Open Letter to Homeowner's Association Board members and managers
Henry Staggs, RRO
Roof Consultant and Roofing Industry Advocate
What should you expect to happen when your roof(s) begin to fail?
First, Allow me to introduce myself.
Before I start, please allow me to introduce myself and tell you a little about me. Roofing has been my life since I was 12 years old, working for my great grandfather. Roofing took me from being homeless and hopeless to owning three different roofing companies, two handyman companies, and even a graphics design and wedding officiant company. I began my move to roof consulting several years ago. Since then, my knowledge base about roofing has grown in ways that have even surprised me. I founded Preferred Roof Consultants of Arizona, started the local chapter of the International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants (formally known as RCI). And as I write this letter, I am working with the State of Arizona, The National Roofing Contractor's Association, and the National Center for Construction Education and Research. To develop and open the first-ever, nationally accredited School of Roofing. I know roofing, and I know the roofing industry. I am one of a handful of people working for change and growth in the industry, not for ourselves, but for the generation of roofing professionals who come after us.
The TWO Biggies are …
Keep in mind that this letter has condominium and townhouse associations in mind. Much of this will not apply to detached single home communities. But still worth the read since it will help you as well.
The most significant and most delayed expenses for most HOA's are the Roof and the Pavement. The latter, however, is less neglected than the roof is. Since you see it, drive on it, and experience it every day. The roof, on the other hand. Is out of sight and out of mind until it leaks! Then it is a matter of urgency; unfortunately, most HOA's haven't prepared for it.
As a consultant, my job is to know my industry and have a solid understanding of how cost works. The hard fact is that by delaying roof maintenance and planning for restoration and or replacement. Almost from day one, you could double or even triple your cost of owning the roofs. The thing is that in the same way, the roof is out of sight and out of mind. The money for band-aid repairs goes out in lots of small chunks. Almost invisible, until someone with a calculator starts adding it up. The HOA's themselves are increasing the cost of owning but doing nothing but a few repairs here and there.
Wait! I have something to say
I need to say this, and I want you to hear me on this point. "When a roof leaks, that is not a sign of a problem. NO! When a roof leaks, that IS A ROOF FAILURE!" I do not mean to come off too bluntly. But to be honest, roofers and consultants alike find most HOA's notions of leaks being just something you fix. Rather than the big giant sign that this roof has failed. A little frustrating when we are trying to help you do the right thing. We know making repairs is throwing away money. We need you to know that, too, so that we can all move forward with a roofing project that benefits you and cost you much less over time.
The Reserve Study
Repeatedly I hear stories from HOA board members about how their reserve study did not include enough money for the roof work. You would be surprised at how many of them think that means they CAN NOT do any roof work—hey, budgeted or not. When the roof starts leaking, you don't have much choice in the matter. You can start planning to restore or replace the roof, or you can start throwing away money on repairs.
There have been times when, in fact, the reserve study did not include money for the roofs. And other times when it did, but the board members did not understand the reserve study language. Either way, as I said. When the roof is leaking, does it matter? You still have a duty to the community to do what is best for the entirety of the community.
Here is my advice: Tell your reserve study specialist to include the cost to maintain and eventually restore or replace the roof. This way, you can start saving up for it or at least planning for it. The best way you can get them what they need. Is to hire me to perform a roof assessment and write a consulting report. This report will tell you what you have, what you need to do when you must do it, and what it might cost. I get that I am plugging myself here. But I am the writer of this letter, and I know I can help.
The 5% rule
Maybe not so much a rule as a factoid that roofing professionals like to use to demonstrate the roof's importance. The thing is that the roof accounts for about 5% of any building's building (give or take). Yet, it is one of the most litigated and most expensive to insure parts of the projects. Suppose you understood what it takes to be a good roofing contractor. You would not understand why anyone would want to be one. It means getting sued for all sorts of little nothings that had nothing to do with you. You must grow a very thick skin to be a roofer.
But we cannot let them off the hook, can we? There are several reasons for this problem: the roofing contractors' faults (sorry guys). Some of which is a misunderstanding of the process and incorrect expectations of board members. That last one is why I decided to write this open letter, that and after talking about these issues with a roofing contractor I know.
So, what is the problem?
I will speak to the two problems that my company and I are personally engaged in trying to fix. These are the two major ones, I think, that has a huge ripple effect throughout the industry. They are a lack of skilled labor and unsafe working conditions.
Skilled labor is getting harder and harder to find in the roofing industry. Soon, unless something changes, there will not be enough skilled labor to fill all contracting firms' roles. This problem forces contractors to lower the bar for entry into their companies and hope for the best. If you can breathe and climb a ladder, you got a job. Do I need to explain how this might affect you? Imagine a group of workers who MIGHT or MIGHT NOT know what they are doing on YOUR roof. No thanks!
This is one of the biggest reasons that so many roofers get sued. Shoddy workmanship is a problem for the entire industry. The industries fail or succeed methodology of training does not seem to be working anymore. For that reason, several industry professionals and I have been collaborating for some time. As I draft this letter, the School of Roofing is nearly a reality. In the meantime, PRC offers all the training and assistance any roofer wants. All they need to do is ask. We are taking an active role in helping to solve the skilled labor problem.
By the way, hiring us for quality assurance services helps ensure that your roofer is doing the work right. We hope they know what they are doing, but WE KNOW that we do know what we are doing, and our job is to make sure they do too.
The next problem is a matter of safety. Along with holding a record for the most sued industry, we have been standing number one for falls forever (it seems). Therefore, insurance is expensive for roofing contractors. Many roofing contractors and installers (unbelievably) resent having to wear fall protection. They all think it is the other guy that they KNOW how not to fall. I admit I have thought that way too. But if that was true, why are roofers the WORST at not falling?
PRC is not a safety company. It is the sole responsibility of the roofing contractor to make sure their crew is safe. But we do make sure to include it in our specifications. That the roofing contractor is to comply with OSHA 1926 standards, it is the law, and they have no choice in the matter, this is not debatable. And we have stopped jobs for lack of fall protection until the Contractor's safety officer came to investigate and correct the issue.
I could say so much more on either one of those topics. And have, on my blog at www.thearizonaroofer.com.
Let us get back to cost
The roof and the pavement are the most expensive things that HOA's are nearly never prepared for. The pavement comes first most of the time since everyone who lives there drives on it and sees it. The roof gets put off because not everyone is experiencing a roof leak. Or worse, people do not see the point in a roof assessment until AFTER the roof has leaked. That, my friend, is the wrong approach. If you want to save money on the cost of owning the roof, you must spend some money.
What should you expect?
Whatever you think, the roof might cost double that! Most of the time, when a board tells me what they think a roof cost. Or the amount of money they set aside already for the roof. I must be the bearer of sad news. "sorry, that is not nearly enough money."
Another plug for me here. Like I said before, our roof consulting reports contain cost information that, while still a "guesstimate," will be a lot closer to reality.
Contractors who cut corners to "save" you money
Some communities will find financing to make up the difference, or they do nothing at all. Or worse, they find a contractor who is willing to do the work for what they have. The first one (financing) is something I want to talk about more. But let me address the wrong contractor thing first. You bet, there are contractors out there who will do whatever it is you want. Right or wrong, it does not matter if they get paid. Some of them are members of industry associations and do get referred by the association. They "save" you money by first "value engineering" the job to the lowest standard possible and even lower. Then they cut corners even more. They will use old, cheap, seconds, even stollen materials on your roof. They will use the cheapest labor they can find and tell you along the way how great it's all going. The pictures do look nice in their reports. Then the first rain comes, and the roof leaks, and the Contractor is suddenly too busy to get to you.
A new roof should never leak! I do mean NEVER … the ONLY acceptable reasons for a roof leak are damage (mechanical or impact perhaps) or it's just old. Never should a roof leak due to poor workmanship. Guess what, in any case? Almost every roof leak I have found in my years is due to poor workmanship. A good reason to hire us for quality assurance observation services on your roof project, right?
Financing a roofing project or any capital improvement project
Can we do this work over so many years and split up the cost? Have you asked that question? If not, I hope you don't. I know that question is coming, and I always think that I am ready for it. But even now, after all these years. I am still caught off guard. The answer is PLEASE NO!
First, we have no idea what the market will do over the next how many every year. For example, we had no idea that COVID was going to hit us this way. These kinds of events can directly impact the cost of a roofing project. We also do not know what the workforce might look like. It could be worse or better. Worse means higher labor rates, and that is something you pay for. It is in your best interest to support any training for roofers at all. You know, like the School of Roofing we are building here in Arizona, for example.
I like to make on this topic again; a roof leak means you have a failed roof. And restoration or replacement is imminent, rather than throwing money away on repairs. Let's look at financing the work and be done with it once and for all. Oh, and a little secret here, most contractors will do band-aide repairs for you if you hired them to the re-roof work down the road. That is to say that while you are waiting for the financing. Many contractors will patch you up for free if they re-roof work when the financing is completed.
What steps should you take?
Do not wait for a roof leak to start thinking about your roof(s), as a board member and the board at large. You have taken on a fiduciary responsibility to put the community's interest before your own. It is a heavy burden to carry; we can help you with the roof part of it.
- Get a roof assessment condition and consulting report. These can range from $3000 to $15,000 or more. At PRC, we price our assessments based on the complexity of the roof and the community. How we will have to access the roof. And the amount of time it might take to do research and draft your report. The report will tell you what you have, what you need to do, what it might cost, and when you need to do it.
- Give your consulting report to your reserve study specialist. Ask them to factor in the cost of owning the roofs. This way, at least, moving forward. The roof cost is part of the budget and not a shocking and almost crippling surprise expense.
- If it is time to get the roof restoration or replacement, you need to seek out financing. You will have to find a loan broker who is a specialist in this type of financing. There are several, but the one that I always hear about is the Mutual of Omaha program. Make sure to give your roof consulting report to them as well. They will know what to do with it.
- Keep in mind that like any person, HOA's will have a credit rating and income. Those two things are hugely important to a bank. Make sure your community is on Dun and Bradstreet and your creditworthiness as a community is good.
- Send out a notice to the community and let everyone know the steps you have taken to ensure their roofs will continue to provide a dependable service life.
How does the process work?
After the initial roof assessment, we would move to phase two, "specifications and bidding." Once again, we will be out walking the roofs. However, this time, we are doing it to identify various conditions and details relevant to the specifications and drawings. For example, there might be a unique flashing detail. Or we find a plumbing that needs a creative flash detail.
Typically, we would meet with a manufacturer or two to walk the job and see if they'd warranty the roof. Then we draft the construction documents and get it all out to bid. The bids come in, we review them and send you a final bid tabulation report. The only thing we need from you at this point is some answers to questions as they come up. And your attendance at the pre-bid meeting.
Oh yeah, the money
Do not forget that most HOA's are sticker shocked when they see the roof work cost. The cost will be more than you would expect to pay on a single-family home. There are some excellent reasons for that. I'd like to share a few with you here and now. First, we are looking at several roofs, generally in an HOA and not just one.
Additionally, it is more complicated to mobilize and do a job in an HOA. There are storage safety and other considerations that do not come into play in a single-family home. And there is the HOA itself. Remember, you might live here, but to the roofer, this is a commercial building. And it needs to be treated that way during the roof work. Expect larger numbers when reviewing the bids.
Choosing a contractor
Choosing a contractor can be very tricky. That is why PRC has pre-vetted every Contractor that we invite to bid. We make sure to verify their license status, even if we know them.
We'll look around online to see what reviews they have earned. Verify any claims they make about being certified. Check the owner and the company out on the local superior court site. Make sure they are not in the middle of some law suite that could affect the job. And a few other tricks. Even so, even if the Contractor is perfect on paper. That does not guarantee success. It does, however, move us closer to the goal post.
I wrote a blog about vetting a contractor like a professional. It's worth a read, and we do encourage you to do your due diligence as well. We are all in this together; I have as much to gain or lose as you do. If we select a terrible contractor, we all pay the price for that. So let's work together and choose one that is the best fit for the job.
The lowest most qualified bidder
Most HOA roof projects use a project delivery method known as "competitive bidding."
In that process and full specification has been written. The contractors are all bidding on the same work scope and using the same materials, the same manufacture, the same everything except themselves and their crews. The difference we see in the pricing will reflect how much the Contractor pays their employees and how much they intend to profit margin. At the same time, we are looking for the lowest bidder. There is also the most qualified part, which covers more than the Contractor's insurance and ability to do the work. Are they the right company for you?
Using price alone to determine which Contractor is best for you is not the way to go. And in fact, this is where a consultant comes in handy. We know these guys; we know how they work and who works for them. We know if there has been a change of leadership. We know if the Contractor even wants the job. Unbelievably, contractors do walk away from jobs they think won't profit them. Or are too much hassle.
Too much hassle
Ok, the Invisible elephant in the room just popped in. There is a rumor in the roofing world that HOA's will sue you. And that EVERYONE in the HOA will sue you. And they will do it for any reason whatsoever. That is what most of the roofing world thinks of HOA's. I frequently hear about some law suite or another. But to date, I have not found any. Not any that the Contractor should not have been sued. I mean each case I did find, there was a real problem because of this urban myth. Some of the best Contractors WILL NOT bid on anything to do with the HOA.
We are leaving the HOA with the team B players. And the worst part is that you do not know you are playing with the B team. If we can get an A team contractor on the site, the difference would be apparent immediately.
Therefore, it is so essential to choose ANY vendor based on their merit. They are never based solely on some certification or membership. We do our best to encourage team A contractors to come out and work with us.
By the way, any contractor who says, "we don't need a consultant" might not. But if they are resistant to being observed, there is a reason for that. I have worked with many contractors who are offended that anyone at all is looking at their work—much less pointing out deviances and deficiencies. And we are here for you not for the Contractor. So keep that all in mind while we are looking at contractors to hire.
The hiring parts
Do not be in a hurry to get started signing up the Contractor. They will be in a hurry to be sure to get a signed contract and get started. Most roofers will start working the roof prematurely if you let them. And that will always lead to more damage than repair and a ton of hassle.
CSI "Construction Specifications Institute" was founded in 1935 or so. By a group of specifications writers who were doing work for the federal government. They did not appreciate that every specification was different in format and content. The specifications are the instructions to the Contractor and if they can't make sense of them. Well, they just ignore them.
So, they worked out the "project delivery method" (there are six methods). HOA's tend to lean more toward the competitive bidding method. Most of them would do better with a negotiated bid method, but we are not going into that here. Call me if you want to know more about that (480) 265-1613. And the "master specification," which is a format and content guide that helped make all specifications remarkably similar and easier to read.
We use their methods and standards. Most roofers on HOA's call list don't care much for the CSI method. We choose to follow in the footsteps of men and women who took the time to work that all out for us.
Notice of INTENT to award.
Documentation and then more documentation. Do not expect just to say yes and let the Contractor do whatever they want. There is a relatively simple process that, if we follow, will provide us all with the proper project documentation. Why? Who knows, there are a hundred reasons you need a thoroughly documents roof project. For example, if there is a materials issue in the future. Or the roof is leaking right after completion. Whatever the reason, having a record helps us research and pinpoint the issues.
Before the work begins, the Contractor should receive a "notice of INTENT to award." The INTENT is essential and keeps the Contractor from prematurely starting the work. In the notice, the Contractor will find a list of things they'll need to do. BEFORE starting the job.
Notice to Proceed
The notice to proceed is pretty much what it sounds like. This document tells the Contractor that all the pre-requirements have been satisfied and free to mobilize. Why do we need these documents? To protect you and the owners, of course. By doing things the CSI way, which is the commonly accepted correct way to do things. You are much more likely to prevail in a court of law, should things end up there. And as I said already, good job documentation lets us pinpoint problems. Finally, doing it this way and insisting the Contractor complies. Lets the Contractor know that this job is serious, and they will need to be at the top of their game.
Notice to your occupants
Yes, it will get loud at times, which will be annoying and frustrating to some of the occupants. There will dirt in the air, trucks coming and going, loud noises, fumes from equipment. All of that and all of that can often get under people's skins. A good contractor will know how to mitigate a lot of that stuff, but they can't make it all go away.
Before the project begins, we encourage the Manager to post a notice. And that there will be noise and other annoyances for a while. It would also be a brilliant idea for you to designated only one owner to serve as the community liaison during the work—someone who can relay the other occupants' concerns to the appropriate persons.
Post this notice on the community bulletin board, the community website, on each door, and by email. There is no way any occupant can say they did not get one. No occupant can use any argument that involves "I didn't know." The fact is that people get sued. It is best to plan for the worst and hope for the best, and do things the right way. Our chances for success are much better.
The notice might say something like
“We have contractor with ABC roofing company to do roof work starting on ________ and to about ________. You will likely experience some inconveniences and noise while the roofers are working. We will be working with them closely to mitigate as much of the inconveniences and disturbances. However, we do ask that you be patient and allow the workers to complete their work. Please move anything from your patio and yard area. Please park away from the workers. Please stay out of the marked work zone areas. If you have any concerns or questions your liaison will be ____________________ and you can reach them at _________________”
That is just a suggestion; you might want to say. But the point I want to get across is that that no matter what we do. There will always be noise; there will always be dirt. And it is never safe for anyone who is not a roofer to step into the work zone. Allow the contractors' workers to do their job. I cannot tell you how many jobs dragged on because the occupants kept "googling" and asking the workers questions.
One more thing, the workers are not typically all that informed about the project. They know to show up and do the work. Anything else, they have no idea. Asking workers, even the foreman, is not usually the way to go. Ask your consultant or the roofing contractor's superintendent. Those are the people knowledgeable on any given roofing project.
Closing the job
The project closeout is as essential as it was hiring the right Contractor in the first place. Before you sign off before you cut that last check, make sure all the T's are crossed, and all the I's are dotted. Once you hand that check over, it might be "challenging" to get that Contractor back out again in the case of a roof failure. And then chances are it will turn into a finger-pointing game between the roofing contractor and the manufacture.
Do you see how important it is to keep a historical record of the work? If we know who did what and when we can pinpoint the problem and the responsible party faster. And, since we have a record of the job progress with photographs. Neither of the parties can start that finger-pointing game. Instead, the consultant points the finger at the photographs. Then starts a conversation with the Contractor about how they intend to make it right.
All the inspections
Two inspections should be part of winding down and closing out the projects. The CONTRACTOR should always make a formal request for these two inspections. The Contractor should request the "substantial completion" inspection and, when ready—the "final completion" inspection. Often the Contractor will make their request by phone or text. Sometimes by email. We do not want any of that. We want the Contractor to make a formal request for these inspections so that the documentation shows that it was the Contractor who makes claims of substantial or final completion.
The punch lists
A contractor once said to me, "What's a punch list? I have never had one." That statement told me that this guy was not as experienced as he said he was. That job was a complete and total nightmare, and it fell apart almost right away. Next time, I'll walk away when a contractor says, "What's a punch list" and isn't joking around.
The substantial completion inspection is intended to take place once the Contractor is 99% done. So close that we can walk the roof and draft a list of action items to be completed.
This helps the Contractor make sure they are compliant with the design of the roof. And compliant with the manufacturer's warranty.
The Contractor must please the consultant, the manufacturer, and the owners. That can be a lot of pressure, so keep that in mind toward the project's end.
You can be present for this event, but honestly, you should stay away and let the consultant and roofer work it out. But you are needed on the final walk.
The final walk
You would be surprised at how many contractors request a final inspection but are nowhere near ready for it, even though we explain to them from the start how the process works. They still seem to get ahead of themselves toward the end. Can you blame them? It is a tough business, and most roofers are ready to be complete the day they start.
What does a final inspection look like? It should be done when and only when the roofer has completed the work. All the tools, materials, and workers are gone. Think of this more as a presentation.' This our time, the consultant, and the Contractor, show off your new roof.
Any site visit after the Contractor's requested "final inspection" should be back charged to the Contractor. As I see it, if the Contractor says they are done, and they are not. They should pay for the consultant's time from that moment forward.
A year from completion
Have the consultant back out with or without the Contractor. one year after completing the work. To look at the roofs to see how they look at a year of service life. Then again, just before the second anniversary. The Registry of Contractors holds the Contractor liable for two years. Generally, if there is some workmanship issue that the Contractor is obligated to repair, we will find that in the first two years. After two years, we can still find the problem(s), but the ROC wouldn't be helpful.
Do you have more questions?
Need someone to help you with your roofing needs? I'm the guy.
Call me and let's talk.
Henry Staggs, RRO
Roof Consultants and Roofing Industry Advocate