Warranties for Capital Improvements It Pays to Read the Fine Print

When we think of product warranties, most of us think of the standard green registration cards that are found inside the box with the product alongside the operating instructions. We can register our new purchase by filling out the card and mailing it back to the manufacturer, or with Internet access, we can register at the manufacturer's Web site. In turn, we have a contract with the manufacturer that outlines the agreement of the warranty.

But how many of us have really read the warranty agreement? In many cases, we skip over the warranty altogether, except to know the basics, such as how long a product is insured and the cost of replacement parts and labor. Reading products warranty agreements is a bore, and most of us—even when we bother to register our high-ticket items in the first place—don't really pay as much attention as we should to the fine print. But toasters, TVs, and PCs aren't the only things that come with warranties. The roof of your townhouse or condo building likely has one too, and when the cost of an item or project tops six figures, reading and understanding the fine print isn't an option—it's a necessity.

For instance, if your own condo or townhouse had a new roof put on in the 1980s, your board or association may soon have to meet to discuss the looming need for installing a new one. Many questions arise: Which contractor's bid to accept? Which broker to go with? And the $64,000 question—is the money there?

A new roof is probably the most expensive capital improvement a building or association can undertake—so the warranties covering parts, labor, and the finished product need a thorough review.

A board or association may think if they have a 20-year warranty on their roof—or on their boiler, furnace, or HVAC system—they're absolved of worry for the next couple of decades, at least. Unfortunately, all warranties are not created equal, and the misunderstanding of a single clause could deal a serious, unexpected blow to an association's checkbook.

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