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Never Shy, Jowers Sounds Off About Reports


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You know, I don't think it's the lawyers. They're very similar to home inspectors; a total pain in the ass, but when you really need a good one, you're glad they're there.

I'd guess about a 1/4 of my customers are attorneys; it works out fine. They scare the shit out of me, I work overtime to get it right, & everyone's happy so far.

I think home inspectors create most of their own problems. The only thing I sweat is the 7-10 year old inspection reports that were really crappy; I pray nothing bad finds it's way back to me because I wasn't as good then as I am now.

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I think its a great article however I must confess that I am quilty of some of his claims.

Yes, I use boilerplate in my report (lots of it!) but I'm proud to say I wrote it all. Maybe that doesn't classify it as boilerplate then?

I'm constantly upgrading my report verbiage. Sometimes I'll change the same narrative within two weeks because it still doesn't quite say what I meant it to say the first time I changed it. I'm always aiming to improve.

I'm a good inspector and probably like most of us I can have difficulty translating my observations and thoughts on to the page. I'm concerned that Walter makes some pretty broad sweeping generalities . . . God forbid, I use some words he may not like!

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A few weeks ago I tried demos of several report software programs. One of them was highly recommended by many inspectors for it's boilerplate comment library. It was the one written by the guy with the Ph.D. in English.

While I really liked how this program organized the comments and how easy it was to find what I was looking for, I quickly came to abhor the boilerplate. I had to wade my way though tons of CYA gobbledygook and fluff in order to figure out what he was actually trying to say. This might be ok for some inspectors, but for me I knew that if I bought this program I'd have to extensively re-write every single comment to reflect my style before I could use it. Granted, I'll be rewriting the boilerplate for any program I use, but I thought for me it would be best to start off with something that was written well (from a utilitarian perspective) and build upon it.

Brandon

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Walter must feel like Don Quixote. Most inspectors write like crap. I'm guilty of it as well, sometimes.

In a lot of ways, the industry perpetuates it. The ASHI Purpose & Scope Statement:

The purpose of these Standards of Practice is to establish a minimum and uniform standard for private, fee-paid home inspectors who are members of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Home Inspections performed to these Standards of Practice are intended to provide the client with information regarding the condition of the systems and components of the home as inspected at the time of the Home Inspection.

This is not to pick on ASHI, because all of the other assocations use similar "inspector speak". Here are, IMO, the main reasons why 99% of inspectors write horrible reports:

1. We're in a CYA business.

2. Inspectors are basically a cross-section of society and most people can't write to save their a$$.

3. Lack of time and ability forces many inspectors to rely on the crappy boilerplates that come with report software.

4. Pressure from the RE business to write "friendly" reports.

Maybe there's an untapped report editing industry just waiting to take off!

BTW: I love the jab at the Report Guy with the PHD in English. Ever read his stuff? The man has no concept of the term "paragraph"!

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1. We're in a CYA business.

That is an excuse, not a reason.

2. Inspectors are basically a cross-section of society and most people can't write to save their a$$.

I agree. You only have to be able to read and write at a 6th grade level to graduate most high schools. Many people should have never graduated.

3. Lack of time and ability forces many inspectors to rely on the crappy boilerplates that come with report software.

Laziness,a poor attitude make them write crappy reports. If it was important to them they would make the time.

4. Pressure from the RE business to write "friendly" reports.

We just went from report writing to ethics.

Maybe there's an untapped report editing industry just waiting to take off!

For many inspectors, the report software is the biggest business investment they make. Most inspectors are too cheap to pay someone that could write it right, to properly write their boilerplate. Then as soon as it was complete the inspector would re-write it to make it sound like he said it and screw it back up again.

If they want good boilerplate, buy Mark Cramer's software. If they want reports that look like Chris Pricket's used to, buy something written by a PHD.

Sorry Chris, I just couldn't resist.[:-dev3]

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Did a job today that had water problems in basement at foundation walls, the furnace and AC was not operating at all. Main panel had breakers tripping when lights turned on.

Anyhow the Realtor had an inspection report ready for my buyer that had none of the above items in the report. Gosh I can't figure why.

Before we point at controlling Realtor we may need to point at our apathetic, go along to get along, live in denial selves.

As long as we let Realtors control who we work for we will be second rate.

Before I get jumped on with both feet remember I am addressing the HI industury as a whole and not any one inspector individually.

Paul B.

"A journey no matter how long begins with the first step"

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Hmmm, I must be the odd one. I actually write each of my reports. Every client has a different background and a different ability to understand the problem. I'm not sure anyone's boiler plate will work in every case or even in nearly every case.

I used to use the boiler plate, but by the time I got through editing it, I could have typed a couple paragraphs in language that I use everyday instead of trying to fit my style to someone else's.

Charging enough is the key to writing reports well. If you've been paid well, it's an honest pleasure to provide well.

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I'm not normally one to blow my own trumpet, but I just received the following e-mail from Wednesday's client. The timing seemed too perfect not to post it to this thread...

Richard,

THANK YOU. Kristen and I really appreciate the time you spent, your attention to detail, your communication style, and the thoroughness of your work product. Your report was definitely a breath of fresh air compared to other ones I've seen...it's very easy to read and devoid of all the boilerplate garble I've seen in standard forms. The last inspector we hired was so rushed and quick talking and he just checked off boxes and scribled some barely legible remarks --- it seemed like wasted $$ and so after that experience we weren't excited about hiring another inspector. Well, I am so glad Tamaira referred you and I must say that after reading your website vs. the 5 or 6 other companies' / individuals' sites I considered, I was impressed but somewhat skeptical...well, after the first hour yesterday I thought wow, Richard really lives up to his marketing!

Once again, thanks. And I know I'll be referring you to anyone who may need an inspector.

Dave and Kristen

Chad said "...it's an honest pleasure to provide well." Gotta agree!

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Originally posted by Chad Fabry

Charging enough is the key to writing reports well. If you've been paid well, it's an honest pleasure to provide well.

Well the question is how much is "paid well"?

To be clear - I'm not asking how much you charge. Its irrelevant.

We're in business to make money. I think the majority of us would agree. In order to do that you have to be efficient and "cost effective".

I'm constantly balancing these two things. How to provide a unique, 'special' service yet be profitable. If I'm spending too much time on one particular home, in the long run, I'm going to lose. My time is the most valuable asset I have.

If using boilerplate will help me acheive both, then I need to seriously consider it.

In all honesty, however, I don't feel comfortable saying that I've arrived at this point - always striving!

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You guys must see something different everyday. That must be really nice.

I can't speak about any other place except where I live however, I have found that I see a lot of same things all the time. Maybe not in each house however, it's still a lot of run of the mill work.

As stated, I see toilets that are loose on the floor, I have boilerplate to describe it. Stair step cracks in a basement wall, FP breaker panels, knob & tube wiring, a garage door that won't auto reverse, trip hazards on the front sidewalks etc. Boilerplate to explain it all. One day I'm hoping to have massaged my software enough, my verbage is constructed well enough, that a report will be pretty pat.

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Ain't nuthin' wrong with re-using good custom boilerplate that expands on a particular finding. It would be stupid to re-invent the wheel each day. It's the automatic (or preprinted) irrelevant padding that should be avoided.

"Ummm...the shiny home maintenance manual is very nice, and it's very interesting that you disclaim elevators and escalators, but exactly where did you report the defects in my single story ranch?" is not something I ever wish to hear?

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1. We're in a CYA business.

SW That is an excuse, not a reason.

CP That's a fact. Screw up and get screwed. You should know that better than most anyone. Your boss preaches that gospel at our AZ ASHI meetings twice a year.id="blue">

2. Inspectors are basically a cross-section of society and most people can't write to save their a$$.

SW I agree. You only have to be able to read and write at a 6th grade level to graduate most high schools. Many people should have never graduated.

CP You and I are both evidence of inferior public education.id="blue">

3. Lack of time and ability forces many inspectors to rely on the crappy boilerplates that come with report software.

SW Laziness,a poor attitude make them write crappy reports. If it was important to them they would make the time.

CP I can't defend the motives of the crappy report writers. But, in my experience of reading and reviewing hundreds of reorts a year, about 99% of inspectors write bad reports. And for the most part, nothing is being done about it(and likely nothing will).id="blue">

4. Pressure from the RE business to write "friendly" reports.

SW We just went from report writing to ethics.

CP I'm talking reality, not pie-in-the-sky "perfect world of inspector" fantasy land. The vast majority of HI's are, to some degree, dependent on real estate agents. This is a real world truth. If the handful of truly competent and dedicated inspectors could get together and change the world, things might be different, but that will never happen. If it did, ASHI, NACHI, NAHI, etc, would all cease to exist.id="blue">

Maybe there's an untapped report editing industry just waiting to take off!

SW For many inspectors, the report software is the biggest business investment they make. Most inspectors are too cheap to pay someone that could write it right, to properly write their boilerplate. Then as soon as it was complete the inspector would re-write it to make it sound like he said it and screw it back up again.

If they want good boilerplate, buy Mark Cramer's software. If they want reports that look like Chris Pricket's used to, buy something written by a PHD.

Sorry Chris, I just couldn't resist.

CP Careful Warga, I possess a few of your old reports. Can you say "Spell-Check"?id="blue">

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I think part of the problem is the dichotomy of viewpoints. One side says "just report the bad stuff" those of us in the real world try to word things to accurately relate the problems to our client without the "sky is falling" diction. I often report things like "generally the fascia is in good condition, however, there is some dryrot at the southwest corner. Replacement of moisture damaged wood is recommended". I am not afraid to report something in good condition.

Compare this to "Southwest corner of the fascia is rotted. Fascia in this area should be replaced. The presence of rot in one area may indicate that hidden dryrot is present in other areas of the fascia".

I don't think this is the best example I could use but the best I could come up with right now.

I think licensing has set us back in some ways. Clients now consider any licensed inspector competent. Used to be the marketplace and courts weeded out the incompetent inspectors, doesn't seem to be that way anymore. Our state board uses the ASHI standards. Is there anybody on this forum that has ever done an inspection that doesn't meet the ASHI standards? Probably not. State licensing has lowered the bar. You can't legislate competence in any field, all you can do is penalize the offenders. I liked it better when the courts sorted out the wheat from the chaff.

I think the answer is simply report what you observe. If you don't think it is a big deal, say so. If you think it might kill somebody, say so. I try to write my reports as if I am the client and have no idea of the scope or importance of the issue. If these people were building savy they generally wouldn't be hiring us. In my opinion, it is important to discover, find, observe the problem and just as important to convey the extent and importance of the problem. I don't think it is fair to label a home inspector a "Realtor Toady' because he/she makes light of an issue. The clients are hiring us to find and report the problems and give our opinion on the importance.

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Another huge concept I've wrestled with in report writing style is the reality that I am writing for many audiences. I know legally I'm only obligated to the client, but you know darn sure that many different parties will be reading the report.

I have to use simple language so that a newby, layperson can understand it.

It has to be sophisticated enough that a seasoned homebuyer will not be insulted by its simplicity.

It has to be 'competent' enough that a tradesman performing repairs can follow it.

It has to be descriptive and technical enough that a realtor can use it in the Purchase and Sale agreement for purposes of negotiation.

And ultimately, it has to be all in all good enough so's you all don't laugh at it!!!

No, I won't alter my report writing for each audience. My goal is consistency so that the report is just as comprehensive for Uncle Buck's 750 sq. ft. cabin as it is for his brother's 5000 sq. ft waterfront view property.

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Our state board uses the ASHI standards. Is there anybody on this forum that has ever done an inspection that doesn't meet the ASHI standards? Probably not. State licensing has lowered the bar.

Fritz, a couple of minor corrections.

1. Our state uses the AZ ASHI standards of practice. There very similar to the 1992 ASHI standards before they were dummied down.

2. I review reports for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration and I can tell you even though the applicants get a report evaluation checklist with their application packet, over half of the reports I review fail to meet the AZ standards.

3. You are correct about the misconception that anyone that is certified by the state is competent. However there were over 1000 people performing inspections in AZ 4 years ago, when licenses took effect that number dropped to 387. It separated the wheat from the chaff.

Now some local schools teach how to pass the NHIE instead of teaching how to be a home inspector.

If you want to make a difference in your area, here are some tips.

First go to the BTR website and download the evaluation form and double check your own report. I don't know if you are aware but the form was revised about 6 months ago. We raised the bar.

Then find reports from other inspectors and check them, if they don't fly - file a complaint with the BTR.

Check out the other inspectors in your area, if their certification is not current, or if they are not certified - file a complaint.

I have filed over a dozen complaints on inspectors that were not certified and a few more on reports that my 12 year old daughter could have written better. (for the record, all of these people no longer perform home inspections)

State regulation is not perfect, but it is better than what we had.

I'm not trying to pick a fight, I just have a different view than you do.

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