Does buyer or seller pay for roof repair?

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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I’m buying my first house at a good price and just had the inspection. All was well except for a bad roof that’s 20-plus years old and needs repair. The owners are buying another house and money for them is tight. Who’s responsible for roof repair? Do I let the house go if the owners won’t or can’t fix it? Should I split the difference with them?
— Lyn

Dear Lyn,
Technically, no one is responsible for roof repair until that obligation is spelled out in writing somewhere, preferably in your purchase contract. Hopefully, said contract has a clause stating that your offer is contingent on a satisfactory home inspection. In that likelihood, some or all of the responsibility for roof repair falls to the owners, which at least gives you additional negotiating room. Of course, that doesn’t mean those cash-strapped sellers are willing or able to pony up for any new “overhead.”

First, you need to determine the extent of the damage. Promptly get at least three professional opinions on whether the roof must be repaired or replaced and the ensuing estimates of what those repairs would cost. Then present that information to the seller’s agent, assuming they’re using one. The cost to simply re-shingle ($1,000 and up) is usually manageable, but a wholesale replacement can be bracing — $5,000 and up (and up).

The fact that the aging roof is nearly kaput is probably no surprise to the current owners. They already may have factored that into their price, even if they didn’t disclose it. If the sellers agree to pay for the roof repair or at least help with it, try to negotiate a cash credit rather than let them handle the repairs. They’re almost certain to take the cheapest route, given their financial situation.

Only you can determine if you should let the house go, based on the owners’ response. If the best they will or can do is split the difference — and you really want the house and feel it is a good value otherwise — then you may have to suck it up and absorb the added cost. If they won’t help at all, well …

Again, it’s your call. But don’t be afraid to play hardball. Serious offers are still tough to come by in many U.S. markets. If the sellers realize you won’t take “no” for an answer, they may budge.

But don’t hesitate. In some states, you have a finite amount of time to present your findings/demands to the sellers. Your agent should have this information.

As an aside, it’s nice to see a new homebuyer entering the market. Good luck, first-timer!

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