A roof, says Nick Bryditzki, owner of The Roof Medics, in Phoenix, is like a pair of windshield wipers: “You only pay attention to it when it rains.”

Most homeowners would prefer not have to think about the roof, and, Bryditzki says, most roofing contractors would rather sell a new roof than inspect an old one — which is why most don't offer annual inspections. Such inspections allow homeowners to spot potential problems early and prevent them from becoming bigger problems. And the homeowner who doesn't bother with a roof until it's leaking is typically thrust into the unpleasant situation of what Ken Kelly, owner of Kelly Roofing, in Naples, Fla., calls “playing Russian roulette” by looking for a contractor online or in the phone book.

CHECK LIST 101 Kelly Roofing began inspecting customers' roofs in 2003, put the program on hold for a few years while it worked to service a ton of hurricane-damaged roofs, then reactivated the program in 2007 when the full force of recession hit Naples. Those inspections, which are free, benefit both homeowners and Kelly Roofing: homeowners stay updated on their roof situation, and Kelly Roofing generates referrals as well as repair work for the company's 15 roof repair technicians. An inspection involves technicians running through a computerized checklist of 101 items, which takes about 20 minutes and is emailed to customers as a PDF along with any relevant photos. Kelly (who is happy to answer questions at [email protected]) says that upsells of gutters, insulation, and skylights more than pay for the costs of the services. Estimators schedule inspection calls between sales appointments.

SEPARATION OF POWERS The Roof Medics sell roof inspection services for both residential and commercial structures. Bryditzki says that costs begin at $150 and depend on roof complexity. By far the most common problems have to do with roof penetrations — vents, stacks, satellite dishes — and Bryditzki says that 80% of the roofs his company inspects need work. In seven out of 10 such situations, fixing the roof involves repairing rather than replacing it. “In this economy,” he says, “a lot of people don't have the money to replace a roof. [If they do,] I give them a scope of work and they can go to anybody they want. And they can hire me to supervise the work.”

At Kelly Roofing, the promise of an annual roof inspection helps sell the re-roofing job. “We tell the homeowner why it's important,” Ken Kelly says. “To maintain the manufacturer's warranty on products, and to avoid the problems the owners had with their last roof.”