What to look for in a roof when you’re buying a home.

When you’re in the market for a home, you want to be sure that the house you choose is structurally sound. The roof is the first and most important thing to look at. Not only does a roof protect the rest of the house but small, unnoticed problems can turn into complicated, costly ones quickly.

When a house makes your “short list” of candidates for purchase, it’s crucial to do a general, visual examination of the roof. You don’t need to be an expert to see obvious damage, notice things that need attention, or spot areas that call for professional help. 

But a general survey is just a starting point. Just be sure to jot down what you see so you can pass the information along to a contractor who can do a more in-depth inspection later on. But, as a first step, your visual check of a roof should include the following questions. Take photos and detailed notes of anything you notice that might need attention from a professional contractor. 

A Short Roofing Checklist for Home Buyers

 Does the roof need obvious repairs? 

This is the first question you should ask when eyeballing the roof from a short distance, perhaps standing in the street or on the sidewalk in front of the property. Walk around the house once or twice and note anything that stands out, like missing shingles, remnants of fire or storm damage, large areas of discoloration, and other clear signs that something is wrong. 

Remember, this is just a first glance where you note anything that appears out of place physically or visually. Don’t worry if this is your first home purchase. And don’t be concerned if you know little or nothing about roofs. At this point, you’re just writing down what the roof looks like to you and what you think might be an issue. 

Are there leaks? 

Finding leaks will be your task when you are inside the home because that’s where they usually show up. But while you’re still doing that first walk-around, note whether there are any signs of water damage or large discolored patches of paint anywhere on the house. This can be a sign of exterior water damage. 

After you’re inside, either just yourself or with an agent, look at every wall, ceiling and floor for the same thing: evidence of discoloration, spotting or obvious water staining. This doesn’t necessarily mean roof damage or roof leaks, because it could be the result of plumbing problems. You won’t know just by looking so be sure to make a note of the location so a professional contractor can check it out during a full inspection of the roof later on. 

Is there any visible mold? 

Mold buildup anywhere on a house can mean serious roofing problems. Look for white, green, or black buildup, all of which can indicate mold. Note that unscrupulous sellers will sometimes attempt to paint over mold or leak stains. That’s why it’s vital to look for evidence of freshly painted ceilings and walls. 

Of course, some sellers have a complete paint job done before showing a house, so fresh paint doesn’t always mean trouble. But pay attention when just one area, one wall, or a single patch of ceiling has been recently painted. 

Are there worn or sagging areas? 

Roofs near the end of their life cycles tend to look worn and “tired,” but a sagging roof can mean even more extensive damage from water, a fire or a major storm. Note and photograph any parts of the roof that show signs of sagging, drooping or excessive age. 

Are shingles missing? 

Missing shingles can mean big trouble because they leave a roof unprotected and can lead to water damage. If the shingles appear to have been missing for a long time, the damage could be severe. Only a certified roofing contractor can say for sure, but your notes will help a professional team zero in on the problem areas. 

Are shingles visibly weathered? 

Cedar shakes and most types of asphalt shingles tend to curl up around their edges when their useful life is over. Be certain to make a note about any roof areas that have these “curled shingles.” 

Is the attic in good shape? 

If the home has an attic, check for signs of water damage on its ceiling. This tends to be one of the first places where discoloration shows up, so don’t forget to look at attic walls, ceilings and floors. Try to check the attic on a sunny day. If there are any cracks or loose joints, you’ll see light streaming through. Again, make a note of any places where you see daylight coming in or notice discolored paint or walls. 

What about the fascia boards? 

The fascia boards are those straight, very long boards that run all along the roof’s lower edge. When roofs are getting very old, the fascia boards will often show signs of discoloration and cracking. Walk all the way around the house, using a powerful flashlight if necessary, and do a visual inspection of the fascia boards. You might have to get behind some hedges and use the light for very shaded areas, but it’s worth the trouble. Damaged fascia boards can mean serious trouble. 

What about tile roofs? 

When you’re looking at a flat roof or one with standard shingles, it’s fairly easy to see major problems, but tile roofs pose a bit of a problem for the non-professional. That’s because the outer tiles can look great, but the underlying felt (usually called an underlay) might be in bad shape. When viewing the home, be sure to ask the owner or owner’s agent how long it’s been since the underlay was replaced. If it’s been more than 10 years, that could mean you have a roof that needs attention. 

What Next?

If you answer a strong “yes” to any of the above questions on the roofing checklist, then it’s probably time to seek professional help. An experienced roofing contractor can do a thorough inspection of any roof and find the details that you might miss. It’s one thing to do a quick visual on the home you plan to buy (or just bought), but only a licensed professional can offer reliable information about exactly what needs attention, what the costs will be, and what the expected life of the roof is before and after repair. 

What are your options? 

Buying a home is a complicated process, so when you or a home inspector finds a roofing problem, you have a few ways to go. First, you might ask for a separate roof inspection if things look serious and ask the seller to address the situation by repairing the roof (or replacing it completely in some cases). 

Second, you can request a credit against the price and take care of the repair/replacement yourself by hiring a professional roofing contractor. Finally, if the selling won’t agree to either of those proposals, you can always say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and begin searching for another house. It’s better to walk away from a deal than make a bad one, and a faulty roof is a huge factor in the equation of home buying. 

Hiring a professional team to fix or replace a roof 

There’s no reason to guess about the health of a roof when buying a house. Inspectors routinely list roofing issues at the top of their checklists when examining homes for clients. That’s because a faulty roof can turn into an extremely costly problem if it’s not taken care of quickly. 

Let Crest Exteriors check out your roof and determine exactly what kind of attention it needs, if any. When you purchase a home, your focus should be on structural issues that can be fixed quickly and identifying issues that could get worse with time. The Crest Exteriors team has decades of experience with roofs of all kinds and can help home buyers who need information about a roof’s health, before or after the purchase.