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Hi TIJ Readers! One of the most common topics we're asked to address in our articles, presentations, and one-on-one conversations is report writing. How can home inspectors do it well? To answer this question, we went to several experience home inspectors and asked them for their tips. See what they recommend in the article, excerpted below. Best, Stephanie Inspection Report Writing: 8 Best Practices For inspection clients and home inspectors alike, inspection reports are worth their weight in gold. Many inspection clients?often home buyers?rely on the findings inspectors detail in their reports to make important purchasing decisions. "[The inspection report is] basically a giant list of everything that is wrong with your (potential) home," explained Kristin Wong in her article "How to Read (and React to!) a Home Inspection Report" for the Architectural Digest. "And while not every issue is a big deal, some are significant enough to have you rethinking your offer, or at least renegotiating with the seller." Likewise, the home inspectors themselves find value in the reports they generate. For many inspectors, well-written inspection reports symbolize a level of maturity and expertise in the industry. Furthermore, many state licensing boards, associations, and franchises review inspector-members' reports annually as a way of measuring the quality of the inspectors' work. "There's almost nothing more important to your reputation and success as a professional home inspector than the quality of the report your client receives after you've finished inspecting a home," argues Inspection Certification Associates (ICA). As important as inspection reports are to the industry, there's a wide array of opinions regarding exactly how to write a good report. Sometimes, it feels as though there are just as many ways to generate a report as there are home inspectors. As a home inspection insurance provider, we're interested in what techniques home inspectors can employ to create quality reports. So, we interviewed several seasoned inspectors to learn what strategies they suggest other inspectors use to achieve report writing success. We've compiled their tips into eight inspection report writing best practices below. 1. Don't rush it. Of the home inspectors we interviewed, all of them have completed reports onsite, but none of them still do. Our interviewees argue that finishing reports offsite makes for better final products. "I wouldn't put my John Hancock on any report that was completed and generated onsite," said Mark S. Lodner of LBI Home & Building Inspection in Virginia. "It's just asking for trouble." What exactly did our interviewees find concerning about onsite reports? Mistakes. After reviewing some of their own onsite inspection reports, our inspectors realized that writing reports in one go made it more likely that they make mistakes?often, minimal misspellings, but sometimes, complete oversights. Thus, our home inspectors believe it's important to take the time to review reports with fresh eyes before sending them to clients. For many of them, taking a few hours or an evening to complete a report still allows them to deliver reports in a timely manner, thus respecting their clients' time and deadlines. "[By writing reports offsite,] I don't have anybody looking over while I'm typing, rushing me, which can result in sloppy sentence structure, making mistakes, and leaving things out," said Miki Mertz of Complete Home Inspection in Kansas. Randy Sipe of Family Home Inspection Services in Kansas and the Board for the National Home Inspector Examination (NHIE) agrees?not just from his own report writing experience, but from reviewing other inspectors' reports. Additionally, Sipe finds that he's better able to contextualize defects when he reviews all the inspection photos later on. It also helps him determine the seriousness of the issues when considered as one piece of a larger puzzle. Mike Burroughs of QED Service in Louisiana, too, has discovered ways to improve his reports post-inspection. In fact, reviewing his reports offsite has helped Burroughs catch significant property defects he would have otherwise missed. "There have been a number of times [when] I've come home, blew up photos, [and] started looking to make sure I put all the right markings on them, indicating what the problems were. And lo and behold, I've found another issue that I didn't notice while I was onsite," Burroughs said. Appearances. In addition to defending the inspection information's integrity, completing reports offsite can also help with inspectors' appearances. As a former member of the Louisiana State Board of Home Inspectors, Burroughs has heard clients complain about home inspectors who spend their inspections buried in their phones and tablets. According to Burroughs, these clients wonder if their inspectors are paying more attention to their devices than the inspections themselves. "As an inspector, you have to remember what the public sees you do and what their opinion of what you do is," Burroughs said. [READ MORE]
When Someone Asks What Time It Is, Don’t Tell Them How to Build a Watch Even useful information gets lost in a sea of words. Your task is to tell the reader everything they need to know -and no more- clearly and concisely. If you want to include your personal treatise on how to maintain perfectly even heat in a Queen Anne Victorian with no storm windows using an oil-fired steam boiler, then include that as a separate handout; people who are interested can read it. Don’t make the other 99 percent of your clients suffer through it unnecessarily. It makes sense to think of a home inspection as the rough equivalent of a prospective homebuyer asking you the questions, “What do I need to know about this house before I buy it? And, “What significant risks should I anticipate?” New to a rural community, I was talking to a great old neighbor and a WWII vet. I asked him what the best route to the interstate was. He told me, “Go down to the main road and turn left, when you get to the end of the stone wall there’s a road on your left that’ll take you past Wilson’s farm, there’ll be a Gulf (used to be a Shell) gas station on the right, then some condos and in 2 miles you’ll see the general store. Don’t take that left. Instead, keep going down the main road and you’ll see another left just before the drug store. That’ll bring you past the library, the middle school and after you pass South Meadow Pond you can take the right that’ll bring you to Town Hall. You don’t want that left either. “ He went on this way for a while like so many HI reports do, too. If your report isn’t straightforward and easy to understand, there’s a good chance people won’t read it and miss something important. Let’s remember the goal: Your goal isn’t to win lawsuits, that’s what attorneys do. You’re in business to help clients and avoid lawsuits. Do yourself a favor and make it easy for your clients to recognize and retain the important information in your report. Learn To Recognize Inspector-Speak. Resolve to stop using It. Marc Cramer used to teach a report writing class. If he still does, I recommend you take it. He wrote the best example of truly heinous HI report-writing I’ve seen to date. He asked attendees what an inspector should report, if anything, if they encountered a tiger in the master bedroom. The multiple choices included something along the lines of (I’m sure I’m not doing it justice): “A large, carnivorous feline -possibly resembling Panthera tigris- in the southwest corner of the master bedroom. Adult tigers lead largely solitary lives. They establish and maintain territories but have much wider home ranges within which they roam. Resident adults of either sex generally confine their movements to their home ranges, within which they satisfy their needs and those of their growing cubs. Individuals sharing the same area are aware of each other's movements and activities. The size of the home range mainly depends on prey abundance, and, in the case of males, on access to females. It was not determined how the animal entered the bedroom, but it poses a likely hazard for persons wishing to enter. For this reason, the master bedroom was excluded from the scope of the inspection. Further investigation by a licensed professional is suggested.” (The italicized sentences above were excerpted from Wikipedia.) Using the fewest and best possible words, you need to put the relevant information neatly and gently in your client’s hands in a way that is impossible for them to misunderstand. Don’t try to sound smart. It inevitably has the opposite effect. Clear, concise writing makes the writer sound smart. If you inspect a home with a worn-out asphalt roof, write: The asphalt shingle roof on this house is worn past the standard for replacement. It should be stripped and replaced now by a qualified professional. The process will be expensive. You can quibble about a particular word or phrase, but that pretty much nails it. You don’t have to explain how important a roof is, how shingles are made, what the cost range could be, or anything else. Somewhere on this site or one of its predecessors, Jim Katen (the best HI report writer I know of) recommended people buy and read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Most HI’s probably won’t, but I guarantee if you do, it’ll point out at least one bad habit you can correct. Probably more than one. Observation, Analysis, Recommendation Every comment in your report should include your observation (what you found), your analysis (what it means) and your recommendation (what your client should do about it). I learned this from recently-retired Mass. home inspector Bob Mulloy and it stands the test of time. I am a slow typist. After organizing my thoughts and writing around this principal, I only rarely spent more than 45 minutes writing a report. Example: At least 12' of the structural sill along the east wall has been damaged by termites. This significant structural damage must be replaced by a licensed builder now which will be expensive. A few of you have sent me sample reports, but unfortunately for me, there was no truly cringe-worthy writing in any of them. My next installment in this series will address some specifics.
Hey TIJ Readers! Long time since I last posted. National Home Inspection Month was a busy one for us with our funny home inspection story contest and our first-ever guest-written article. (You can read the top stories from the contest here and Randy's article here.) Since so many of our articles focus on errors and omissions issues, we decided it was time to share a story from our archives that addressed a general liability problem. What makes this one interesting, too, is that it addresses not only the power of pre-claims assistance but the power of a well-written report. You can read the full story on our website here. Or, feel free to check out that preview below. Have a great rest of your inspection week! Stephanie How one inspection report saved thousands of dollars The following is a real home inspector general liability pre-claim from our archives. The inspector has given us permission to reveal his identity and to use direct quotes from our post-pre-claim interview. Pre-claims assistance is exactly what it sounds like: It's free help responding to unhappy clients in a way that may prevent said clients from making any demands. Here at InspectorPro, we define a claim as a written demand for money, which Latham had yet to receive. However, for readers who don't insure with us yet, do keep in mind that every insurance company is unique and definitions can vary. Be sure to read a copy of your policy to be sure of how your company defines a claim. To learn more about pre-claims assistance, read this recent article. The cracked tile While performing a routine home inspection in Oregon, Aaron Latham of Sunrise Inspection, Inc. made what he described as "a very rookie mistake." He set a round, metal flashlight on top of the property's kitchen island. As round objects do, the flashlight rolled off the island. It hit the ground and put a hairline crack in one of the tiles. Realizing that he'd made a mistake, Latham documented both the existing tiles that were cracked and the one tile he cracked with his flashlight in his inspection report. Shortly after purchasing the house?for several thousand dollars less than the asking price due to inspection findings, according to the real estate agent?the agent called about the tile. Latham agreed that he did, in fact, damage one tile, and asked the agent to obtain an estimate. At the time, Latham guessed that they'd quote about $100. "Well, here's the issue," the agent said. "We can't find tile that matches the existing tile, and the seller didn't have any spare tile on hand. What we were hoping is that you would replace the entire floor." That's when Latham called our pre-claims assistance team. [READ MORE]
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