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Jowers on Boilerplate, Checklists and Weak Writing


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Nashville, TN

Never one to mince words, in a July 20th edition of his popular Helter Shelter column in The Nashville Scene, Walter Jowers tells consumers what to expect and what not to expect in the way of useful information contained in most home inspection reports. Click here and see whether he's describing your own method of report writing.

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I read Walter's columns in a weekly independent newspaper publisned in Lexington, and he's nearly always fun and informative. Having said that, and at the risk of being booed out of the room, I visited his website once and took a look at his sample report. He uses binoculars to check out roofs. He merely sticks his head through the attic scuttlehole and shines his flashlight around without checking for leaks around the roof protrusions. I think that's bad practice. I took a look at Jim Morrison's website once and he proudly and appropriately makes a point of letting folks know he squirms and sweats through every inch of an attic or crawlspace, just like I do and just like most of you do. Knowledge is a great thing, but it doesn't provide much use when you really aren't taking a close look at the roof, attic or crawlspace.

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Right. We are , as a group literareily (What, I'm not allowed to make up a word?)challenged. I am regularly shown 45 to 65 page reports that can not be deciphered for all of the boilerplate BS. A small amount of boilerplate (adjusted slightly for each case) saves time, but geeze, when does it end?

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are also in the communication business. You can be the best inspector that ever crossed the street, however, if you can not effectively communicate your findings without copious amounts of CYA or circular prose, what good are you?

It is, what it is. Write it clearly, tell them what it means to them and move on.

Glenn

(PS: Yes, I know there were typos in this. When I chat with friends, I do not bother with spellcheck. I always assume that when among friends, I can relax a bit. Sorry.)

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Glenn,

That said, I just corrected a few boo-boos (7) in your post - even leaving the colloquialisms alone. It helps to use a spell checker - even here - lest you spread bad habits or draw a few well-meaning but embarrassing barbs. For those who don't have one, go to iespell.com.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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One of the worst reports I ever saw was from one of the most expensive franchises out there. Virtually every page was one sentence about whatever that page was supposed to be about, followed by one or two paragraphs of boilerplate disclaimers. It seems absolutely nothing, including the myriad defects on a huge house covered in poorly installed EIFS, could not be condensed to a single sentence, but the disclaimers warranted entire paragraphs. I'll bet the entire report didn't take that guy 30 minutes, including printing. Disgusting. [:-yuck]

Brian G.

The above is the opinion of the author and may not be disseminated, folded, or spindled without the express written consent of said author, in triplicate. The characters and companies represented here are fictional and not based on any living persons or companies, so you can't sue me. Conditions are subject to change without notice and may have adverse side effects like bad breath, watery eyes, and itching of the crotch. If any of these symptoms appear I suggest monitoring them. [^]

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Hey Bain,

I am always happy to be mentioned in the same breath as Walter, but I don't think comparing us like that is all that useful. We all bring different strengths to this job. Katen and Hansen have forgotten a lot more about electric systems than I ever hope to know. Mitenbuler eats bricks and bleeds mortar. O'Handley has us all beat, because what he doesn't know, he has the reference library to find it out. Walter, as everyone knows, has a knack for writing factual, easy to understand, straight forward reports. Some folks think that might be the most important skill of all for HI's.

The HI's I respect most are the ones who know they can never stop learning, or improving their skills, and don't mind me pestering them with questions when I'm stumped.

Enjoy the holiday friends,

Jimmy

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I like reading Walter because he's funny. Is that so wrong?

For the past year or so, I've made an honest effort to make most of my reports, at the very least, not drop dead dull. I actually strive for slightly to mildly interesting with at least one laugh. It's an end of the rainbow quest, but everyone has to have a dream.

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That's my dream too, and the closer I get & the more I "do it", the better business gets.

The folks that have had other reports derived from a program full of InspectorSpeak like it the most; they can tell the difference between someone talking to them & some boiled down boilerplate written by a failed English major.

But, I have no illusions that the profession will see a flowering of interest in effective & interesting communication. When the entrance requirements to a profession are as low as ours, well, you know the rest......

That may be a good thing though; makes it easy to have my sorry ass shine by comparison.

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That may be a good thing though; makes it easy to have my sorry ass shine by comparison.

It's selfish I know, but that was one of my thoughts after looking through that lousy report. Compared to that I look like a superstar in spite of myself.

[:-angel]

Brian G.

Autographs Available (for a nominal fee) [;)]

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Reading Walter is what makes me comfortable in putting things like this in my report.

There is only about two inches of insulation in the attic. I saw several piles of animal poop on top of the insulation in the attic. I'm not an animal poop expert so I don't know what kind it was, but the neighbor said she'd seen racoons entering the attic gable vents after climbing the tree next to the house.

You should have:

1. The tree trimmed away from the house,

2. Screens installed on the attic vents to keep the racoons (and any other animals and birds) out,

3. The animal poop removed,

4. Additional insulation installed to help reduce your heating and cooling costs.

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Well, but Erby . . . you may want to rethink.

Colloquial writing is crucial in fiction and many kinds of articles. It's what gives the writer a "voice," and what makes a reader identify and empathize with the writer and/or her characters. However if you want to be regarded, respected, and paid as a professional, you may want to try "unidentified fecal matter" rather than "poop." Doctors, lawyers, scientists, pharmacists, choose any profession you wish, will likely never use a term as colloquial as "poop." A conversational tone is a good thing to strive for in report writing, but never forget that we are all judged by the way we speak and the words we use.

Having said that, I'm off to my backyard to clean up Loki the wonder dog's poop.

John

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Originally posted by Bain

Well, but Erby . . . you may want to rethink.

Colloquial writing is crucial in fiction and many kinds of articles. It's what gives the writer a "voice," and what makes a reader identify and empathize with the writer and/or her characters. However if you want to be regarded, respected, and paid as a professional, you may want to try "unidentified fecal matter" rather than "poop." Doctors, lawyers, scientists, pharmacists, choose any profession you wish, will likely never use a term as colloquial as "poop." A conversational tone is a good thing to strive for in report writing, but never forget that we are all judged by the way we speak and the words we use.

Having said that, I'm off to my backyard to clean up Loki the wonder dog's poop.

John

I'm constantly amazed at the things that home inspectors think sound professional. Adding unnecessary words to a report does not make you look professional. It just makes it harder for the reader to figure out what you're saying.

"Unidentified fecal matter" is not clear. It's just a fussy way of saying "feces."

Make it a goal to never use a big word where a little word will do and never use multiple words where a single word will do.

Erby's report sounded just about perfect to me. (Spell raccoon properly next time.)

But if you're uncomfortable with "poop," "feces" or "droppings" is fine.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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You should have:

1. The tree trimmed away from the house,

2. Screens installed on the attic vents to keep the racoons (and any other animals and birds) out,

3. The animal poop removed,

4. Additional insulation installed to help reduce your heating and cooling costs.

As long as we're picking at Erby's "Walteresque" boilerplate, I'd bother to specify "heavy screen" where raccoons and squirrels are concerned. They can rip regular window screening loose with no problem.

I think you can say poop, droppings, dung, feces, or even unidentified fecal matter, and 99% of clients will get it, but I do generally think the simplest term is the best.

Brian G.

Just Don't Call It [:-censore

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In a recent SI, there was a quote attributed to Mark Twain concerning how difficult it is to be brief and to the point, that said, "I am so sorry to send you a long letter, my friend, I did not have the time to send a short one." Or somethimng like that.

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Originally posted by Jim Katen

I'm constantly amazed at the things that home inspectors think sound professional. Adding unnecessary words to a report does not make you look professional. It just makes it harder for the reader to figure out what you're saying.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

I have to agree. For some reason many inspectors (and engineers!) want to sound "educated". Unfortunately, they usually come off sounding anything but.

I like "poop". It's simple and everyone knows what he's talking about. I once reported "vermin scat" in the attic and the lady called me back and asked what "scat" was.

I should have used poop or crap.

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Personally, I think Erby's right on. Reread Katen's & Lamb's posts.

There is a completely bizarre idea that professionals sound a certain way. This notion is rampant in the HI schools. If one wants to be disavowed of that notion, one might want to read a little Einstein, Watson, or Crick.

All these brilliant scientists wrote in a manner that illuminated & informed the lay person & made them part of the story. Einstein especially was insistent that complex ideas were best expressed in language that the reader would understand, & that they should express the personality of the individual writing them.

Using stilted language that no one would ever use outside of the convoluted world of HI report writing doesn't impress anyone other than folks that don't know how to write. This is another perfect example of the overload of folklore we are forced to suffer in this business.

When are folks going to remember what their high school English teacher tried to teach them, & get out there & be who they are, instead of being who someone thinks they ought to be?

Go Erby.....

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Erby,

I owe you an apology and hope you'll accept. I have an English degree and have attended numerous--technical, included--writing seminars. I believe what I said in my last post, but I was wrong to be critical of you personally. I'm sorry.

John

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Apology accepted but not really felt necessary. Sharing and critiquing is what makes this board and each of us better.

As I sit here in this parking lot in southwest Lexington between inspections, I'm reminded we still haven't gotten together over that cup of coffee we talked about months and months ago.

Soon maybe??

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I happen to agree with the article posted in the Nashville Scene. Many reports I have seen are full of departure statements, inadequate or incomplete information and very poor composition skills. The ones out of state actually are much worst than the ones that are produced under the Texas guidelines. The worst are the checkbox ones that come from Professional Equipment. Years ago I bought one of each just to see what they were like. How can anyone get by in using such stuff that is not narrative?

Perhaps a checkbox one might work if you included a book to explain the check list items. One product that does that is the Home Reference Book. It however is extremely over priced.

Another much better product that can be used OUTSIDE of Texas is The User Friendly Home which interfaces with some free report writing software.

I prefer MS Word as a platform rather than a boilerplate database one like 3D. End the end I wrote my own package that best fits my needs and meets the Texas Real Estate Commission requirements.

Here in Texas the report format is set by the state the same way the contracts for sale are put together. It is a small without much information included in it. You can add comments into the sections specified for such commentary but it leaves a lot to be desired. I have tried with others to fix it formally but due the overwhelming entrenched bureaucracy, progress is as rare as hen’s teeth.

Appropaoite embellishment in the comment areas is heavily frowned up by the State Real Estate Commission. If it get too long or complicated then it is too hard for the real estate agents to follow. A number of items are left off and any modification of the form is a case for formal action.

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