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posted: 3/28/2014 12:01 AM

Telltale signs that a roof is going kaput

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No homeowner wants to pay to repair a worn-out roof, but fixing the problem now could save thousands of dollars later.

Q. When it rains here, the water that comes out of our roof's two downspouts has a bunch of stuff that looks like sand. I think that it's just rust that the rain is washing out of the downspouts, but my wife thinks that it's chemical residue that gets soaked up by the clouds from a manufacturing plant a few miles away. What do you think it is?

A. It's the old "good news, bad news" scenario. The good: It's probably not rust from inside your downspout or chemical grime from a local factory.

The bad: The sandlike stuff that's draining out of your downspouts may likely be coming from your home's rooftop, a telltale sign that your roof could be wearing out (especially if the shingles are the commonly used "composite" type made of materials that often include gritty asphalt).

There are other indicators that your roof may need repairs or total replacement, regardless of whether it's covered by composite or clay tiles, wood shingles or some other type of material. One is staining on the inside ceiling of your attic, rafters or even your regular living area. It could mean that water is about to come pouring down. Other bad indicators are water-soaked insulation, or dampness around a chimney or metal flashing where water can slowly gather.

Another sign that your roof has problems is that it's covered by slippery stuff, such as moss, green slime or even weird-looking mushrooms.

Your best bet now would be to hire a professional roof inspector. He or she likely will charge $300 or so for the visit, but that would be money well-spent if the inspector catches a problem that could be fixed with some relatively inexpensive repairs today rather than the need to pay thousands of dollars more for a new roof in the not-too-distant future.

Q. I have operated a state-licensed children's day-care business in my home for seven years. I have all the required state and local permits and currently take care of only four kids instead of the maximum eight I am allowed. An older man bought the house next to me three months ago and instantly began complaining that the kids make too much noise when they play in my backyard. He's threatening that he'll get my license revoked by the authorities if I don't keep the kids indoors all day. Can he do this?

A. He can try to get your child-care license revoked and shut your business down, but he probably won't succeed.

Your letter states all of your licenses and permits are up-to-date and that you're caring for only half the number of kids that the law allows. It's also worth noting that authorities are keenly aware of the shortage of qualified day-care centers in areas where working parents can leave their kids, and few would agree with your neighbor's opinion that the minors should be cooped-up in your house all day instead of getting fresh air and playing in your backyard.

You also have the legal concept of "priority" on your side. Because you have operated the day-care center out of your home for seven years but your next-door neighbor only recently bought his house, you could argue that he voluntarily "moved to the nuisance" -- in this case, the nuisance being your modest care facility that he's complaining about today. Property owners ranging from 24-hour mini-markets to large airport authorities have successfully used this defense when a newcomer to the neighborhood has tried to curb their operations or shut them down completely.

Obviously, you need to make an earnest attempt to keep the kids' noise to a minimum. That means no yelling and making sure you keep the volume on your stereo down if you play that silly "Chicken Dance" song or other tunes that children seem to like.

A lawyer can provide you with additional guidance, as could the state and local agencies that regulate your home-based operation.

Q. We liked the suggestion you made a few weeks ago to form what you called an "inexpensive living trust" so our home and other assets could pass quickly to our kids without having them go through the whole probate process and spend lots of money on lawyers after we die. But when we called a local attorney to set up a trust, he said our state requires his fee to be a minimum of $3,500 plus another $495 "filing fee." That doesn't seem so "inexpensive" to us!

A. The attorney you talked to is incorrect. Not one of the 50 states demands a "minimum" fee for creating a money-saving trust for a homeowner's heirs.

Many legitimate lawyers will create a living trust for $500 to $1,500. The fee they charge is up to them and cannot be regulated by state law.

Some Internet sites, including and, will provide the documents you need for less than $200 and also give you help if you can't figure out the paperwork.

Real estate trivia: The average size of a newly constructed home jumped to 2,679 square feet last year from 2,362 in 2009, the National Association of Home Builders reports, in part because lower interest rates and rising home values have encouraged new-home buyers to "go bigger."

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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