Should You Buy a Home With an Old Roof?

roofing question chicagoNormally, we expect Realtors to answer questions about buying and selling a home. But since roofing is our specialty and this particular question has come up quite a few times, we decided to tackle it right here in our blog.  It just so happened that this past summer we’ve been asked to evaluate at least 18 roofs of homes for sale in Aurora, Bolingbrook Hinsdale, Joliet, Oak Brook, and Wheaton.

Each time, buyers were facing the same dilemma: we like the house but the roof looks really old. What should we do? In most cases, they saw something they didn’t like in the home inspection report or noticed that the roof was in disrepair while touring the home. In some cases, the Seller said the roof is fine—there are no leaks they hadn’t had any problems. The rest of the Sellers acknowledge that the roof may need to be replaced soon, but refused to reduce the asking price or fix the roof prior to the closing.

If you really like the house, should you pay for repairs yourself or simply walk away? What constitutes an “old” roof and who gets to decide?

Well-maintained roofs can last 30 years or more—but a shoddy installation or poor-quality shingles and tiles can mean needing to replace a roof much sooner. At the same time, the fact that the roof is old doesn’t mean that it will need to be replaced soon. Climate, maintenance and sometimes sheer luck determine the actual state of the roof.

Always ask the seller how old the roof is, and inspect the gutters to make sure the drainage systems are in good working order. You also want to be on the lookout for dry rot—often caused by poor ventilation—which can cause sagging and crumbling.

You may be able to see from the ground whether there are cracked or missing shingles. But it pays to get a roofer to do an inspection, either before you make the offer or during the contract phase of the negotiations. That’s why we were brought in. If the seller has already done a home inspection prior to putting the house on the market, ask to review it and then proceed to bring in your own trusted roofer.

If you do have to replace the roof, it can set you back—a lot. A new roof in Illinois can run anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the size of the home.

At the same time, Sellers, especially in hot markets, are not exactly excited and willing to replace the roof. According to the Remodeling Magazine, the return on investment for a roof replacement averages 53.4% for a full replacement and 61.7% for a minor rehab.

It’s worth noting that just because a roof is old isn’t typically grounds for asking the Seller to lower the price. But you may have room to negotiate if the roof hasn’t been maintained, and if repairs are necessary to fix evident leaks or other major issues.

If the roof is in serious disrepair, you as a Buyer have more negotiating power than you may realize, because insurance companies will not issue a policy on a home with an older roof that is at the end of its lifespan, even if it is not leaking, and mortgage lenders require Buyers to get homeowner’s insurance as a prerequisite for closing on the loan. So the Seller can only sell the home to a buyer that can pay cash for the property, and cash Buyers expect a steep discount on the price for a house that needs a major repair. This means that it is in the Seller’s best interest to work out something with you for a roof replacement, because the problem will pop up again with the next buyer. Sometimes you or-even better-your Realtor is going to be the one who will have to explain this hard-to-swallow truth.

If you really like the house, don’t allow a bad roof to keep you from buying it. Let your realtor find a creative solution, and you will move into a house with a handsome new roof that has lots of years of life ahead.

However, if the roof is in bad shape (and that has been confirmed by a licensed roofer), the Seller won’t budge and the house is priced as if the roof was fine, consider it to be a very serious red flag. A modern roof is a fairly complex system and one of the most expensive components of your home. If the Seller refuses to negotiate and your Realtor is not able to perform miracles, walk away. It’s not worth it.