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I don't understand why any reporting software would actually display all those little empty checkboxes. It's like the software doesn't know that it's software now. It thinks it's still paper.

Anyway, for me that's a big con, the only one I need to soundly reject it for my own use, even if it was free.

Marc

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I don't understand why any reporting software would actually display all those little empty checkboxes. It's like the software doesn't know that it's software now. It thinks it's still paper.

Anyway, for me that's a big con, the only one I need to soundly reject it for my own use, even if it was free.

Marc

I'm guessing that the software will allow you to customize it in such a way that the unchecked boxes don't print. Of course, then the content will actually look as thin as it is. Though I supposed the software will allow you to add stuff.

The thing that would drive me crazy is putting sentences together from building blocks. This always leaves you with stilted English-as-a-second-language sounding sentences. A good typist can type the sentence faster than he can compose it from drop down building blocks.

Also, the built-in boilerplate reads like crap. Absolute crap. Every lousy comment needs to be rewritten.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Well... the flip sides of the "compose as you go" approach are:

1) For most inspectors, there will typos and misspellings - if you doubt this, go back and carefully proof a report created "on the fly".

2) You are using mental "templates" for you comments, and for most inspectors these will not be as carefully composed as comments to which you have given careful consideration and which have been proofed and "tuned" numerous times.

3) I like to (for example) carefully document all limitations individually - for many inspectors, there is a temptation to shortchange such comments when they must be manually created each time.

That said, if you are going to attempt a drop down "comments building" approach you are going to need highly configurable report writing software. And as Jim notes, you will be rewriting virtually ALL the boilerplate.

FWIW I use a *highly* customized version of Homeguage, and make extensive use of the fact that at the deepest level it is a powerful text manipulation and scripting language. But I have - literally - thousands of hours invested in the effort, and as of this morning, 97,444 lines of code in the template (which I edit directly with a programmers text edition rather than the Homeguage interface) - very few people are willing to go to that degree of effort to get *exactly* the result they want.

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Well... the flip sides of the "compose as you go" approach are:

1) For most inspectors, there will typos and misspellings - if you doubt this, go back and carefully proof a report created "on the fly".

2) You are using mental "templates" for you comments, and for most inspectors these will not be as carefully composed as comments to which you have given careful consideration and which have been proofed and "tuned" numerous times.

Just to clarify, I'm not against a judicious use of pre-written boilerplate. I have many hundreds of such comments that I use all the time. What I find objectionable is creating sentences from multiple drop down lists. It usually reads like crap. I'd much rather seen an honest typo written by a human than the telltale mangled syntax that you get with "computer generated" reports.

For instance, on one of the demo videos for the einspect product (Adding Remarks and Photos, at 1:33 in the video), I see that the software will allow you to create the following sentence, "Missing shingles noted on above patio cover."

Now, with careful editing of the program, I'm sure you could cull those kinds of errors. But how often do you really see missing shingles on patio covers? That's the sort of comment that I could type -- correctly -- in less time than it takes to drill down through the menus.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Yup - grammar can be is a real problem with such methods, as are "one-off" conditions.

Like you I use a hybrid system, with an option to insert free-form text at any point, and probably 10-20% of the content of any given report is unique, and not worth automating.

OTOH, my approach - as the way I have Homeguage set up makes it easy to do so - is that "when in doubt, store for possible use and future edit".

I also use a text substitution program (AsUType) which allows me to predefine blocks of text to insert with a predefined keyboard combination (I set it up to look for a "word" that starts with a double carrot ("^^") and which also learns my typos (including misspellings) and automatically corrects them on the fly (knows around 14,000, so far). Which for a poor typist and speller such as myself really speeds things up while reducing errors.

And one nice thing about AsUType: it works with any windows program, so the corrections it learns when I am typing in Homeguage also apply to text entered in Photoshop or Word or when creating Gmail, and vice versa. For example when typing the sentence above I accidentally typed "I an" (a combination which should never occur), so I "taught" AsUType to automatically substitute "I am".

As you build up its custom vocabulary of mistakes, it becomes increasingly satisfying to watch AsUType automatically connect your typos in real time.

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Apparently AsUType hasn't been trained to understand context; unless you meant to say "automatically connect" versus "automatically correct" above.

I've been reading this thread and noticing that it seems like folks expect that a report program should be able to completely write a perfect report without the need to proofread or edit the results; and, when a program doesn't do that it is somehow deficient. You're missing the point; those programs aren't meant to be perfect, they aren't meant to eliminate an inspector's need to think about and edit what he or she has written - they are simply a tool that, when used properly, can usually generate a full first draft of a report quicker than the user can type one. That's all they're designed to do.

I was involved with developing a program that uses drop downs and pre-formatted boilerplate. I agree with most of the criticisms, that you can make the program say some pretty outlandish things, that sometimes the sentence structure is dinked up, that a good typist can type a comment as fast as it takes one to find a comment in a drop-down, plug it in and then edit it, etc., but every one of those criticisms makes it sound like one expects the software to do it all and allows the inspector to kick back. That's not what they are designed to do.

I don't care whose program it is, none of them are designed to completely eliminate an inspector's need to read what he or she has placed on paper and to make corrections as necessary. I write narrative reports and just about every one of them is unique with no boilerplate; but I do grab comments I've written in previous reports, paste them into the document I'm working on and edit them. These programs aren't designed for guys like me; none of them is really designed for the very proficient fast typist. All a fast typist has to do is save one of his or her old reports, use it as a template and overwrite it each time and cut and paste comments that have been saved and a fast typist can beat one of these programs every time.

These programs, at least the one I was involved with, are designed for those who are not so proficient at composing/writing and those who don't have decent typing skills. The intent was to create a mechanism that will create a narrative report that can be proofread and tweaked by the user in a fraction of the time it would take the average non-typist with poor spelling and composition skills to write the same report. For those people, when used correctly, these programs work fine; the problem is that people buy these reports thinking that the program will always write a perfect sentence and will catch every spelling error and they don't bother to proof-read their reports - that's when they end up with a report that can be pretty dinked up.

I used to literally be able to type faster than I am able to speak; as soon as a word occurred to me in my thoughts, it went down on paper almost as quickly. No more; I've got arthritis in my hands and the older I get the slower I type, the more typos I make and the more homophones end up in what I write. I've also noticed that my thoughts aren't as ordered when I'm writing as they used to be; they are there on paper, they come out of my mouth correctly when I'm presenting to clients, but when I'm writing now some words are not always where they work the best and I find myself cutting and pasting just-written comments and moving them up or down the page to make what I've written flow better - something that I never needed to do many years ago.

I guess we all see this happen sooner or later; but it's frustrating and I've slowly been coming to the realization that I'd better start tweaking the boilerplate in the program and customizing it for me, 'cuz it won't be very much longer before it's going to be easier and faster for me to scan and tap on clue words in a drop-down list and then to edit the results than it will be for me to type a report from scratch, proof read it and go back and edit it.

I can think of a number of folks who participate here who would benefit greatly from using a report system that uses pre-written boilerplate and a number of you who I know would never want to use it, but I can't think of anyone whose report writing skills are so good that they absolutely will never need to proofread and edit their comments; whether those comments come from a report that uses boilerplate or are from a custom narrative.

One thing that a well done report writing program can do is give the new inspector a jump start into the routine of sitting down to write daily reports. Instead of the inspector having to dream up his or her own format and then try to compose a narrative, the report system does it for the inspector - then all he or she needs to do is go over it and tweak it. That's where I see inspectors falling down on the job; some of the report samples I've read look to me like the inspector never even bothered to read what had been written, because, if the report had been proofread even the poorest speller and writer among us would have seen those errors.

New inspectors, stop looking for a report that's going to completely eliminate your need to be able to compose and write reports; such programs don't exist. Choose a program, use it as it is designed to work and then proofread what you've written and tweak it so that it is easily understood.

Established inspectors with great typing and writing skills; enjoy your abilities while you can, but get started now on banking text for that day that comes when arthritis cuts your typing speed to 10% of what it used to be and when you're not the sharpest tack on the bulletin board anymore when it comes to writing.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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One or two sentences, I can type faster than I can use the "dropdown" selection.

But when it comes to a paragraph or so that I want in the report, it's so much easier to write it once, proofread it, save it, and use it every time I run into that situation.

Sentence composers such as HomeGauge (which I use) are great, IF (did I say IF) you write and proofread the selections to suit your writing style. Out of the box, it's just as horrible as all the others.

You just gotta be smart enough to do what Mike says: Write your own boiler plate, the way you want it to say it.

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. . . Sentence composers such as HomeGauge (which I use) are great, IF (did I say IF) you write and proofread the selections to suit your writing style. . . .

Every report-writing system I've ever seen allows the user to alter the existing selections and add his own.

However, it seems like there are some systems that won't allow you to edit stuff after the report has been compiled. So if you see an error after the report is compiled, you have to delete that report, go back to the data collection screen, make your changes, and then recompile the report. And if the report has problems with pagination, or other template issues, you have to address that at the template level and not on the fly after compilation is complete.

I'd be curious to know if Einspect allows you to make changes to the compiled report.

Actually, I'd be interested to know if that's the case with the other database-driven systems such as Home Gauge, Palm Tech, 3-D, & so forth.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Actually, I'd be interested to know if that's the case with the other database-driven systems such as Home Gauge, Palm Tech, 3-D, & so forth.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

JK - & so forth ... can include Whisper Reporter from Whisper Solutions. Any and all such editing can be done with no problem. Whisper's focus is on the application and functionality ... NOT the boilerplate. The application comes with some very limited sample boilerplate, but that is it. It is up to the inspector to develop their own.

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HomeGauge lets you address it on whichever level you choose. You can fix just that report, or you can change it at the template level. Where I'm making changes depends on what I'm changing.

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Don't know about the others, but you can edit any existing comment and/or the underlying template at any time in Homeguage - from time to time my wife will proof one of my reports to see what typos have found their way into the boilerplate, and if there are just one or two errors I'll edit the boilerplate in the report, then abort the comment edit, which alters the stored template but not the existing report. (For "archival" proposes, the "real" report is the .PDF I send the client.)

If I'm doing more serious editing, I prefer to open the template in Notepad++ - I doubt HG would approve, but it's the fastest way to edit, for example you can search for every comment that includes a given word, do global search and replaces, etc. Very handy, for example, if you have "lost" a comment.

Here's what a section of a HG template looks like when it's opened for direct edit:

limit(general-limit-visual-paint/parging)

2010/11/04 16:19:08

*{(amount-of-total-uc)* *{{(interior_of_the/exterior)* *identify(structural-foundation-component)*

*general(lti)* *identify(structural-foundation-finish_material/method)*. *limit(general-limit-visual-paint/parging-explain_recent)*

--- end

-------- Removed, but noted here for future reference

*limit(general-limit-visual-paint/parging-no_damage_observed)*

limit(general-limit-visual-paint/parging-explain_recent)

2010/11/04 16:20:51

------- Use ONLY if painted or parged

Either the *identify(structural-foundation-finish_material/method)* is recent, or the

*identify(structural-foundation-component)* has been little used since *identify(structural-foundation-finish_material/method)*.

*{{(Parging/Paint)* on *identify(structural-surface/material--painted_or_parged)* can make it difficult

or impossible to visually observe defects such as *limit(general-visual-paint/parging-cracking/tuckpointing)*, horizontal and/or vertical displacements of adjacent sections of foundation

walls, evidence of water intrusion and/or damage, and evidence of insect infestations or the growth

of biological materials. *explain(general-parging)*

--- end

limit(general-limit-visual-paint/parging-no_damage_observed)

2009/05/19 06:34:33

Unless noted in the "Structural Components - Foundations Findings" section (below) no evidence

of significant structural damage or water intrusion was observed through or below the

*identify(structural-foundation-finish_material/method)*.

--- end

limit(general-limit-visual-party_wall)

2010/11/04 16:33:22

The *identify(cardinal-direction)* *identify(structural-foundation-component-party_wall)*

*{{(is_a_party_wall/are)* (a wall shared with an adjacent unit). I did not have access to the

*{{(side_of_the_wall/walls)* located in the adjacent *{(unit/units)*, and *{(it_

was_not_inspected_and_is_not/they)* reported upon.

--- end

limit(general-limit-visual-personal_possessions/similar)

2009/12/01 10:23:44

At the exterior *identify(structural structural-foundation-component-all/%_visible)* above ground

portion of the *identify(structural-foundation-component)* *general(lti)* *limit(general-limit-visual-not_paint/parging)*.

Once you work out the logic of how the HG engine parses the template, you can change things around much faster than editing through the interface.

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Seriously,

I know you are proud of how you can work with the HG software (They should be paying you by the way), and it's nice that you're obvioiusly a compu-geek, but do you think that the average nail-knocker turned inspector who needs to rely on a computer program to help him write a report because he or she has poor typing or writing or spelling skills is going to be able to make heads or tails of that crap?

I can see some poor schmuck dinking around in that code trying to change things, seriously dinking up his program and then not being able to get the report done when promised or even by the deadline and then the client demanding a refund and the inspector is seriously screwed on the next report.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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You can do it MUCH simpler within the HomeGuage program. May take a bit more time but it's simpler than editing HTML.

Michael the Compu-Geek might find it simpler in HTML thorugh Notepad, but the average nail knocker shouldn't even attempt such stuff.

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One thing to keep in mind in these discussions is that we often conduct them as though there were these things called "a home inspection" and "a report", when in fact there's a very wide range of what each of them can be, and still be a reasonable inspection and report.

The proof of this is that you can have skilled inspectors with very different reporting styles, but who still have satisfied customers.

To some extent this reflects the fact that if much of your business comes from referrals, there is a self selection for the kind of clients who want the kind of services you offer.

But I think it's also fairly strong evidence that many clients are not very sensitive to the style of the report they receive.

And as long as there are no expensive surprises they attribute to inspector oversight, they will end up feeling they received "quality service" and good value for the money.

With this in mind, one of the ideas I've been kicking around is the option of marketing multiple inspection reporting services to my clients, and allowing them to decide what it is they want to get out of their home inspection and report.

On the one hand, I would offer a checklist type report, directed toward people who don't have much time or inclination to understand their property in detail, but only want to know if there are "deal breaking" problems present.

On the other, I would offer my current comprehensive narrative report to clients who want to achieve a deeper understanding of what they are buying, for example with an eye toward minimizing longer-term cost of ownership.

I don't think this would save me much time on the inspection end - I would still follow pretty much my turn inspection protocol if only to control liability - but would potentially save me huge amounts of time on the report writing end.

If all a client wants is protection from major surprises, pay me "X". And I'll provide you with a minimum report that meets those goals while adhering to the state SOP.

Want what amounts to four hours of your own little HGTV show, and a report that has a picture that shows you where the air filter is located behind the lower front access panel of the furnace, and a discussion of why you should probably not be sticking and MRV 14 filter in there?

Pay me "Y", and you can have that, too.

To make this work, you would have to pay careful attention to your marketing - customers would have to understand that the quality of the inspection is a different issue from the type of report provides: that a less competent inspection will produce a poor report of either kind, while a highly competent inspection will do an excellent job of discovering the information that's needed to produce a useful report of either kind.

Thus one of your marketing goals would be a client who understands that the difference in the services you are offering is not the quality of the inspection, but rather how the information you discover is formatted for their use.

Which in turn, is driven by the client's decision about how much information they want - for example a inspector's website might display two sample reports the same property, making the difference in the depth and detail of the options graphically clear to the client.

Of course, this approach is heresy to people for whom report writing is theology.

But once you wrap your head around the idea that it's reasonable to offer more than one type of "home inspection" to your clients depending on what they want, it might be a reasonable and profitable thing to do.

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A 'deal breaker only' title won't mean squat in a courtroom if it ends up there. In my state clients can change their mind what they like for up to a year after the inspection. Cover your liabilities.

Marc

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A 'deal breaker only' title won't mean squat in a courtroom if it ends up there. In my state clients can change their mind what they like for up to a year after the inspection. Cover your liabilities.

Marc

I'm not talking about reducing liability control - that's the one thing on which I would not cut back.

I'm talking about including substantial supplemental information, for example a check box which notes that the exterior is sided in asbestos cement siding, vs a paragraph explaining what is, if I'm aware of material available for parching which matches this pattern, link to government sites discussing the health implications and similar information.

There is currently a *lot* of such information in the "FYI" section of my reports, and a good deal in the defects comments,and many clients find it extremely useful (I'm often told that they think of my reports a a "bible" or "guide-book" or "manual" for their purchase) - so much so that I have discovered that providing a color laser printed copy of each report (in addition to the immediately provided .pdf) is one of my most valuable marketing tools.

OTOH, there are a minority of clients who are overwhelmed by this much information (though when I ask them, "What should I have left out?" they think about it for a minute, and then say. "Well... nothing. It all *does* belong there, I just didn't realize there was *so much* to know about my house!").

These clients usually work mostly off the separate summary report I also supply - which is the defects section, less photos, diagrams, and much of the supplemental information.

That summary, really, is already more comprehensive than many of the reports I see, and would be the "base" product, with what is now my "standard" report as the "premium" service.

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