In an area with lots of older houses, many homeowners - especially those who are planning to sell now or somewhere down the road - have to start thinking about what needs to be replaced or at least repaired before they contact listing agents.

Many things - furnaces and central air-conditioning systems, for example - are often very expensive and require homeowners to spend money they won't necessarily recoup from a sale.

Among such pricey fixes is roof work.

Karen Schwartz of Elkins Park tells what I know is a familiar story, since it involves a decision I've had to make a few times in my life.

Her 90-year-old-plus stone-and-shingle house has a slate roof and copper gutters that are in bad shape.

To repair the roof and gutters would cost $8,000 to $10,000. Replacing with slate and copper would be $60,000, while asphalt shingles and aluminum gutters are $30,000.

The estimate will likely increase, Schwartz said, as it was discovered that the slate was installed over cedar shingles.

All the cedar will have to be removed and plywood decking installed over the entire roof before the asphalt shingles are applied, she said.

Schwartz's questions:

Is she better off just repairing the roof and reducing the price she asks for the house, or spending the money now to replace the roof?

How would the amount that would have to be deducted from the sale price, given a repaired roof that will need more maintenance in the future, compare with what would have to be spent to replace the roof?

Larry Di Franco is an associate broker and partner at Elfant Wissahickon Realtors in Northwest Philadelphia, the land of rambling old houses with aged roofs, and I figured he could provide the answers Schwartz needed.

"There is no question in my mind that the best course of action, given the above scenario, is to replace the roof now," he said.

Though Schwartz "might not expect having a particular sense of joy in having a new roof, she definitely will enjoy the peace of mind knowing that she has a quality, leak-free roof for the remainder of the time living in the house," DiFranco said.

She also will have the added benefit of increasing the marketability of the house when she does decide to sell, and potentially receiving a higher sale price, which will offset at least a portion of the cost of this major investment.

DiFranco offered several reasons why he had come to this conclusion:

First, the roof is at the end of its design life.

Second, most of the other houses on the block already have had their roofs replaced (and most buyers would gravitate to those houses).

Third, the $8,000- to-$10,000 cost of simply repairing the roof would provide limited benefit and likely mean continued expensive maintenance in the future.

If it is not replaced now, the roof will need to be in five to 10 years, and most likely at a higher cost than what Schwartz is being quoted today.

"The most cost-effective approach is to replace the roof sooner rather than later," DiFranco said.

Obtain price quotes from two or three reputable roofers offering quality products, he advised.

Reputable roofers will agree to provide a transferable warranty to a new buyer, so ask for one, he said. "It may not be offered automatically."

That's good advice in this market, in which buyers are looking for houses in move-in condition, not fixer-uppers.

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens