I’m thinking back to last summer during the long, dry stretch of trying to sell the house. It turned out, I couldn’t bury my head in the sand any longer; it was time to get ‘er done. The roof, that is.

I didn’t even realize she was in such rough shape but as we had at least two potential buyers, that we know of, walk away from buying our house specifically because of the roof, we had to face reality.

The house had a quaint, cottagey look about it, albeit that of a fairly large cottage. The very sloped, very predominant roof with cedar shingles was part of its vibe, but when you looked closely, the moss and algae that made themselves at home were perhaps a bit too invasive, and it became clear that re-roofing was a sooner rather than later endeavour, to get the clean, fresh look that people were searching for.

Of course it’s not just about aesthetics. A roof is a very important structural thing, no matter the size of your home. One of the first things I’d imagine to do if ever stranded on an island, like Tom Hanks’ character Chuck in the movie ‘Cast Away’, is build some kind of shelter from the potential storm outside.

Luckily, here on our inhabited land, with more than just palm trees, we have several choices of materials, options, and even who will do the work. I initially planned to get three quotes but in the end got four, and that worked in our favour.

I figured I’d try a range from the bigger name pros down to the very modest, local guys who just deal with one home at a time. Referrals from our realtor gave us two out of four and the other two came from my online search. Initially though, the numbers of possibilities were verging on overwhelming as I started with about twenty names on my list (e.g. through online Yellow Pages), making me feel a bit like Helen Hunt’s character as she spread her maps of where her beloved Chuck had likely gone down in the FedEx plane.

One thing that helped me narrow the list were companies’ addresses. E.g. if one was going to be coming from many miles away, it was less likely to make the cut. A direct website search of my finalists came next. It didn’t have to be an impressive site at all, but the write up needed to be professional and clearly make reference to important information like warranties and options of materials and if they did cedar to asphalt.

The next step was making calls or sending emails to my top picks and seeing how efficient and professional responses were. I started on Monday and by Tuesday morning had the first quote from one of the bigger companies and it was high, ranging from approximately $22,000 to $24,000 for different product options, plus tax. The next quote, also from a big name, took a couple of days but it was better at least, though still high from $18,000 to $23,000. The third came from a small, local business and was much better at $15,500. And the fourth quote, also from a smaller, local company was the best at $14,600. (While going for the lowest bid isn’t always ideal, when the lowest of the lows still isn’t that low, it may make the most sense. As opposed to if any quotes had come in e.g. for less than $10,000, as I likely wouldn’t have trusted them.)

The problem with the fourth quote was it was like pulling teeth to get it. I was to have heard by Thursday but still hadn’t by Saturday and I had to reach out a couple of times before I heard back. At this point I figured he was perhaps very busy, or maybe not totally reliable, and as we wanted to get started re-roofing at the beginning of the next week, I figured I’d go with the keenest guy who’d made the most direct contact, the other small company who thankfully matched the lowest quote.

After I’d checked physical samples of the materials to choose between, the small crew got started on the next Tuesday, and went at it intensely. One of the great things about a business owner doing the work is the high level of motivation to get it done efficiently and push beyond the normal hours of a work day vs. the staff of a big name company who will most likely stick to stricter work day hours.

As roofing is a weather dependent endeavour, it’s great to make the most use of a day of good weather to help balance out the other days, when limits are placed on them from above, and I appreciated the first three very long days of work this crew did until they finally took a break on a rainy day.

But let’s go back to the wide range of costs from the different companies going from $14,600 to $24,000. (The tax alone on one quote vs. the other would vary dramatically.) What can affect these estimates? The approximation of the size of the area to work is one factor and as some guys just stand on the ground and look up at the roof to do an estimate and a calculation, but some get on up and do more direct measuring, those numbers can of course vary. Some may even give an estimate based on Google mapping, seriously. Some may, ahem, overestimate generously.

One company might say that the roof is 3000 sf, and based on their cost per square footage, that can be significantly more expensive than the company that estimates it to be more like 2500 sf. And if one company charges $5 per square foot vs. the other charges $9, that can of course make a huge difference. You won’t necessarily get these specific numbers from them but if you go in knowing approximately what your roof size is and what the range is for the products you want e.g. $6-9 per sf for cedar roofing, you at least have a basic zone of what to expect.

Other things affecting the estimate can be the product that may be warranted for 30 years vs. the other that is for 40 or 50 years. In my mind though, as there are always changes over that many years, there’s not much point in paying a good chunk extra for twenty unnecessary years of warranty. E.g. who knows what materials will evolve in the next three decades as far as style, aesthetics, and durability, etc. So I’d say if it’s good for 25 or 30 years and transferable to the next owners, it’s good to go.

Another factor is going to be the size of the business. Of course with a bigger, well known business you can feel more protected and more confident that if something goes wrong they will answer for it. But with the larger size you will also pay more for their extensive vehicle fleet, administrative staff, and office overhead. If your roofer is the one who answers the phone and responds to your email, you can be pretty sure he has no overhead to add into his calculation.

Okay, so the small company may be less regulated. They may leave a greater pile of rusty nail mess in the yard rather than doing a daily clean up that the others would do. They may be less organized when it comes to giving receipts. But as our four quotes, if I base it on estimating our roof to be 2500 sf, ranged from under $6 per square foot to close to $10, and almost $10,000 difference overall, I’ll take a bit of mess for a week for the dramatic savings, along with a slight need to watch where I step.

The proactive efforts paid off and within about a week of redoing the roof, the house finally sold after over three months of being listed in a busy sellers’ market.

Prior to that positive result, I did feel slightly stranded, but that was nothing in comparison with Chuck, from whom we can learn a lot, who had over four years of being stuck on the island. He stayed proactive like with how to make best use of packages that washed ashore, such as when he built his raft and sailed out into the unknown. He was adaptable under stressful situations and that was key to his survival. On that trip away from the island, he sadly lost his reliable friend Wilson (who knew the loss of a volleyball could make so many weep?), but ultimately found his way back to civilization and a new life and the options that stretched out before him.

So I recommend thoroughly navigating the waters, exploring options, and getting several quotes, whether it’s for re-roofing or endless other ways to spend less but still get the job done properly, and see what kind of savings the tide will bring.

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