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  1. 4 likes
    TIJ is very pleased to announce the first in a series of articles by our own Jim Morrison. He's a reporter for the Banker and Tradesman in Boston and a former home inspector. Buckle up, put your ego in check and learn from the very best. On Improving Your Reports Consider this advice from a close friend, though we've likely never met. For about 25 years, I was a home inspector. Five years or so ago, I left the field to write for newspapers and magazines in a time when most outlets are laying people off. I know a bit about both inspecting and about writing. Most of what follows are my own thoughts, but some of it I've learned from others. Where memory serves, I've attributed those thoughts that aren't mine. I've known hundreds of home inspectors and -like many of you- have read HI reports numbering in the hundreds. There are no more than two inspectors I'm aware of that the following does not apply to (and one of them is dead): Your report is much, much worse than you think and it may be your biggest liability. Your report isn't worth much if your client doesn't read and understand it. Newspaper writers are arguably under more pressure than anyone to attract, inform and keep readers' eyes on the page/screen until the very last word (and that's what you ought to be doing, too). Writing Reports Is The Single Most Important Part of Your Job If the greatest inspector ever born finds a serious defect in a property and explains it eloquently on-site, but fails to get her message across in writing, she has failed her duty and put herself at great risk. If something goes wrong and she gets a call from her client's attorney, the report will be the bulk of her defense. It had better be good. A clear, complete, concise report is the best product you can offer. It's also your best defense in a lawsuit. Best of all, it might even discourage lawyers from filing suit against you in the same way that bad reports encourage them. It's not what you meant, but what you wrote that will protect (or sink) you. Words have meanings and those meanings matter. Hell, even commas have meaning, but don't take my word for it. Read this. It's far from the only case of its kind. Look, you want your report to be an easy, informative read and as they say: easy reading is damned hard writing. You don't have to be a gifted novelist to write a decent HI report; it's a skill that can be taught and honed. Your Report Is Awful I wasn't a very good report writer. To get good, you need practice (which most of you have) and good coaching (which most of you don't). A good editor/coach will bring anyone's game up. Way up. Now that I've had a lot of brutal, ego-smashing coaching, I can see just how bad some of my work was. Luckily, I've forgiven myself and managed to avoid the inside of a courtroom. You may not be as lucky, but there's still time to save yourself. It's really important for HIs to understand that -like it or not- you are professional writers. You may be a brilliant inspector who has never missed a defect. You may even charm the socks off every client you've ever had. But if you aren't writing reports that clearly and concisely put what you saw on-site into your clients' heads through your reports, then you are a liability to your firm. Writing Is Like Playing Catch One of the reasons my reports weren't that good is because I thought like a home inspector and not like a professional writer. The first big concept you have to accept is that writing is like playing catch. It's not enough to be a good thrower (writer). For a game of catch to be successful, you need a decent catcher (reader) as well. But you don't control who's catching (reading). You'll have different readers every day, so home inspectors need to be the best writers they can possibly be. The information you're trying to get across has to land gently and squarely in the reader's heads, in a way that is impossible to misunderstand. If you make a reader work for it, many of them won't get your meaning and you will have failed at your job and put yourself at risk. Some Good Role Models Ernest Hemingway is widely considered one of the greatest American writers. He got his training as a journalist. He avoided big words and always used the right words. His prose was stark, short, punchy, easy to understand and packed with meaning. He didn't dumb his writing down; he made it crystal clear. He's a great example to follow. Mark Twain, too. Closer to home, search the TIJ forum for reports that Jim Katen has posted. He is the best report writer in the business. His reports are remarkably clear and free of major flaws. If you find yourself thinking, this is very different from most of the HI reports I've read; Good! Don't write like most home inspectors. Want to dramatically improve your writing and reduce your liability in 15 minutes? Google up Orwell's six rules for writing, print them out and tape them to your computer monitor. Read them often and follow them always. That'll do for now. More later. Email Jimmy questions, comments or send him some of the worst HI writing you've seen at: JamesAndrewMorrison@gmail.com
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    Actually Phrases From Actual Reports The following bolded comments were taken from reports submitted to me by intrepid TIJ inspectors. I was disappointed because overall, the reports were pretty good. I was really hoping to complete this series with some outstanding examples of horrific writing, but I suppose I should have known better. There were sharp handrail ends at the stairways, which should be serviced to help prevent injury. We know what the writer intended, but a buyer or a contractor might not. How, exactly, does one ‘service’ a sharp railing end? I think this is better, more clearly stated thusly: The end of the handrails on the stairs are sharp, which is a hazard. They should be rounded (or ‘returns should be installed’ or whatever the situation calls for) for safety. An extension cord was being used to power the condensate pump, but it should be plugged directly into its own outlet for safety. Have an outlet installed. The condensate pump is powered by an extension cord, which is hazardous. An electrician should be hired to hard-wire an electrical receptacle next to the sump pump so it can be safely plugged in directly. The stairs leading to the apartment are not level. They drop from east to west at a rate that well exceeds the allowed ratio of 1:48. The condition can be construed as a trip hazard. OK, we’ve all seen something like this hundreds of times. This was in an apartment attached to a 137-year-old commercial bakery. These places often have dozens of non-compliant features, some meaningful, some not. If it is important enough to put in the report, I think you owe it to your readers to use complete sentences and follow the OAR rule. This inspector nailed the observation, but the final sentence (analysis) is squishy and there is no recommendation. The phrase ‘can be construed as a trip hazard’ forces the reader to interpret it. I presume what the inspector was thinking was something along the lines of ‘I need to tell my client about this potential risk, but the only way to fix it is to rip the stairs out and rebuild them and I know he’s not going to do that and I don’t blame him. I have to write something, so I’ll just throw the criticism out there with a light warning.” I think replacing the final sentence with something like the following would be much better. “This is a tripping hazard. The stairs should be properly rebuilt for safety, which will be expensive.” That communicates the risk to the buyer, lets them know fixing it is a big deal, and that they should fix it. This is a very nicely built example of 1960’s construction. The floor joists and roof sheathing are slight by today’s standards but very typical for the era. This strikes me as unnecessarily confusing. It’s nicely built, but slight? Personally, I would ditch the first sentence altogether. If there was ever a major problem in this house, I can imagine the plaintiff’s attorney’s pupils turning into little dollar signs after reading that sentence. I almost never wrote anything complimentary in a report. Your client knows the house is nice; that’s why they’re buying it. I recommend restraining your focus on what you’re required to report and what’s wrong with the house. The toilet in the main bath is loose. It moves a lot. Repair will require removing the toilet and replacing the wax ring. This is a $6-8 project that should take about 20 minutes, maybe an hour if you have never done it before. Do not put it off. The wax ring could leak destroying the flooring and damaging the structure, the toilet could break, or both – costing hundreds or even thousands to repair. Can we save the author a bit of time and trouble? The toilet in the main bathroom is loose and moves when sat upon. Loose toilets leak, which will cause damage. This toilet should be properly reinstalled now. (This next line is optional:) It’s a fairly simple project that some handy people can take on themselves or you can have a plumber do it. That's it, friends. Thanks for reading. I hope some of it was helpful. Jim Morrison used to inspect homes in Greater Boston. Today he covers residential real estate for a trade publication in Boston. You can reach him at JamesAndrewMorrison@gmail.com
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    Was that a jab, or a left hook?😎
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    Did you turn him on during the inspection?
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    I see that with one coat stucco all the time. There's a reason why traditional stucco was applied in three coats. . .
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    In NY, AHJ's have zero latitude to overlook a requirement. You cannot indemnify negligence. Anecdotally, I haven't seen any nuisance tripping issues with the most recent wave of AFCI's.
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    1+ on the stress management. I find driving to get there before the realtor with the key, mustn't keep them waiting, most stressful. I envy you guys that get the Supra key. I recommend finding a doctor and having a blood test. That way you know if cholesterol is building up in your arteries. I never dreamed I had that problem at 165 lbs, but my arteries were clogging up. Now I take a daily pill, like detergent oil in your engine. My least stressful occupation was forestry technician. I'd drive around with maps and hike about 8 km (5 miles) over rough terrain in the clear mountain air, 5 days a week. Born in 1950, so am 67 in 2017. Left-handed but my right is stronger for hard labor. Pretty much retired from the stress racket, and working on my bucket list before it springs a leak.
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    Kurt M is like 78 or 79; waiting to hear his comments. . .
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    I am seventy-three. work every day. never worked nights or week-ends and only have done one sunday inspection in last 35yrs. I have been shot five times, thrown off tall buildings, and chased by irate husbands and managed to thrive for many decades. I smoked 2 1/2 packs of Camels everyday for forty-seven years. Damn near killed me when I quit. Well it damn near killed me before I quit! I slowed down at 68yrs (heart attack), but did not stop working. I think that was the right choice for me. I really believe we, as inspectors, fail to properly address the stress in our work life. Stress management is key. I accomplished that with a strict and rigid schedule. Yoga may also have been a good choice. waiting to see what other ancient ones write.
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    Better than "Lead Testing not Necessary"
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    Dang it, now you're black-balled by that agent's inner group. But you'll get a good review from your client. BTW, a layer of 5/8 drywall over the ply will make that issue go away..
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    The 2000 IRC does say 'equivalent' when applied to the ceiling but it doesn't say that FRT is an equivalent. Your word should stand until the agent has docs saying otherwise and proof that the stuff installed is actually FRT plywood. Hearsay doesn't get much regard from me.
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    FRT plywood costs about 3 times as much as drywall. People don't use it unless they need the fire resistance and the structural properties that come with it. I'd also guess that it's only 1/4" thick. You gave your opinion. I see no need for you to change it.
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    Read this story to see how a single missing comma recently cost a Maine company $10 million. Commas matter. Words matter more. Make sure your reports are written in such a way that they are impossible to misunderstand.
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    That roof is a horrible mess. Nothing correct with the installation and the later patching made it even worse. It really doesn't look 4 years old. It needs to come off. I can't imagine any roofer willing to install something over that. I also feel bad for the slate roof. It looks like it got attacked by the bucket-o-tar guy that patched the low slope roof.
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    As I see it, there are no "main panels." There's a safety switch, which is the service disconnect, and there are three sub panels.
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    You can't open the cover without lowering the arm first. In most cases, that'll cut power to the whole shebang. Occasionally, you can lower the arm *just enough* to get the deadfront open without cutting power, but don't try it in a critical situation. Yes. They should. The large switch and the three load centers are each separate, listed items, despite their close proximity. Right now some of the neutral currents are flowing over the nipples, which, by the way, could have been the equipment grounding conductors. It looks like you've got some serious workspace issues as well, no?
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    That's good. I can smell it.
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    I added it to the calendar- use the "create" button at the top. Select "event".