Dear Barry,

The house I’m buying has an old shingle roof. It shows no signs of leakage, but my home inspector said it could need replacement in about three years. Is this a good reason to force the owners to replace the roof? If not, can I withdraw my offer to buy the property? – Emanuel

Dear Emanuel,

In the aftermath of a home inspection, buyers typically make repair requests of sellers. But such exchanges are matters of negotiation, not a redress of grievances. This means that you can ask, you can cajole and you can wax eloquent in soul-rending exhortations of hopeful persuasion. You can couch your hopeful urgings with well-intended smiles and a politely stated “pretty please.” Or you can hold a pair of deuces close to your chest, while staging a well-affected bluff. But in most cases, you cannot force sellers to perform contrary to their affirmed wishes.

Standard procedure, upon receipt of an inspection report, is to submit a formal wish list to the sellers and then bargain as vigorously as you are inclined, in the hope of obtaining valuable concessions. But you cannot mandate that sellers perform contrary to their specified obligations under the purchase contract. If the contract stipulates that roof defects must be addressed before closing escrow, then you might have a legal basis for demanding roof replacement. Otherwise, you can merely ask. If the sellers refuse, you can cancel the contract or buy the home as-is. Most purchase contracts are contingent upon buyers’ acceptance of the home inspector’s findings. If a roof with a three-year life expectancy is not acceptable to you, then cancellation of the transaction is a contractual option.

In most cases, a roof with three remaining years of serviceability does not warrant canceling a purchase, but every situation has its own considerations. Given these choices – negotiate, buy as-is or cancel – you’ll need to weigh the value and desirability of the home against the projected long- and short-term costs, in the context of your own financial position.

Dear Barry,

I’m planning to convert my garage to a small guest unit, with a bathroom and kitchenette. Does this require a building permit? – Judy

Dear Judy,

Conversion of a garage to additional living space definitely requires a permit. According to the building code, a permit is required if you “construct, enlarge, alter, repair…or change the occupancy of a building…” In the case of your garage, you are planning to “alter” and to “change the occupancy.” Additionally, permits are required if you “install…any electrical…or plumbing system….” The construction of a bathroom and kitchen would therefore also necessitate a permit.

An additional consideration that will require building department approval is whether conversion of an existing garage to a living unit complies with the zoning requirements and restrictions in your neighborhood. In some areas, garage conversions are summarily disallowed. Some homeowners, after spending thousands of dollars on such conversions, have been forced to reconvert their garages. Although the permit process is not fun, conforming to local requirements can avert significant financial loss.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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