Posted by on January 26, 2017

If you own commercial real estate or are considering commercial real estate ownership, one of the most important things you’ll want to consider is how your propery is inspected. Exterior inspections, as well as inspections of the property’s interior, can locate potential issues to avoid extensive reparations costing thousands of dollars.

All building materials deteriorate with age and exposure to the weather. Through routine inspection and cyclical maintenance, the useful life span of commercial real estate and its historic fabric will be greatly increased.

The principal reason for developing this building inspection form is to advise building owners on the maintenance of their properties. The money invested in commercial real estate is considerable and care and effort are required to preserve and increase the value of the property.

Unfortunately, many in real estate management use the “squeaky wheel” technique in their approach to maintenance, doing little or nothing until failure occurs. And when it does the owner is hit with high repair bills and great inconvenience. The job of maintenance can be simplified if it is done systematically instead of haphazardly.

Preventive maintenance involves regular inspection of those parts of the building that are most likely to get out of working order. The accompanying checklist is intended to help a building owner or manager identify and keep an accurate record or inventory of the building’s problems to facilitate systematic repair and maintenance.

This procedure is a brief but comprehensive overall building inspection. Each of the areas addressed may have more extensive inspection procedures which could be followed in the case of specific problems.


A neglected roof will result in higher costs from damages caused by leaks than a carefully maintained roof. Roofing materials and elements should be inspected twice a year, before and after the harsh weather of winter, to determine maintenance needs. The most common types of roof include gable, hip, hip-and-valley, gambrel, and flat or built-up roof.

Asphalt Shingles: Pay particular attention to shingles on the ridge, hips, and at roof edges; they get the hardest wear. Also watch for lumpiness that indicates a new roof has been applied over old shingles; all sorts of damage could be covered up. Look for:

  • Mineral granules almost totally worn off shingles
  • Mineral granules collecting in gutters and base of downspouts
  • Edges of shingles look worn
  • Nails popping up
  • Roof looks new but lumpy
  • Mold or moss forming on shingles
  • Holes in the roof from guy cables, TV antennas etc.
  • Leading edge of roof damaged by ladders

Clay Tiles: Clay tiles will weather well but are prone to breakage from mechanical shock, such as a falling tree limb or people walking on the tiles without protecting them. Check for:

  • Broken tiles
  • Missing tiles
  • Nails popping up
  • Mold or moss forming on tile

Slate: Some slates are more durable than others, but a properly laid top quality slate should last a century or more (slate longevity varies depending on slate source). Check for:

  • Broken slates
  • Missing slates
  • Slate flaking apart
  • Nails letting go
  • Slate particles collecting in valley flashing

Metal: If the metal isn’t copper, zinc, stainless steel, and other corrosion-resistant metal blends your primary task will be to fight rust by keeping the roof painted. Check for:

  • Rust or corrosion spots
  • Signs of previous patch jobs
  • Punctures in metal
  • Joints and seams broken

Wood Shingles and Shakes: For maximum roof life, shingles and shakes require proper air circulation underneath so they can dry after rain. Therefore, they should be laid on open sheathing. If you find that they are improperly laid, you can help them dry by providing adequate ventilation in your attic. Look for:

  • Biological attack (moss or mold, insects, birds)
  • Cupping and warping
  • Deep cracks and splits
  • Wood has become unevenly thin from erosion

Built-up Roof: The roof membrane of a built-up roof consists of one or more plies of roofing felt bonded together either by hot or cold applied roof coatings. Deterioration of the membrane produces areas of the surface of the roof where leaks can occur. It is particularly difficult to diagnose leaks in flat roofs because water can enter at one point and migrate horizontally for long distance before leaking inside the building. Check for:

  • Blisters or slits in the membrane
  • Ponding of water (or dried areas where ponding was)
  • Drain pipes are plugged
  • Drip edges are provided
  • Gravel covers roof well
  • Flashing are well positioned or seated
  • Trash build-up

Membrane Roof: A further development and evolution of a built-up roof is a membrane roof composed of rolls/sheets of materials such as synthetic rubber, thermoplastics, or other man-made materials. Such roofs are often installed over a layer of rigid insulation. These types of membrane roofs may not have a stone top layer. Also, these roof are often white or other reflective colors to reduce solar heat gain and the urban heat island effect.

Green Roof: The “green roof” with a living plant material layer at the top surface is typically a membrane roof as noted in “g.” above, but with a very important root-resisting and waterproof layer(s) to isolate the living plant material layer from layers below. For further reference see this resource from the Whole Building Design Guide.


Projections: Anything that breaks through the roof surface, such as a chimney or vent pipe, offers an entrance for water and so must be adequately flashed. Check that no projection or ornament is so weak or damaged that it could topple and smash roofing materials. Check for:

  • Proper flashing around projections
  • Weathering of mortar joints at chimneys
  • Loose mortar joints that admit water
  • Chimney leans
  • Loose and wobbly antennae
  • Loose lightning rods
  • Loose and wobbly weather vane

Galvanic Action: Corrosion of metals can be caused by galvanic action, or when a metal gets corroded from an electrical charge. Check for:

  • Ferrous metals touching dissimilar metals, such as galvanized nails in copper flashing

Cornice: Roofs frequently fail first at the edges and admit water into the cornice. Be sure to check for:

  • Moisture causing paint to peel on cornice, especially at the underside
  • Broken or missing cornice
  • Cracks and other damages

Underside of Roof: Pay particular attention to projections and eaves. Inspect on a rainy day to see if water stains are current or past problem. Look for:

  • Water stains on soffit boards
  • Damaged soffit boards
  • Damaged fascia boards

Flashing: Flashing is usually made of thin metal, such as copper, aluminum, or galvanized steel. It should be installed completely around every protrusion through the roof, and at every joint where vertical wall intersects the roof. Check your property for:

  • Loose, corroded, or broken flashing
  • Missing and uncaulked openings at the tops of flashing
  • Daubs of roof cement on flashing (They may hide leaks that have not been corrected)
  • Base flashing and counterflashing of vertical joints

Gutters and Leaders: Leaking gutters can cause extensive damage to the entire building, not just the roof. Pay special attention to built-in gutters which can feed hidden leaks directly to the cornice and down into the main structure. Check your gutters and leaders for:

  • Gutters clogged with debris or ice
  • Gutters that are rusty or corroded
  • Gutters that are loose, tilted, or missing
  • Broken seams in metal linings of built-in gutters
  • Birds nests and roosting places


The accumulated effects of hot sun, wind, rain, hail, dust, winter snow, and ice over the years will weather even the best quality masonry wall and/ or siding. Natural finishes, including paint, deteriorate and show signs of peeling and blistering. Cracks develop as members weather and caulking and mortar joints give way to water penetration. The following checklist will be useful in inspecting buildings on a regular basis to determine maintenance needs.

Masonry & Mortar: The inspector should pay particular attention to loose mortar joints, cracks, stains and wet spots on the wall.

  • Cracks can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, hairline or major. Document the nature of the crack, explaining as best as possible the causes of the cracks. Note if cracks are running through just the mortar or also the masonry units.
  • Mortar: Inspect mortar joints to determine if they are loose or missing and evaluate their condition as good, fair or poor.
  • Brick: Check for stains, wet spots, bulges, spalling, efflorescence, and missing brick.
  • Stone: Inspect stone work for wet spots, stains, spalling, bulges, and efflorescence. For a comprehensive inspection checklist for stone, see GSA 04400-01-S.

Stucco/Plaster: This is the finer plaster used for the coating of walls, surfaces, and other decorations. Inspect suspect areas for:

  • Cracks, staining, loose stucco, soft spots, blisters or bulges, and falling stucco.

Siding, Shingles, and Sheathing: Hot sun, wind, rain, hail, dust, snow, and ice are the principal causes of damages to siding and sheathing. Inspect siding, shingles, soffits and wood trim such as cornices for:

  • Cracked boards, loose boards, or broken boards
  • Rotted and missing members
  • Signs of veins of dirt (termite tunnels)


Finishes need to be renewed periodically by application of a fresh penetrating stain coat or a paint coat when wear begins to show. There are many causes of poor paint wear. Most common are vapor or condensation problems. Other causes are rain or other water behind siding or shingles and also improperly applied priming coat.

Painting: Inspect all finished surfaces for:

  • Signs of peeling, cracks, and alligatoring
  • Document the overall findings as good, fair, or poor

Decorative Elements: Ornamental elements also undergo wear and tear. Inspect not only the ornament but also its supports, such as anchors, for expansion due to rust.

  • Cast iron: Inspect for rust, deterioration, corrosion, and loose and missing members
  • Stone/terra cotta: Inspect for loose, eroded, spalled, and stained tiles
  • Wood: Inspect for rot, moisture, cracks, missing and loose members


Fenestration refers to the arrangement of doors and windows. Energy losses can be reduced by weatherstripping. Inspect your doors and windows to ensure that weatherstripping is properly installed and all sources of infiltration are in check.

Doors: Inspect doors, frames, and weatherstripping. Check:

  • Door alignment
  • All parts for deterioration
  • All door hardware for proper operation

Windows: Inspect windows for material soundness at sill, joint between sill and jamb, corners of bottom rail and muntins. Check for:

  • Proper operation of all sash (including upper sash of double hung units)
  • Proper operation of hardware
  • Loose, cracked or missing glazing putty
  • Soundness of weatherstripping
  • Cracks and other damages to lintel
  • Rot and/or deterioration of wood framing


Porch: Moisture problems in an exterior ceiling are indications of faulty drainage from the roof above. Inspect the roof to make sure water isn’t entering the main structure of the building as well. Check for:

  • Peeling paint and water stains on the ceiling
  • Rotted and warped boards in the deck
  • Damaged and/or loose steps and handrails
  • Rotted boards and other damages to ceiling
  • Cracks and other damages on a concrete floor
  • Spalling, cracks, loose and/or missing mortar joints on brick or stone

Wooden Supports: Wood destroying insects and fungi can cause considerable damage to the wooden supports of exterior ceilings and decks. Early detection of pests and decay can help building owners avoid expensive repairs. Inspectors should pay particular attention to:

  • Molds and fungus
  • Wood rot and termite infestation
  • Seal of deck at foundation
  • Corrosion of iron fittings on members

Infestation: Chemical treatment of the structure and adjacent soil will drive insects away. No matter what protective measures are taken, a periodic inspection should be made at least every six months. The existence of termites or infestation in older buildings with crawl space is difficult to detect because contact with the soil is usually direct and termite tubes are not evident. Inspection by professional exterminators is essential in such cases. Check for:

  • The need of treatment for ants and other wood destroying insects
  • Termites
  • Damage and rot on all wood members


The ground should be properly graded to direct the flow of rainwater away from the building and from the lot to prevent standing water. The property should always be checked after a heavy rain to see if it drains properly.

Driveways and Sidewalks: These are often areas that get the most foot traffic, and should be kept free of potential hazards. Be on the lookout for:

  • Safety hazards (heaves and depressions)
  • Cracks on and deterioration of paved material
  • Damages to and curb clearances
  • Oil stains and pools of water

Window Well: These wells are often suspect to water or mold damage. Check for:

  • Leaks and standing water
  • Leaves and other debris
  • Other damages to window well material

Storm Drains: Check for proper drainage and/or clogging of drain line.

Retaining Wall: If a retaining wall collapses on your property, it could be disasterous. Keep an eye out for:

  • Cracks, spalling from subflorescence and freezing
  • Leaning and Bulges
  • Loose, crumbling, and missing mortar joints

Foundation: Inspect to ensure that there is no collection of leaves and other debris at the edges of the foundation and for proper drainage. Check for:

  • Cracks, spalling from subflorescence and freezing
  • Leaning and Bulges
  • Loose, crumbling, and missing mortar joints

Landscape: Check all landscape features on a regular basis, and prepare for inclement weather and seasonality as needed. Check your property’s yards and green areas for:

  • Trees that overhang or touch buildings which cause damage or trash build-up
  • Creepers and vines that are causing damage (paint peeling, joint deterioration etc.)
  • Plants holding water against the property
  • Tree roots damaging paths
  • Bare spots show in lawn and /or shrubs need pruning

With a constant inspection schedule, you can avoid any serious maintenance fees, and keep your commercial real estate property looking great.

For more information on inspecting commercial real estate interiors, click here.