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Onions needed - Inspection software I wrote


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OK folks, to start I know I know, there are lots of inspection programs out there all ready, but to date, none of them do what I want. Most do some or most of what I want, but not all of it. And since I can, I did, I wrote my own. Thus, thats not the topic here.

I have my first draft of how an inspection report would look. DON'T critique the comments or other information (except maybe the second page that I wrote up quick and haven't proofed yet). I'm asking opinions on format. All the information in there is just to fill space to see how things would work. I also used odd pictures of whatever just to fill space. So the pictures mostly don't match the comments or other information. Oh, and these pictures aren't highlight or red circled or such to better identify the item but they will be in a real report. Also, I know a report could have a lot more comments, but I only put in a few, again just to see the format. Section titles, banners or other information that does not change from report to report is up for critique too.

Image this report with your pictures and comments.

Is the report easy to read?

Does it provide all the needed information?

Is there some junk that should be removed?

What would you add to make it better?

Overall format grade?

Thanks for your opinions.

Download Attachment: icon_adobe.gif BETA Inspection Report.pdf

454.92 KB

P.S. I know I said "Onions" needed. That was my little trick to get the grammar police to pop in and give their thoughts too. [:-bonc01]

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The overall layout does not do much for me. I'm also not a fan of "Major"concerns. I don't like putting a label on an item as Major or Minor. What might be Minor to me might be Major to my client.

Anyway, just be sure you follow any requirements your state might have for reporting. Also remember that you know what you want to convey, but your client does not have a clue. You need to make it as easy as possible for your client to quickly and simply see what is wrong with the home, this is all that they are really concerned about.

You have Safety Hazard and Major Concern as titles for two sections. Again, I don't care for titles like this and this is a good example. Why wouldn't a Safety Hazard be a Major Concern?

Also you might want to work on the terminology in the HVAC section. You have "Air Handler", this is really what you find in commercial buildings or systems that use cooling towers and boilers to supply "hot" or "cold" liquid to the air handlers. I have never seen a true air handler in a residential home. Just a suggestion....

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Hot Water Heater Section?

Why would you need to heat hot water? Leave off the adjective Hot.

I agree with the labeling of major, minor, etc.

In my state we are required to report on Safety, Repair, Further Investigate. We can add Recommendations in the body of the report but not allowed in the required Summary section.

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John,

The sample I looked at was not so good. Other than the couple dozen terminology errors, mis-spelled werds, it did not seem to follow a logical sequence. I suppose you are going to clean up the boiler and you will take the other comments "with a grain of salt". But right now it is an expert witness's* dream report.

I might as well comment on why are you doing this? I still believe an inspection should be a couple of pictures and a few paragraphs - "This is what I think about this house".

*inspection, inspector, materials and methods.

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It's ugly.

There are at least a dozen report writing programs out there that will do everything you've got in your beta and that will make it look better. I'm mystified about why you think that none of them will do what you want. If the beta is an example of what you want, you're sadly underestimating these programs.

Personally, I don't like the approach of having information about a single system spread out in different parts of the report. The reader sees the initial (ugly) table and then he has to flip forward several pages to read about problems associated with that system. It's inconsiderate to make the reader have to do that.

The layout is very amateurish and the tables are hamfisted. You might want to consult a graphic designer to pretty it up.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Actually folks, I agree on the major minor part. I more or less copied the section titles of the canned software I currently use. And when using it, the word "Major" and "Safety" did get to me a little, just like you mentioned Bruce.

That's the thing I like about doing this myself, where you now see "Major" it would take me 30 seconds to change to "Ice Cream" if I wanted. I've actually considered just flat re-naming the summary to just "Summary", or make it look like a table of contents. Then let the customer decide which items are "Major"

Les, trust me bro, your words over time have sunk in, especially as I gain more and more experience. The only use I see for boiler plate comments is "Yes, 'No" or "N/A" and things like that. Currently I don't have any installed boiler as I intend to write the comments as if they are a letter to the customer. Again remember, the comments in this sample are just for viewing purposes and maybe a little comic relief. I mean, how many of us actually inspect Sofa's? In fact the sofa comment is written like that to show just how much information you can fit in each section.

Hrmm, Water heater Aye.

Air Handler aye, thats a simple fill in.

Again, I know a lot of this is style and personal taste. I personally don't like reading book style reports with information hidden inside. I always hated doing Essays (except in history) in school and a lot of reports remind me of those. I think a lot of home buyers feel the same way. Sure you can't please everyone, but I'm looking to display the report in a clean, concise manner that the reader doesn't say "ugg" when they open the cover.

Keep the info/comments coming as I do some more work on it.

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When document-making time comes, the thing to do is find good-looking easy-to-read documents made by professional document makers. Then learn how to make excellent documents that look and work the way professionally-made documents look and work.

It's that skillset thing again. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume that most HIs come from a construction background, not a publishing or graphics background. There's just no substitute for learning how to do things right. Learning how to do desktop publishing -- which means manipulating headers, footers, columns, frames, fonts, leading, kerning, etc. -- takes a lot of time. Learning the rules of writing, logic, etc. takes even more time. Desktop-publishing newbs have been known to work for over a year just to learn the basics.

Long story short: There ain't no shortcuts. It takes years to get this stuff right.

WJ

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Erby, I know you can change headers in HomeGauge and other products, but none of those products to everything I want in the manner I want. This program doesn't just print out my report it is also..

My Scheduler

My Accounting software (That can talk and compare with my bank)

My Historian (for marketing)

my document printer (contract, personalized note cards, warranty, and other)

The biggest problem with most canned software is they have to be generalized to meet entire market needs. Sure some are customizable, but I have yet to see a true all-in-one, personalized for MY needs and wants. And again, since I can, I am writing the program. Of course, it's so personalized that no one else would be able to use it, but thats not my goal.

BTW I do agree, why keep changing the headers? That wasn't my point. Once I start using this program, like you, I can change the headers too, but I won't. But I need to get it right the first time no?

I hate doing work more than once. I think it is such a waste of time having to copy the same information into 5 different programs.

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Originally posted by Jim Katen

It's ugly.

There are at least a dozen report writing programs out there that will do everything you've got in your beta and that will make it look better. I'm mystified about why you think that none of them will do what you want. If the beta is an example of what you want, you're sadly underestimating these programs.

Personally, I don't like the approach of having information about a single system spread out in different parts of the report. The reader sees the initial (ugly) table and then he has to flip forward several pages to read about problems associated with that system. It's inconsiderate to make the reader have to do that.

The layout is very amateurish and the tables are hamfisted. You might want to consult a graphic designer to pretty it up.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

Jim, see the post above. So to answer your statement, no there aren't a dozen programs that will do what I want. There isn't even one. I'm not doing this for a money standpoint, I'm doing it because I'm not happy with the products offered. I'm not into settling when I can have better. I can do better, for me, with some help of course, so I'm going to try.

As for the information scattered around, I assume your talking about the initial systems such as HVAC, Electrical etc. I was thinking about that too. The first few sections are merely informational, "Whats in the house" type of thing. Then there is the comments section. So we could have the "defects" scattered in different sections as you may be implying, and thus again the customer has to flip through the pages to see whats wrong. Or this format.

My thought is this, the customers, at first look, want a quick summary of whats wrong so they can make their initial decision about their deal. Then later, usually after the contingency was submitted, they go back and read everything in the report.

So I separated the systems. But if I fill in information about the water heater, with no comment of anything wrong when there is, the customer may "Assume" nothing was wrong. So even though I separate the sections, I feel it is needed to make at least a "Look to" comment to indicate a problem was found.

As for your comments about it being "very amateurish and the tables are hamfisted", that doesn't really help. Anyone can say they don't like something. What I'm asking for is your input as to why? How are the tables "hamfisted"?

Adjective: ham-fisted ham'fistid

1. Lacking physical movement skills, especially with the hands

- bumbling, bungling, butterfingered, ham-handed, handless, heavy-handed, left-handed

I just don't see what you mean? Is it the the format of the table? The color? the terminology?

Anyone can criticize something, but few stand up to be criticized.

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Well, there's a bunch of "anyones" here. Fortunately, there's also a "few" to give us all something to talk about. Thanks for being one of the "few".

Personally, I've decided to be an inspector instead of a software developer.

What program is this wonderful all in one thing that you're using to develop this?

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John,

This discussion is the sort of thing that can be developed within the limits of a roundtable gathering and not on a forum. my opinion.

I will admit that I often "read between the lines" when looking at an inspection report. You know that. There are several others on this board that get paid lots of money to read reports and some of those folks have commented. I would question who you are preparing this report for? My first question would be: why do you care what is going to happen after you inspect the house?

I know, I know, I know I am an ass, but until I croak, the people from the other side still call this office and ask "My World Famous Onion".*

*as in The Onion!

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Just a humble suggestion, for anybody wanting to upgrade his/her HI reporting: One of these days, do a non-paying inspection on a friend or family member's house, make some field notes, then open up MS Word or the equivalent, and write down the things you'd want your mama to know if she were buying the house. If you like to include pictures, include pictures.

If the report looks decent (appropriate white space, formatting, design elements, etc.), and the words can be understood perfectly by anybody with an IQ over 90, you've got yourself a pretty good reporting system.

If the report looks awful, and/or the words don't make sense, creating HI reports is just going to be a nightmare, into the indefinite future.

WJ

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One of the reasons why you are getting negative feedback, is everyone has a different idea of the perfect report. Some people include a summary, some abhor a summary. Some like a lot of disclaimers, detailed drawings, and other filler. Some like a minimalist view of just a listing of the defects. Some are long narratives and others like more of a checklist. Some sort the defects into Major, Minor, etc.

In my state, there is a state mandated format. There is a required cover page with prescribed content. There is a required summary section with mandated disclaimers and statements. The licensing board had a standing committee for the last 3-4 years trying to define a standardized report format. There was much contention over the format. Basically the real estate agents on the board wanted to standardize what inspectors reported and how it was reported so that regardless of who inspected the home, the report would have the same contents. Prescribed formatting would display the information in the same layout but would not standardize what inspectors reported or how they decribed a problem. Some see defects as minor, while others major, and others don't see it as something to report at all.

There seems to be two major divisions around reporting; by Room or by System. Some reports list all the problems in a single room within a section. For instance the cracked grout of the tub, the S-trap of the sink, the failed GFCI outlet, the broken exhaust fan would all be in the same section for the Room sort. Conversely in the System sort each of those same items would be in the Interiors, Plumbing, Electrical, and Ventilation sections.

Many abhor a summary section under the idea that clients and agents will only read the summary and skip the body. They believe that all items in the report are equally important and therefore a summary diminishes the importance of the other information. It my state, I am required to describe a number of components and systems which truthfully most clients could care less about. Most buyers don't care if the main supply is copper or aluminum and don't know the difference between 2/0 and 4/0. If is wrong, then the home inspector should report it as a defect, otherwise leave it out of the report.

I sort my summary section by Systems under the idea that the summary section will be given to contractors to perform repairs. If all the electrical is lumped together, then the electrician gets his page and does not have to sort through all the other defects. Others sort the summary section by room so when they reinspect, it is easier to check off all the items in that room vs. hunting all over the repair list to make sure all items are addressed. I had an agent comment she wanted the items in the summary section numbered because it made it easier for her to discuss the repair list with the other agent.

The report is for the client, who typically uses an agent to guide them through the transaction. Making the report easier to use by agents makes it easier for the client to complete the transaction. I am not suggesting we specifically cater to agents in deference to clients but it might make sense to include or alter the report FORMATTING to make the transaction simpler. I do not number my summary items due to the extra work but considered the merits.

My current report takes me longer than I would like but I don't like the final results of the alternatives I have seen. My report writing is getting easier and less time consuming with each report but still takes longer than I would prefer.

I would suggest decide what would be the ideal formatting and layout of a report. From that build your boilerplate. Also be aware there will always be defects that do not fit into your boilerplate.

We are not allowed to report WDO. But if I see termite mud tubes in a crawlspace, I report the presence of mud tubes. I sort by the ten sections as definded by my state: Structural, Exterior, Roof system, Plumbing, Electrical, Heating, Air Conditioning, Insulation & Ventilation, Interiors, and Built-in Kitchen Applicances. Termite mud tubes usually end up in Structural although a case could be made for Exterior.

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Bruce, thank you! You confirmed some things I was thinking and dispelled others. I'm reworking the format now taking into account many of the above suggestions.

One area I need some help though, is page two, the overview. Like I said above, that is simply a cut and paste from the canned program I currently use. It is horrible and set up the Major, Poor, marginal stuff. Is the fact that the house is on fire a "Safety Concern" or a Major Concern"? So I need to come up with a complete re-write of that. I think I may just list them all as something like "Concerns Noted". I've seen in other reports online they are broken down as Repairs and Further Investigation. I worry that the client may think, or the agent will convince the client that "Further Investigation" means they don't have to worry about it for now and not get it looked at before they buy the house.

I do like the idea of numbering and I have already put that into the report.

I also like the idea, since it's no extra work after I finish the programming, and it's minimal programming at that, to make basically duplicate sections. One in order by room, another in order by system. Although it adds pages to the report, it doesn't add much size to the file.

This is only the first step. After I take my beating here, I'm going to take it to family and friends and see what they think too. Especially since they only think as a client not as an inspector. They are the ones that can really tell if it's easy to read and understandable.

Again thanks and Beta v0.2 should be out in a day or two

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Originally posted by resqman

It my state, I am required to describe a number of components and systems which truthfully most clients could care less about. Most buyers don't care if the main supply is copper or aluminum and don't know the difference between 2/0 and 4/0. If is wrong, then the home inspector should report it as a defect, otherwise leave it out of the report.

(snip)

The report is for the client, who typically uses an agent to guide them through the transaction.

It's just my opinion, but I heartily disagree with both of those statements. A report is written just as much for your benefit - maybe even moreso - than it is for the client. Your report is a written record of what you did and discovered - not just a list of defects for the client. If you end up in court 3 years after the fact, because an electrician somewhere says that you missed something and your previous client is suing you, it's going to be the completeness of your report that helps you accurately recount what you did, said, and recorded and it will help to show a judge, or anyone else reading it, that specific items that you were supposed to inspect were in fact inspected, otherwise you wouldn't be able to clearly describe those components.

I was a criminal investigator for a lot of years; like me, anyone that has spent a lot of time on witness stands defending his or her investigation of something, clearly understands the importance of a thorough investigation and keeping complete records. Now, unlike criminal investigations, we aren't required to take detailed pictures of, and measure, and triangulate every object on a crime scene before we pick it up and report it, but we should still be held to a certain standard of care that requires us to keep complete records.

Inspectors that pooh pooh the need to carefully document their findings are, in my opinion, mostly the ones who end up in court defending themselves for issues that could have been completely avoided if they'd only kept better records.

12 years, 3 months, 21 days and counting; No lawsuits, no arbitrations - past, present, or pending - and zero time wasted arguing about the meaning of any of my reports.

This is supposed to be a profession with exacting standards of performance and reporting - not an afternoon outing where you stroll around, look at a few things, jot a couple of things down and hand it to the client, collect a check and walk away whistling. When are people going to realize that and stop trying to cut corners everywhere? People pay a lot of money for these inspections; they deserve to get what they paid for.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by sepefrio

Erby, I know you can change headers in HomeGauge and other products, but none of those products to everything I want in the manner I want. This program doesn't just print out my report it is also..

My Scheduler

My Accounting software (That can talk and compare with my bank)

My Historian (for marketing)

my document printer (contract, personalized note cards, warranty, and other)

Intelligent Reporter, Report Plus and 3D each do all of those things. With each of them you can cutomize the output to look like pretty much anything you want.

The biggest problem with most canned software is they have to be generalized to meet entire market needs. Sure some are customizable, but I have yet to see a true all-in-one, personalized for MY needs and wants. And again, since I can, I am writing the program. Of course, it's so personalized that no one else would be able to use it, but thats not my goal.

Hey, if you have the time and know how to do it, go for it. Just realize that there are existing programs out there that already do 99% of what you're after. With *any* program, you'll want to dump the existing boilerplate or re-write it yourself.

I hate doing work more than once. I think it is such a waste of time having to copy the same information into 5 different programs.

Well that's the entire point of a database. I might be wrong, but I think that most inspectors use some kind of database that they enter their information into once. From there, the database can drop the appropriate information into a scheduler, a report-writing template, a thank-you note, an accounting program, etc. Perhaps I'm naive. Are folks out there entering the same information into 5 different programs?

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by sepefrio

. . . As for the information scattered around, I assume your talking about the initial systems such as HVAC, Electrical etc. I was thinking about that too. The first few sections are merely informational, "Whats in the house" type of thing. Then there is the comments section. So we could have the "defects" scattered in different sections as you may be implying, and thus again the customer has to flip through the pages to see whats wrong. Or this format.

They have to flip pages to see your informational sections too. You might as well put the details right under the tables so that they can get all of the water heater information under the water heater heading without having to stop, flip forward and then flip back again. It gets frustrating that way.

My thought is this, the customers, at first look, want a quick summary of whats wrong so they can make their initial decision about their deal. Then later, usually after the contingency was submitted, they go back and read everything in the report.

OK. If you believe that, then put a summary at the very beginning that says something like, "Here are the ten most serious items of concern: " or something similar. Right now, you've got the least interesting information right at the beginning and the critical stuff toward the end.

So I separated the systems. But if I fill in information about the water heater, with no comment of anything wrong when there is, the customer may "Assume" nothing was wrong. So even though I separate the sections, I feel it is needed to make at least a "Look to" comment to indicate a problem was found.

Sure, but what's the drawback to putting the "look to" comments right there under the relevant table for the reader's convenience?

As for your comments about it being "very amateurish and the tables are hamfisted", that doesn't really help. Anyone can say they don't like something. What I'm asking for is your input as to why? How are the tables "hamfisted"?

Adjective: ham-fisted ham'fistid

1. Lacking physical movement skills, especially with the hands

- bumbling, bungling, butterfingered, ham-handed, handless, heavy-handed, left-handed

I just don't see what you mean? Is it the the format of the table? The color? the terminology?

Well, there are a couple of different things. From an esthetic point of view, the fat borders with the narrow side margins look strange in combination with the wider top & bottom margins. The field borders are close together creating confusion in the eye -- almost to the point of an optical illusion. Try just staring at one of the tables for a few minutes, they're trippin. The fonts are all sans serif, which I find difficult to read in anything other than headings.

From an informational point of view, some of the technical terms aren't defined and they'll confuse the average non-technical reader. For instance what is the average buyer to make of the fact that, at his electrical panel, the clearance is "yes"? Does this mean that someone got clearance to install the panel? Is that like a permit? Does the average buyer know what an AFCI is? How about a TPR? On the roof, the visibility is "all" what does that mean? I'm sure that this stuff makes sense to you, and I know that most of it makes sense to other inspectors, but I'm not at all sure that your real target audience, people who don't know anything about the technical aspects of houses, will be able to really understand the information as you've presented it.

Anyone can criticize something, but few stand up to be criticized.

Oh please, spare me the childish whining. You came here asking for opinions on format. I gave you mine.

-Jim Katen, Oregon

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Jim, not exactly childish whining and if thats what you think it is, then you have other problems. But the simple fact is your first reply criticized the report with out giving any whys. Thus your comment was just a negative feedback, not constructive feedback. Maybe I should have been more clear that I was looking for feedback instead of just "it's amateurish". So back at ya big guy, spare me your childish whining.

That being said, your latest post is what I was asking for the first time. Your points about some of the information like clearance are VERY valid and thank you.

The summary part, I consider that a bad thing not a good thing. A top ten would be even worse. I don't want them coming back and saying, well that information was in this section vice that section so we didn't think it was important. And no matter which section it's in, someone could/would make that complaint.

Same with the look too. All the comments should be in the same place. My experience has shown that people are lazy. Unless you try and make it idiot proof, the idiot is going to burn you. By splitting up the comments into different areas, the idiot will miss this. Would I be covered legally? Sure, but I still have a client that isn't happy and not passing my name around.

As for the programs you mentioned, I don't think so. I even went to their websites to confirm, not a single one of them will download banking information and compare it with my information to balance my books. Most of them are also multiple programs that you have to buy separately, like Report Plus. (I use Report Plus and not only do I think the program is garbage, but so is the support. I found a major error in their program called them to fix it and they still haven't, almost a year later. Oh but since I had to use Customer Support I was signed up for their support plan at $10 a month on the sly. The only thing Report Plus has done for me is realize that I need to stay away from their products and service) Yes, most inspection programs have schedulers included, but then I also have to use the inspection program to schedule everything in my life, and it's not set up for that. When my calender pops up, I want to see I have an inspection scheduled tomorrow morning and that my daughter has a soccer game tomorrow night and it's my turn to bring the juice. What you are seeing here is only a small portion of what I want to accomplish. But alas, this is not important to this conversation. This conversation is dealing with the format of a report. Lets keep it to that.

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I've been using Report Plus for almost 10 years. Other than editing the stock boilerplate its been a good product. Cramer's Intelligent reporter is basically the same product in a different format with better boilerplate.

There's also some new fangled outfit (intuit I think) that is selling software that handles all things financial. Crazy what these people come up with. Let me know though if your banking software will also keep track of my golf handicap.

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Jim . . . is back.

Thank goodness.

Sepefrio, your original post ended with five questions. You were, indeed, soliciting opinions.

Jim--along with others--was generous with his time and provided you with three well-wrought responses. I realize it may sting a little, but you'll likely find his suggestions are nearly always on target.

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Originally posted by sepefrio

. . . The summary part, I consider that a bad thing not a good thing. A top ten would be even worse. I don't want them coming back and saying, well that information was in this section vice that section so we didn't think it was important. And no matter which section it's in, someone could/would make that complaint.

The only reason I suggested a top ten is that you said, "My thought is this, the customers, at first look, want a quick summary of whats wrong so they can make their initial decision about their deal. Then later, usually after the contingency was submitted, they go back and read everything in the report."

What you've got now doesn't fulfill that description. The critical information comes after pages of descriptive information and before a summary section at the end. It's hidden in the middle. If you're uncomfortable with a top ten list (and I don't blame you) then why not put the "detailed comments" section right up front? Those pages are the ones that really matter the most right?

Same with the look too. All the comments should be in the same place. My experience has shown that people are lazy. Unless you try and make it idiot proof, the idiot is going to burn you. By splitting up the comments into different areas, the idiot will miss this. Would I be covered legally? Sure, but I still have a client that isn't happy and not passing my name around.

I disagree. As you have it set up now, it's not at all clear to someone that the critical comments are in the "detailed comments" section. They start reading at the beginning and see table after table of really banal information that, while required by the standards, isn't of interest to anyone. Their eyes are glazed over by the time they get to the interesting stuff. If you must break up the water heater information into two different sections, at least put the interesting parts first.

Frankly, I think that most people really just want to know about the top ten list. Like you, I don't want to take the responsibility for boiling the inspection down to that degree. But I'll bet that, if you were to question people carefully, that's what they'd really want.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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