Discussions among home inspectors frequently circle back to the “correct” length of a home inspection report. Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer here and the sheer number of observations in a report is likely to reflect the size, age, and condition of the house being inspected as well as the style and detail of the home inspector. The risk for inspectors is writing too little and leaving the appearance of a thin and useless service. Or, write too much, and you run the risk of confusing and overwhelming the client. So how do you choose what to put in your report? What makes quality inspection reports?
Here are 4 guiding principles for writing quality inspection reports
1. Write a descriptive report
When I first started inspecting, I remember being confused about what exactly I should say in my reports. Basic repair items I found easy: the gutters are clogged with organic debris and require cleaning to ensure proper control of roof runoff. Or, the furnace filter is dirty and requires replacement; these filters should be replaced quarterly. But as we all know many findings on a home inspection are more complex and we frequently encounter findings that are not defects but are material data in helping our clients understand what they are buying or selling. What about a brand new roof?
Roofs leak. They are one of the systems for which home inspectors are most frequently sued. As I gained more experience as an inspector, I began reporting on roofs almost no matter what. After all, once you find your first brand new roof that is so poorly installed it requires replacement, you start to develop a bit of a nervous twitch with new roofs. If you choose to write a descriptive report, you do not just check a box that says,”the roof is new,” and move on, you add more detail. What type of roof is it? Does it look well-installed or amateur? Are there vulnerable areas of the roof, or is this a simple roofline?
Obviously, we are not going to take this approach on every system in the house; our reports would end up being longer than the unabridged Moby Dick. But descriptive report writing can result in helpful inspection reports. The emphasis should always be on useful information for the client and focus on items that are high-risk for the client such as structure, roof, siding, drainage, and plumbing.
2. Avoid boilerplate that is not specific to the house
Boilerplate that is not specific to your client’s house is not useful to your client. This is language that is built into many report-writing programs and overwhelms the useful information in a home inspection report and, I would argue, is there solely for the benefit of the home inspector. A common refrain from home inspectors is, “our clients don’t even read our reports.” Well, if you fill the report with fine-print useless information would you read it? If inspectors take the time to write reports that are worth reading, I have found our clients will read and appreciate them. Our industry has been weaned on the idea that loads of fine-print keep us out of trouble. I can find no data to support this. Quality work, a quality report and a signed contract keep us out of trouble. Write reports that are specific to your clients’ house.
3. Employ hot links for background data
- Not sure if there has been a class action lawsuit on that Carrier forced air furnace? Look it up. Find the appropriate article and include it as a hotlink.
- Not sure of the dishwasher has been recalled? Look it up and include a hotlink to look up the model and serial number.
- Want to include more information about mold in the attic? Find a great article online and include it as a hotlink.
Most software systems allow you to save these hotlinks to your library for future use. Over time, your reports will become rich with information for the curious client that wants to look up additional information.
The ideal home inspection report sequences information so that the busy client can find the big items in a matter of seconds and the more curious client can spend hours with the same report digging deeper. Hotlinks are a great way to make reports that can expand.
4. Visualize providing a report that services as a blueprint for maintaining the house
This is clearly beyond the scope of a minimum standard home inspection, but as I have often argued, you could do 400 bare minimum inspections a year and have 40 clients a year who are mad at you. For consistently happy clients, strive to deliver reports that act as a blueprint for maintaining the house. From basic house maintenance like keeping gutters clean to changing furnace filters, to more complex maintenance like monitoring penetrations in metal roofs and checking exposed windows for leaks, to including service stickers and service records in your reports, clients love having a report they can refer to for helping them maintain their house.