Property investment tip 34: Beware of buying properties with flat roofs

Roofs can be slanted or they can be flat. It’s very important to get a building inspection report which details the state and age of the roof before you proceed with any property purchase.

Repairing a damaged roof is one of the most costly expenses you can incur as a property investor – and I hope you never do.

Why you need to be careful with flat roofs

Two of my properties have flat roofs. Sometimes I don’t mind buildings with flat roofs because you have the opportunity, with council approval, to construct another level or build a loft. This can add more value to your property.

But most of the time, I dislike flat roofs because rainwater can get trapped on the flat surface. If there are no slants, water cannot move. Only sunlight can evaporate the water if it is not obstructed by a physical item.

Over a long period, trapped water can weaken the roof, and cause leaks, mould and damp in the property beneath. This is what happened to one of my Sydney apartments.

Now, it’s true flat roofs on newer buildings are made of higher quality materials which aid the flow of rainwater. However, the reality is most properties on sale are not newly built; they are often decades or even more than half a century old.

It’s very hard and expensive to identify where water leaks are coming from especially if the holes in the roof are very small.

Repairing the holes can often be a case of trial and error. This means you might need to wait for it to rain again and again to ‘test’ if the holes are sealed.

You don’t always have a say on how the roof should be fixed

If you own an apartment or a townhouse managed by a Body Corporate (also known as an Owners Corporation), you – individually – cannot decide how or when the roof should be repaired, or how much budget should be allocated.

The Body Corporate is a ‘group’ made up of all the landlords who own property in the same building or complex. They are responsible for the daily property management and maintenance of the building and the communal areas.

Major repair works need to be agreed by the Body Corporate, who may sometimes vote against your ideas.

Even if your apartment or townhouse is not directly affected by any roof leaks, you’re still obliged to pay part of the repair costs if it has been voted for by the Body Corporate. The funding is taken from the levies you pay.

My bad experience with a seven year roof leak

I had an ongoing roof leak in one of my apartments for seven years. Despite being informed by professionals that the flat roof needed structural repairs, my Body Corporate opted for the cheapest ‘solution’: placing a waterproof seal on the rooftop and my ceiling.

This ‘solution’ failed three times. No one from the Body Corporate was willing to invest money in repairing the roof because the leak was not damaging their own apartments.

After losing two long-term tenants over the ongoing leak, I filed an official complaint against the Body Corporate Committee for failure to maintain common property – with a threat of legal action. I also convinced the other affected landlords to issue formal complaints.

In early 2018, the roof leak was finally addressed as a priority agenda by the Committee at the Annual General Meeting. Seven years ago, the repair work was estimated to be $30,000. Today, the repairs are estimated at $80,000. Time wasted costs money.

Why you also need to beware of rooftop gardens

In a trend towards bringing more green spaces to urban areas, many newer apartment buildings have planter boxes built on the rooftop, along with artificial turf which is used as ‘fake grass’.

I would advise you against placing artificial turf or planter boxes on your rooftop. Both items caused the roof leak in my apartment to significantly worsen during heavy storms.

‘Fake grass’ looks great for the first few years, until the quality deteriorates. If the turf is not replaced, it starts to absorb water. Over the long-term, the trapped moisture beneath the turf weakens the roofing material, and can cause leaks into the property below.

The same damages can be caused by planter boxes. If there are no gutters on the planter box to drain excess water, or the gutter is damaged, water will get trapped in the soil, and can eventually seep through the roof.

So, what are your thoughts on properties with flat roofs?

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Please note, though I own a few properties, I am not a legal, financial or professional property expert. I’ve written this post to share my personal experiences and would love to hear your opinions and views.


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