I've always been proud of the home inspection reports that I produce, but a recent peer review of my reports turned my pride to embarrassment. I swapped home inspection reports with a couple home inspectors in different parts of the country for a brutal review of each others reports, and had my inspection report torn to shreds.
These home inspectors spent several hours going over every line and every sentence in my inspection report, and I did the same for them. They pointed out awkward sentences in my reports, photos that weren't clear, opinions on how much info was being conveyed, and so on. The most pervasive issue with my inspection reports was too much useless information... or fluff.
What is a home inspection report?
After this review, I decided to re-think the entire purpose of a home inspection report: the main purpose of a home inspection is to educate a potential buyer on the condition of a home. A home inspection report documents the findings of the home inspection; in other words, a home inspection report documents the condition of the house. The key word here is condition (not components).
Over the years, many home inspection reports, including my own, have morphed in to a homeowner's maintenance manual that waters down the condition of the house by including oodles and oodles of maintenance information that may or may not be of any use to the new homeowner. A lot of page space also gets dedicated to documenting the components of a building; the condition of these components isn't always easy to determine. I once attended a week-long home inspection 'school', and was shocked at how little time was spent teaching new home inspectors how to identify defects with houses. The majority of the class was spent teaching new home inspectors how to fill out a home inspection report, and how to properly document the components of a home, rather than the conditions.
With all of the extra homeowner maintenance information and documention about what components exist at a home, the most important part of the home inspection report can be tougher and tougher to find. Why am I including the brand of air conditioner in my inspection reports? Why does the beginning of my inspection report have a warning about lead paint in old buildings? Why do I have so much fluff?
I've decided to get rid of all the fluff, and I've also decided that my home inspection reports are not going to imitate a homeowner's maintenance manual. I still discuss homeowner maintenance during the inspection, and I still include items in my report that are in need of maintenance, but that's all. If a new home buyer wants a homeowner's maintenance manual, they can buy Home Maintenance for Dummies for ten bucks on Amazon. I'm sure there will be much more useful information there than I could ever try to cram in to one of my home inspection reports.
My new home inspection reports
From now on, my home inspection reports are packed with photos and comments that explain the photos, as well as recommendations that tell my client what to do. As an ASHI Certified Home Inspector I follow the ASHI Standards of Practice, so I'm required to document several components in a house, such as the type of foundation, the type of siding, the size of the electric service, etc. This documentation is now going to be pushed to the very end of my inspection reports; I think this is the least important stuff that I report on, so it belongs at the end.
I've always included a summary for my inspection reports, but my summaries have always been way too long. My new summary lists the items that, in my opinion, are most likely to affect someone's decision to purchase a property. That's it, that's all. Here's a sample.I'm sure in five years I'll look back on this report in disgust, as I do now with the reports I was writing five years ago... but hey, change is good.