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Report for Critique - Jerry Simon


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How is completely vacant different from vacant?

I see lots of passive voice. (stack blockage was not observed.) I think that active voice would be much less boring in many places.

As I read though it, I feel as if the report was written by two people. There'll be a bunch of dry, third person, passive voice writing then, all of a sudden, there'll be an engaging first-person, active-voice paragraph that was clearly written by the real Jerry.

Here's an example: Safety Concern Houses of this era were usually painted with lead based paints. This cannot be confirmed visually. Lead is a severe health risk to infants and children particularly, with the potential to cause brain damage. Lead paint in good condition represents little risk. It is only when it is ingested or inhaled that it becomes a problem. This can occur when paint is flaking, when old wood windows are operated, grinding the paint, or during remodeling when paint is sanded or scraped. Federal regulations require that house buyers be notified of the risks and be given time to test for the presence of lead paint. If this is a concern to you, contact an environmental testing firm to perform testing.

Now there's nothing wrong with that paragraph. The writing could use a little clean up, but it's accurate. It's just . . . really boring. I read it three times, & I'm still not quite sure exactly what it said; something about lead & being unsafe.

In contrast, take this paragraph: FYI The water flow about the house is adequate, but it isn’t anything to write home about. In fact, my definition of adequate is “just enoughâ€

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As I read though it, I feel as if the report was written by two people. There'll be a bunch of dry, third person, passive voice writing then, all of a sudden, there'll be an engaging first-person, active-voice paragraph that was clearly written by the real Jerry.

Here's an example: Safety Concern Houses of this era were usually painted with lead based paints. This cannot be confirmed visually. Lead is a severe health risk to infants and children particularly, with the potential to cause brain damage. Lead paint in good condition represents little risk. It is only when it is ingested or inhaled that it becomes a problem. This can occur when paint is flaking, when old wood windows are operated, grinding the paint, or during remodeling when paint is sanded or scraped. Federal regulations require that house buyers be notified of the risks and be given time to test for the presence of lead paint. If this is a concern to you, contact an environmental testing firm to perform testing.

This looks like some kind of boilerplate insert. If so, it's a good illustration of one of the problems with boilerplate - software developers use language that their customers want, and lots of inspectors that see active voice in boilerplate will shy away from a program and tell the developer they don't like the way the boilerplate is written, 'cuz they think passive voice is more professional.

The end result is that an inspector that writes in active voice but uses boilerplate will end up with a report that has a split personality, unless he or she is up to completely rewriting all of the boilerplate.

Now there's nothing wrong with that paragraph. The writing could use a little clean up, but it's accurate. It's just . . . really boring. I read it three times, & I'm still not quite sure exactly what it said; something about lead & being unsafe.
It's a lead poisoning CYA paragraph. I wouldn't have used it. If customers want to know about lead and asbestos and that kind of stuff I just say, "Epa.gov, it's a wonderful thing."
In contrast, take this paragraph: FYI The water flow about the house is adequate, but it isn’t anything to write home about. In fact, my definition of adequate is “just enoughâ€
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I've printed yours, Jerry, and Jim's. And, if I ever get a spare moment, I plan to read them both and learn. I'm usually not one to offer much criticism, unless it's really something important you may wish to re-think. I plan more to learn from the masters and maybe use the experience and report writing of others to enhance my own.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." ~Proverbs 27:17

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I think it's basically OK. I'd make the obvious boilerplate less obvious and more personal, and shorten it up. I know Jerry; he's in it for real; that might make me understand it more and care about the other stuff less.

I get too bored writing these things daily to start being able to do it for pleasure. Maybe I'm burnt out.

Just give me a couple sentences, and a picture, maybe an arrow. Folks get the "extra" stuff on site, my voice and dynamic being the thing that engages them. I just don't feel the need to engage them in the written report other than to tell them what I already told them in shortened form.

The other thing in Jerry's and my market......every inspection report, every last one, goes through at least one attorney. The client often barely cares; they rely on the attorney to take care of it. Attorneys aren't much into the personal thing; they just want a list.

I like the list idea.

FTR, I use a lot of boilerplate for the stuff I write over and over again. I just can't type up custom descriptions of why water flow is lousy anymore; it's one or two reasons @ most, and every building is a slight variation of the one last week. Boilerplate on some stuff is fine, if you're the one that wrote it.

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Here's a new post from Jerry. He started another thread but I've moved the edited version here in order to maintain the discussion here. See post #1 above for the report to be critiqued that has now been edited.

OT - OF!!!

M.

Here's Jerry's repost:

By the by, the boilerplate Mr. K picked up on about the lead paint...it is verbatim from the software developed and written by Mark Cramer. 'Course, it's pretty old software, and I think we've both learned about passive voice since back then. I just ain't had time to re-write all of it yet.

Love all of ya for taking the time to critique!

Jerry Simon

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Like Kurt, I'm more of a list and photos guy, but I don't see any egregious problems. It's a personal preference, but I'd like to see more photos. I typically insert 30-50 depending upon the house, and that's what I'm most often complimented on. Too, when a buyer can SEE something, she'll understand it much more readily and quickly.

One thing I stopped doing several years ago is adding comments about items that are up to snuff, like, "The interiors of the plumbing stacks were observed. The stacks are in adequate condition, and stack blockage was not observed." I don't know if the program does this for you, but eliminating descriptions of things that are okay saves me a lot of time.

Also, why is it necessary to include, "There is a detached garage near the house.

The garage wall framing was readily visible.

The framing in the garage ceiling was readily visible.

The garage floor was readily visible.

The garage overhead door is metal.

The door has an automatic opener. The opener has an automatic electric eye to reverse the door when an object crosses the door's path. This is a child-safety feature." ( I copied and pasted, hence the formatting.)? I understand about letting people know whether you can see something or not, but who cares if the garage door is metal or wood? If a buyer can't discern something like that, he isn't smart enough to care whether you did.

HI programs are terrific, but for me, they tend to add a bunch of superfluous information that renders the report difficult to navigate. This isn't aimed specifically at you, Jerry. It's just an observation.

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[quote name="Bain

Also' date=' why is it necessary to include, "There is a detached garage near the house.

The garage wall framing was readily visible.

The framing in the garage ceiling was readily visible.

The garage floor was readily visible.

The garage overhead door is metal.

The door has an automatic opener. The opener has an automatic electric eye to reverse the door when an object crosses the door's path. This is a child-safety feature.""] ( I copied and pasted, hence the formatting.)? I understand about letting people know whether you can see something or not, but who cares if the garage door is metal or wood? If a buyer can't discern something like that, he isn't smart enough to care whether you did.

As Kurt can verify, our IL licensing requires us to *describe* things. Yes, I have to describe stuff like flloor coverings. Dear Client, in case you're wondering, yeah, that's carpet down thar.

If I didn't have to describe stuff, I wouldn't, and my report would be 10% of the size it is now.

I say I looked inside plumbing stacks and the like more as CMA statements; hard to come back later and claim I didn't. And, yes, my software does that for me (software will also say I didn't do something because...like not checking plumbing stacks because I didn't want to fall off the steep roof).

Regardless of what you say, I take your last comment as personal and I'm gonna come down there and kick your ass.

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[quote name="Bain

Also' date=' why is it necessary to include, "There is a detached garage near the house.

The garage wall framing was readily visible.

The framing in the garage ceiling was readily visible.

The garage floor was readily visible.

The garage overhead door is metal.

The door has an automatic opener. The opener has an automatic electric eye to reverse the door when an object crosses the door's path. This is a child-safety feature.""] ( I copied and pasted, hence the formatting.)? I understand about letting people know whether you can see something or not, but who cares if the garage door is metal or wood? If a buyer can't discern something like that, he isn't smart enough to care whether you did.

As Kurt can verify, our IL licensing requires us to *describe* things. Yes, I have to describe stuff like flloor coverings. Dear Client, in case you're wondering, yeah, that's carpet down thar.

If I didn't have to describe stuff, I wouldn't, and my report would be 10% of the size it is now.

I say I looked inside plumbing stacks and the like more as CMA statements; hard to come back later and claim I didn't. And, yes, my software does that for me (software will also say I didn't do something because...like not checking plumbing stacks because I didn't want to fall off the steep roof).

Regardless of what you say, I take your last comment as personal and I'm gonna come down there and kick your ass.

Got it, RE the first paragraph. I wasn't sure why you'd mentioned the wallboard if you couldn't be sure what it was.

RE the last paragraph, you're welcome any time, but I'd much prefer a charred filet and a few beers to an ass whuppin'.

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Hi,

Any cop would tell you that, as an investigator - and that's what we all are - investigators - you need to keep in mind that your report protects you just as much as it serves and protects the client. Including descriptions of the house and its components in your report can save your bacon years down the road by demonstrating to a judge or jury that you actually did examine places and components in the home that a complainant could allege you did not.

Have you ever had a client complain to you that when he or she moved into the house something had been changed? I have; but in each case my report proved that someone had tried to pull a fast one and prevented me from being sued.

In one instance a client called up ticked off because a furnace tech told him that the furnace which I'd said was two years old was actually nearly 19 years old; and, according to the tech, needed to be replaced. The furnace had been replaced with one that the owner had replaced two years earlier. I suspect the homeowner had kept the original furnace and had swapped it out between the time when the house was inspected and when the new owner (my client) took possession.

I proved that with my notes. The manufacturing date on the furnace that I looked at when the client called me back corresponded with the year the house was built, while the serial number I'd recorded at the time of the original inspection indicated that the furnace had been installed two years prior to the inspection when the house was the age of the furnace I was called back to double-check. What clinched it was the fact that I'd also recorded the name of the company listed on the furnace maintenance tag. All it took was a phone call to confirm that a couple years before they'd installed a new furnace in the home. The seller apparently bought a home that needed a new furnace and thought he'd be slick by taking his two-year old furnace along with him to the new place. Guess nobody had ever explained to him about sizing a furnace to a home or maybe he didn't care. My client got a brand new high-efficiency furnace out of that deal. Guess the slicky-boy seller thought it prudent to pay for that rather than face a theft/fraud charge or lawsuit.

In another case, the seller replaced a new metal overhead door with an older wood overhead door that had been nicely cleaned up and painted. The same seller replaced a very expensive solid wood raised panel main entry door with an insulated steel simulated raised panel door that was identical in appearance and had been all nicely sanded down and repainted to match the wood entry door. Unfortunately, when he'd installed the wood entry door he'd been sloppy about cutting the hole for the lockset and it had been loose and didn't hold the door in very tightly. I'd seen the daylight shining in around the entry door, had examined the door to see why it wasn't shutting tightly and then I'd shown the poorly cut lockset recess to the client during the inspection. I never did followup on that situation to see how it had been resolved.

In one house, the buyer called up all upset and was talking about suing the seller 'cuz he said the seller had agreed to replace some hardwood flooring but had replaced it with a laminate. He was upset and wanted me to back him up. I couldn't because my report indicated that, though the floor looked like hardwood it was actually a man-made product with a thin hardwood veneer bonded to its face. If the buyer had bothered to read the report more carefully instead of going right to the summary report, he would have seen that.

The information required by your standards, as pointless as it may seem, could one day save your ass.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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As Kurt can verify, our IL licensing requires us to *describe* things.

I describe most stuff, like floor coverings, with a single word.

I *describe* lots of other stuff just by taking photos of it. It's all a *description* as far as I'm concerned.

The beauty of photos......anyone comes back and wants to know what I looked at, I got a couple hundred photos.

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While the report "decribed' many items, the descriptions would not meet NC state standards.

Ceilings are joists adquate. That is not a description. Ceiling joists are standard diminsional lumber. Ceiling joists are the bottom chord of the roof truss system. Those are descriptions.

I switched from a a full narrative to a partial narrative about a year ago. Required descriptions like ceiling joist become bullet items at the beginning of each section similar to Jim K report. Shortened the report and report writing time. Clients can quickly scan the bullet items it they care about those things. The narrative is saved for the defects.

I also include a photo for almost every defect with circles or arrows on EVERY picture. Even if there is only one object in the photo, it gets a circle. That way there can be no confusion about what the photo is about.

NC does not accept photos as a description. Photos are welcome but do not count. Have to actually write a description.

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Would NC accept.......(?)....

Ceiling Structure - Wood Frame

How does NC define the parameters or type of the description? Does it say "descriptions have to be words".....?

Just curious.

Illinois used to (maybe still does) have some stupid stuff, particularly like "describe plumbing fixtures".

I don't think anyone does; at least, I'm not aware of anyone that does.

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Any cop would tell you that, as an investigator - and that's what we all are - investigators - you need to keep in mind that your report protects you just as much as it serves and protects the client. Including descriptions of the house and its components in your report can save your bacon years down the road by demonstrating to a judge or jury that you actually did examine places and components in the home that a complainant could allege you did not.

Mike

While I describe all the stuff everyone else describes in words, I'm sticking with the idea that photos will win that dispute if it becomes necessary somewhere down the line.

Win it with much more emphasis than a few words.

I fought the idea of photos for years as unnecessary, etc., but it was more about dealing with lots of photos. Once I got over the issues of taking and administrating a few hundred photos for every house, the idea took hold.

I think you'll do the same. If you want to use cop investigator arguments, think how many photos and videos they take to document stuff.

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Would NC accept.......(?)....

Ceiling Structure - Wood Frame

Yes. It describes both the construction material and construction type. See reference to CEU class 2007/8 below

How does NC define the parameters or type of the description? Does it say "descriptions have to be words".....?

From the general statues:

.1101 DEFINITIONS

“Describeâ€

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I think my descriptions would hold up in NC......I describe most things with the specific material and dimension. If I can't get to something, I'll call it "wood frame", or whatever general description is possible.

I sure don't do it with complete sentences, though. It makes for a very robotic sounding report, and it makes it waaaaay too boring to read.

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If the buyer had bothered to read the report more carefully instead of going right to the summary report, he would have seen that.

And that begs the question, why include a summary?

Or the following question.......why not structure the report in the form of a summary?

This goes to what I was saying about Katen's report.....that the form of the report is derived from the software. No matter that folks take the software and make it look different, or that they type in customer comments, it's still the same underlying engine and process, with the same result.

So, we end up with reports that are two reports, with one that the customer avoids reading by going right to the summary.

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I've read most of Jim's and, so far, just skimmed Jerry's. I think Jerry's could be improved by putting the headers at the top of the page, like Jim's. The headers on Jim's could be a little larger. Readers look first for format. Jim helps them along with his 'How to Read This Report' page. Jerry's makes the reader skim back & forth before the first read looking for the format.

This is from Friday's HI:

Download Attachment: icon_adobe.gif Report 9.pdf

39.16 KB

Marc

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Hi,

Tom said:

And that begs the question, why include a summary?
My summary report isn't part of the full report. To create a summary report, I add the word summary to the cover of the main report, delete all of the fine print and descriptions from the report and then save it with (summary) added to the file name. Then two separate documents are attached to the email to the client. I takes about 3 minutes to create.

I only provide a summary because it seems to be a custom around here that the agents use a summary report for further negotiations. When they don't get a summary, they invariably call me up to waste my time pleading for one. I have no desire to waste my time listening to their yammering, so I provide a summary. There is no bullet list or shortened/prioritized list of stuff to replace/repair. They get the whole thing in a shorter format which makes it a little easier (not much) to read through everything.

I know that despite the copyright on the report that most agents around here will disrespect my copyright and share the report with the sellers. This way, the seller doesn't get the entire report; so, if the buyer walks and the seller later tries to share the report with a future potential buyer the only thing the potential buyer will see is those things which would be considered negatives - that kind of reduces the likelihood that the seller will want to share the report in order to avoid another inspection.

When there is no agent involved, such as with brand new homes where the buyer is dealing directly with the builder, I don't provide a summary unless the client specifically requests one.

Kurt said:

why not structure the report in the form of a summary?
The particular market segment which makes up 95% of my business is technology professionals born in other countries. They seem to attach an inordinate amount of attention to even the smallest most insignificant thing; and, once they learn what the home is built out of during the inspection, often go home and do more research after the inspection.

I not only have to make sure that, despite language difficulties, they understand the technical issues with the home, why those are bad for the home and what to do about them, but I need to make sure that everything they've been taught about the house is carefully documented or I invariably end up wasting my time on the phone explaining to them why they didn't see mention of the whatsis in the report.

Jerry, I'd never number a summary list for an attorney. I think clients and then realtors, and probably attorneys, would misconstrue the item listed as number 1 to be the highest priority and the last item to be the least priority. I don't prioritize issues. I tell them that, to me, everything is important or I wouldn't have bothered to mention it and I insist they use what they've learned during the inspection to decide what's important to them.

Works for me, might not work for you. You have your business, I have mine.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Kurt said:

why not structure the report in the form of a summary?
The particular market segment which makes up 95% of my business is technology professionals born in other countries. They seem to attach an inordinate amount of attention to even the smallest most insignificant thing; and, once they learn what the home is built out of during the inspection, often go home and do more research after the inspection.

I not only have to make sure that, despite language difficulties, they understand the technical issues with the home, why those are bad for the home and what to do about them, but I need to make sure that everything they've been taught about the house is carefully documented or I invariably end up wasting my time on the phone explaining to them why they didn't see mention of the whatsis in the report.

You're starting with the idea that a report structured like a summary leaves out important information. Your mis-perception is guiding your misplaced idea about report structure.

The mis-perception continues with the idea that professional and technical professions are somehow confused by lists, and that the long narrative suits their needs better. What research led you to this idea?

My research indicates everyone likes whatever inspection report they're handed, but that lists are easier for folks to utilize in the short time frames that most home inspection reports have to be reviewed.

Jerry, I'd never number a summary list for an attorney. I think clients and then realtors, and probably attorneys, would misconstrue the item listed as number 1 to be the highest priority and the last item to be the least priority. I don't prioritize issues. I tell them that, to me, everything is important or I wouldn't have bothered to mention it and I insist they use what they've learned during the inspection to decide what's important to them.

Mike

Again, you are starting from a mistaken perception. All my reports are numbered lists, prefaced with a simple statement that the numbered list is not a prioritization of concerns; the preface states that I have no idea what the priorities of each customer is, so they should read every one of them and call me if they don't understand, or if they think something should have more emphasis than something else. There is a specific statement that the items are numbered so that in subsequent review by several individuals, everyone can refer to the concern of the moment by the number. Everyone gets it just fine. When I get questions, it's along the lines of "What about #6?". It makes it real easy, not complicated.

This goes to the same idea that folks reports are driven by the software, regardless of layouts, templates, or formats, and that somehow if the format changes, information is deleted or subtracted.

Which isn't the case at all.

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Kurt,

Research? No research; just listening to what my clients have been asking for and delivering it to them. I didn't adopt this method overnight and software format has nothing to do with it. Though I know the software I use has a summary report feature, I never use it and don't know how to use it. It took me more than a decade of experimentation in this market to reach a balance that seems to work perfectly for me. I'm not going to mess with that.

You seem to be trying to win an argument instead of simply putting forth an opinion. Like I said, it works for me, it might not work for you. You have your business, I have mine.

There won't be a victor here.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Well, it's not an argument.........it's called debate, wherein differing hard opinions are presented (which I did) with the intent being the rebuttal provide information that proves the hard opinion fallacious.

IOW, folks put up ideas, other folks try to find the fallacies in them.

I was expecting more debate than "I've done it this way for a long time so I'm not going to mess with it".

No one is questioning your method. I was questioning methods, period.

OTOH, you're presupposing all sorts of things about other's methods, such as summaries not containing enough information, or constructing the report as a summary without need for multi-sectioned reports, without any basis for the assumption.

I'm questioning and challenging your assumptions, which I think are fallacies.

I'm questioning the entirety of the home inspection report as product. The product has been driven for decades by folks doing what they do because software and form makers provide it to them, without any underlying logic or research.

I've been most interested in Katen's approach, because he actually presented product for review to a wide range of individuals, and then listened to what they told him. He acted on what he was told.

I accept and respect that.

I have a hard time with "it's the way I do it". There's no research to underpin the method.

Folks like whatever report they receive; they have no basis for comparison. Going on "I do it, and they like it, so it's good" is not enough. Everyone likes damn near everything. I still hear some folks waxing poetic about the old 3 ring binder approach, which, until I explain why it's near worthless, they are impressed because it's big and "impressive".

I want to move past that, and understand more about the transmission of information in the most effective manner.

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