You can save up to $5,000 on the cost of a new roof.


Saving thousands of dollars on a new roof may sound like a come-on from some errant roofer operating out of the back of a pickup truck, but it's been well documented as part a survey of hundreds of roofers around the nation, including 105 roofers in the Washington D.C. Area and 105 roofers in California's San Francisco Bay Area.

Consumer Checkbook, an independent rating service affiliated with and somewhat like Consumer Reports -- except it rates services rather than goods in seven major metropolitan areas -- found the more bids home owners received from competent roofers the less they paid for the work.

Checkbook, in its detailed analysis of hundreds of roofers, was careful to point out that quality is Job 1. Solid business operations are also key. Don't hire a roofer without a proper license, workers' and liability insurance, bonding -- where necessary -- or other regulatory requirements. A bargain price for new roof that leaks or is otherwise incorrectly installed isn't a bargain.

"But once you have identified roofers that measure up on these factors, price becomes critical," the print and online publication reports.

Checkbook says to obtain the best price, have roofing done on a fixed-price basis, following an estimate.

That's what the company did working with several subscribers to get bids on roofing jobs for their homes. Each subscriber had all the roofers bid on the same specifications. The price differences were "striking," Checkbook reported.

"For one of the jobs, prices ranged from $2,900 to $8,36 -- a difference of more than $5,000. For another job, the roofers' price quotes ranged from $5,480 to $8,613 -- a difference of more than $3,000."

How's it done?

Checkbook says to start with firms rated high for quality. Check Checkbook's ratings or get referrals from family, friends, co-workers, realty professionals or others you trust who recently had a new roof installed successfully, or do both.

"We can't give you a firm rule as to exactly how many bids you should get. There is no way to know in advance how much the next bid will gain you," Checkbook reported.

When assisting homeowners with bids, the homeowners each obtained five bids.

A chart shows the likely savings by increasing from two bids to three bids is smaller than the expected savings by increasing from one to two bids. Increasing from three bids to four bids can be expected to be even less productive.

"But for many jobs, the likely savings from getting three, four, or more bids will readily justify the time required," Checkbook found.

Invite out more firms than you really care to see. Some won't show up. When you've seen enough, call the remaining firms and cancel.

Use estimators as your consultants. At first, you may not know exactly what work is needed. Ask each firm for good reason-based suggestions, weigh the arguments and settle on a set of specifications.

With a tight description of your specifications, call back the firms you've already seen, inviting them to adjust their bids. Give the specs to any additional firms you want to bid.

The larger the job, the more bids you should get. A 20 percent saving on a $500 repair job is just $100, but 20 percent off $10,000 is a $2,000 savings.

Get more bids if the difference between the first two bids is large.

Get more bids on jobs where labor, rather than materials, is relatively important. Firms have to pay roughly the same amount for materials, but they may differ significantly in what they pay per hour for labor and in how much their workers can accomplish per hour.

Press for a strong contract that's specific about the work to be done on a written guarantee basis.

However, most firms will insist on a loophole in case they find damaged fascias, sheathing, or structural problems. Contracts should state that such work be done on a specific "per foot" or a "time and materials" basis. A charge per square foot, or per linear foot is typical.

Seek to pay for your work as late as you can, and indicate in the contract what the schedule of payments is to be. Never pay the full cost upfront or before the job is completed.

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