKE: Appreciate it. Thank you.
TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.