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I continue to notice gradual improvement in my efficiency in inspecting and reporting. I'm wondering, how long will improvement continue until I reach that plateau?

I have gotten a bet better at collecting data from multiple categories while in one area of a home. However, I still report in a form that has systems categorized. So, shuffling through my check list to jot things down seems a bit cumbersome at times.

How do you manage these things? Do you have any suggestions of things I might try to improve my efficiency?

This year, I've already doubled the number of inspections I did last year. I'm a part timer so it's not a ton of inspections but growing for sure.

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Is the question is "How do I make taking data from my field notes arranged in one manner to enter data into my report system arranged in a different manner easier?"

One solution is to rearrange your field checklist to match the data entry of your report system. The other solution is to change your report data entry system to match your field note system. Another is to use a different reporting system that collects data in the field. Or stop taking written notes.

I do not use written notes. I take photos of everything and they are my field notes. Works for just about everything except sounds. Occasionnally I have to take a wider angle view of something so I know where the problem occurred. A door knob that does not latch looks like all the other door knobs in the house. A wider angle view shows the furnishings so I can recall which room.

Sometime ago I saw a photo from an inspector that had a bit of a notecard in the picture. The inspector had written on the notecard rear bedroom or something similar as a means to add more detail to the photo. I asked and he said he did not carry a pile of cards with locations, he just created a new card each time if needed.

Saw some photos recently where the inspector had his hand in every picture. Occasionally his finger was pointing at some feature but more often just his gloved hand resting against something to help prop him up. I found it distracting. After reading a bit of the report, I just started looking for his hand in the picture instead of looking for the defect in the picture.

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. . . I have gotten a bet better at collecting data from multiple categories while in one area of a home. However, I still report in a form that has systems categorized. So, shuffling through my check list to jot things down seems a bit cumbersome at times.

How do you manage these things? Do you have any suggestions of things I might try to improve my efficiency?

I address that problem with a miniature checklist that I make myself. It's a 3-1/2" x 5" notepad with 10 tabbed sections that mirror the sections in my report. The 10 tabs run across the bottom of the pad. I touch one of the tabs, bend the pad slightly, and that notepad opens to that page. I can jump from one section to another in about a second. Each section has a list of the items I have to "describe" in order to fulfill the stupid standards. Below that is simply blank space where I can write notes about whatever I want. There's an empty blank page behind each section page for additional notes. I write in a very miserly shorthand, so I don't usually need to put notes on pages where they don't belong.

I like it to be small so that it can fit in my pocket and so that I can have both hands free most of the time. I don't like carrying stuff in my hands.

I suppose it would be more efficient to just put my report on a tablet and enter the data directly. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I can drop my notepad, dunk it in water, set a heavy magnet down on it, and smash it with a hammer with no ill effects. I can use it in bright daylight or near total darkness, I don't have to worry about getting it dirty or its batteries running out. The notepad won't crash or lose my data.

-Jim Katen, Oregon

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I continue to notice gradual improvement in my efficiency in inspecting and reporting. I'm wondering, how long will improvement continue until I reach that plateau?

One of the brothers here said a while back, "You spend the first ten years trying to do the perfect inspection, and the next ten years trying to write the perfect report."

The only plateau you will reach occurs when your brain is temporarily overloaded.

How do you manage these things? Do you have any suggestions of things I might try to improve my efficiency?

Just to let you know, I don't use a check list and I don't do the inspection in any order. I take notes using my camera. My protocol has me chasing after anything that doesn't look right. I find this to be the fastest way for me to get a feel for the house and be on the watch for the kinds of other issues that the home is likely to have based on what I am finding. I don't know of anyone else that inspects this way. Sounds scary doesn't it, sounds like I would miss stuff. I don't, I find more stuff that I would miss if I was following a set check list. My protocol is designed to minimize the chances of tunnel vision, which I found myself prone to by following check lists and always doing the inspection in a certain order.

Chris, Oregon

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I always bring a checklist with me, but rarely write much down. InspectExpress comes with a really good set of worksheets that I have customized just the way I like 'em. I preint a set off for every inspection and slip them into a binder with a copy of the contract and any other info I might need for the inspection (a printed Google map, MLS listing etc). The actual onsite note taking is done with the camera and lately, a digital voice recorder. Sometimes I will scribble something down on the worksheets (furnace serial number etc) but it mainly is there to keep me from getting too wrapped up in one area and missing something else. At the end of the inspection I go over the checklist to make sure I remembered to inspect everything on it.

I'm not sure if the worksheets are available to non-InspectExpress users as a stand alone unit. If not, they certainly should be - they're awesome.

-Brad

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In the meantime, I can drop my notepad, dunk it in water, set a heavy magnet down on it, and smash it with a hammer with no ill effects. I can use it in bright daylight or near total darkness, I don't have to worry about getting it dirty or its batteries running out. The notepad won't crash or lose my data.

-Jim Katen, Oregon

I've been using a tablet computer for >10 years, and I still don't carry it around; it's cumbersome, and it is a distraction. Much better to carry notecards.

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Am I the only one that carries a laptop during the interior portion of the inspection?

The computer stays in my truck 'til I'm ready to go inside. All I do is take pictures for the exterior portion.

I continue to notice gradual improvement in my efficiency in inspecting and reporting. I'm wondering, how long will improvement continue until I reach that plateau?

Strive for perfection, just keep in mind that you'll never get there. I may just get bored with my routine, but tend to change the way I do things here and there. It's a never ending process.

I have gotten a bet better at collecting data from multiple categories while in one area of a home. However, I still report in a form that has systems categorized. So, shuffling through my check list to jot things down seems a bit cumbersome at times.

I carry my laptop either into each room I am inspecting, or set it on a bathroom counter near that room. I inspect one room at a time, and then input the info. directly into the report. Knock on wood, I've never broken a computer to date.

This year, I've already doubled the number of inspections I did last year. I'm a part timer so it's not a ton of inspections but growing for sure.

Congratulations. I'm down this year.

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My system is a hybrid of several mentioned. I was intrigued by Chris's method of taking lots of photos and using them as reminders (mentioned in a post some months ago), it works surprisingly well. I also carry a small notebook, and prepare a page for the exterior with a rough sketch of the house with compass points, and a few things to check. I try to use Kurt's method of jotting down abbreviations, mine are not as concise as his yet, that may come in time.

Started using a PDA a little while ago, it's great for all the check list stuff like Jim K. mentioned, I have it in a case on my waist, and take it everywhere, except the crawl, of course. Using Home Gauge, it's easy, I start the report on the PC, transfer it to the PDA, then after the inspection transfer it back to the PC with all the checklist info filled in, and write the report.

The only thing I use the laptop for on inspections anymore is to show photos. Just got a netbook and started using that, small and light is the way to go. So instead of trying to get the tiny rotate image icons in Windows Picture and Fax viewer right (I always screw that up), I just rotate the netbook itself.

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When I 1st started I carried a blank copy of my report during the inspection and used it as a check list. After 6 months or so I developed a shortened check list, and it kept getting shorter and shorter. Now, in my 4th year, all I do is take pictures of everything, no checklist, no written notes. I take general photos of each area of the house and all the mechanical stuff along with the data plates. When I find a problem, I take a picture of it. If I start finding multiple failed window seals, I hold 2,3,4,5 fingers up when I take the pic.

I’ve learned there are 3 things that I have a tendency to forget to check: 1) Co detector, 2) reset thermostat, 3) did the dishwasher cycle okay. So at the end of each inspection I say to myself “Mark, did you check those 3 thingsâ€

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I'll throw this out, just because it's interesting.

A local inspector used to do the whole inspection without taking any notes. This was in the days before digital cameras, so she held everything in her head until the end of the inspection. She'd inspect one room at a time and make a metal picture of what was going on. So if she was in the second bedroom and she found mouse droppings, an ungrounded receptacle, and a cracked window, she'd imagine the numeral 2 with a mouse sitting on it. The mouses tail was stuck in the ground slot of a receptacle and he was being cut by a broken piece of glass. Once she had that image in her head, she'd move on. She said that it was very easy to recall every detail of the inspection by simply thinking about one room at a time.

I tried her method and, for me, it was a dismal failure. The characters in my images kept improvising instead of sticking to the script. Maybe I needed to use union mice.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Chris and I must think alike. No notes, I try to go clockwise but that's about the only routine I have. I take pictures to jog my memory but usually I write the whole report then insert photos. Occasionally I'll modify the report during the photo insertion process. I admit that there have been times when I can't recall how many bedrooms there were because there was nothing notable in any of them.

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Thanks everyone for telling about your experiences. All of your input helps. It's interesting how so many rely on cameras. On my first inspection I had some software that I thought was going to guide me through. It was a disaster. I also had a camera that day. I took many pictures. That camera saved me. I wrote my report off of the pictures. Maybe I should have never looked back.

Hey Jim, just curious but why do you have lines drawn through the notes on your list?

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I carry an aluminum document holder with a bunch of clean paper held in place with the clipboard. Inside the holder, I've got a CodeCheck West, recall sheets for appiance, a few cheat sheets, extra pens, and some business cards.

I go through the house doing stuff by rote; compiling notes as I go - like I'm working a crimescene. The document holder makes a good desk and I can sketch something for a client when I need to in order to help him/her understand the issue. When I get back to the office, I transcribe the notes - 2-3 words that key my memory - into the program

It's weird; I usually can't remember what I had for breakfast or dinner the night before but I can remember a huge amount of crap about a home.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Thanks everyone for telling about your experiences. All of your input helps. It's interesting how so many rely on cameras. On my first inspection I had some software that I thought was going to guide me through. It was a disaster. I also had a camera that day. I took many pictures. That camera saved me. I wrote my report off of the pictures. Maybe I should have never looked back.

Hey Jim, just curious but why do you have lines drawn through the notes on your list?

After I enter the note into the report, I cross it off, like a grocery list.

- Jim in Oregon

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...

It's weird; I usually can't remember what I had for breakfast or dinner the night before but I can remember a huge amount of crap about a home.

Likewise. I started using a checklist I made up for myself and gave it up after the first 2 or 3 inspections. Just too unwieldly. I then moved to a cassette voice recorder and later to a digital one. I had mixed results with those. They were fine for taking notes, but then I would have to listen to myself afterwards, often going through long minutes of converstions with the client because I would forget to turn the damn thing off. About 3 or 4 years ago, I realized that there was almost nothing on the recorder that I didn't already remember.

I already took a bunch of photos. I probably take a few more now, including data plates, service stickers, etc, etc. A lot are are purely info and some will have finger signals. I.E. I take a photo or 2 of each bathroom so I know what was in there. I will sometimes add "gang" signs to distinguish tile and sheet vinyl flooring or to indicate a fan is non-functional. I keep a folded up piece of letter-sized paper in my back pocket for the odd thing that either doesn't photograph and/or has multiple locations, such as ungrounded receptacles. But...the vast majority is done from memory, jogged by the photos.

This works for me as it is very unusual for me to do more than one home a day. I do not trust my memory to handle more than one at a time. On those rare occasions I will take more copious notes, and might even resort to the voice recorder depending on the home.

So, I guess my tools in order of importance are...1: memory, 2: camera 3: a piece of scratch paper, and a distant and mostly unused 4: a voice recorder.

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I'm having a hard time with the usage of paper notes. Maybe it's just me or the conditions I have to operate under, but I gave up paper and pen about eight years ago when I discovered digital voice recorders. With the exception of one Sony POS that I tried, I have always used Olympus and always liked them. The ergonomics on the model I use are good: I don't even have to look at it because the buttons are arranged well. With our humid summers, sweat spots blurring the ink on the notepad was always a big problem. It's also difficult in a dark, cramped crawlspace to dig out a pad and pencil, hold the flashlight just so, and try to write a legible note. I find a digital voice recorder on a lanyard around my neck far easier to use. It is certainly a lot faster than writing notes, and I've never had an electronic memory failure.

Interestingly, I have found that there seems to be something about the act of dictating the note that locks it into my brain better than writing them down ever did. So much so that in actual practice the voice notes are only a backup. I write a report from memory with the aid of the photos, and only skim through the voice notes afterward to confirm that I didn't miss anything. On a smaller job, I won't have to go back and add any notes. On a large one I can have as many as three or four items that I didn't remember that the voice notes will serve as a reminder for. I also take photographs, but not for every single defect. For instance a simple dripping faucet that will be mentioned in the report but which does not need a photograph isn't included in the photos. I use Inspect Express, and those of you who also do know that the more photos you have the slower it is to scroll through them and insert them to the report. (Suggestion for Mike and Rose: allow more space for multiple rows of photos. A single row can be really cumbersome!)

Note: Unlike Richard, I have never had a problem with forgetting to turn the recorder off after dictating a note. There have been times, however, when I will accidentally bump the recording button (such as when crawling through a tight area) and it will record everything until I notice it and turn it off. In those cases, when I'm playing it back I simply hit the button skipping to the next message. It's digital: unlike a tape recorder, you don't have to listen to the entire thing.

Whatever style of information gathering works for you is fine, but I would suggest not being afraid of experimenting with new techniques. You just might find something that works better for you.

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I have a preprinted, 5 page worksheet for a residence. I start a new one for each additional building on the property. I us a slightly different one for multiple systems or dwelling units. I customize one for each commercial building and it includes a satellite image on the first page.

It's worked well for me for 23 years. I have no problem flipping or finding the section I'm looking for. It's on a clipboard case that carries some handy reference sheets, shower plug and folding ruler.

I then dictate the report before doing any other inspection. After it's typed, I add pictures and images to the report as needed, to help describe a condition or location.

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