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If it's over a page....


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Early in my career, any call regarding an alleged omission caused a considerable blood pressure spike. I have, over time, become confident in the fact that, when those rare calls come in, I will direct my client to the page where the condition was, in fact, reported. There have even been times when people called with unusual or unique alleged omissions that had me beginning to doubt myself, but to my relief, even these oddball conditions are typically in my report.

The seasoned home inspector is a methodical machine operating in a real time and sub-conscious mode all in unison. Through training and practice we simply don't miss much. The real remaining challenge in inspecting homes is making certain that:

1. what we saw makes it into the report.

2. the client reads the entire report.

Most of us realize, through past calls, that this second point is the greater challenge. Clients are historically guilty of not reading the whole report.

I first heard this statement in 1984 at a Fred Pryor Career-Track Seminar - Business Writing for Results and time has repeatedly proved it to be absolutely true:

"If it's over a page they won't read it."

A one page inspection report is, of course, mission impossible, but this is the mindset we are up against. The sad fact is the longer our report is the less likely our client is to actually read all of it. With this in mind, my inspection reports have always been pretty condensed and concise, but even so, history repeatedly confirms that if it isn't in the Summary it probably won't get read.

A good home inspector is like a fine bottle of wine - constantly getting better with age. We seem to experience two distinct and significant learning curves during our careers. The first learning curve - the particularly expensive one - is learning how to efficiently and completely inspect a home. Eventually, we become that impressive methodical inspection machine that I touched upon earlier. Then, we begin to realize there is only one remaining way to significantly improve the quality of our service - our writing.

In reviewing reports one can easily see that there are those who write to edify themselves and those who write to edify their reader. If we hope to move to the next level, we must be centered in that second category - those who write to edify the reader. This means that we may need to pause and rethink the way we write.

When is the last time that you actually asked yourself, "How readable and interesting is this?" I suspect most of us rarely do that. By the time we get to writing the report, we are more like a surgeon cleaning out and closing up the operation. But, this question is the very threshold to the second significant learning curve - presenting our findings in the manner most beneficial to our clients.

In the end, most seasoned home inspectors are very good at what they do in the field. That being the case, it stands to reason that the inspector who successfully gets his client to actually read his entire report comes closest to perfection.

The journey continues...

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You betcha......Those basic principles have guided me on the path I've taken with report writing.

My report is the summary. All the materials descriptions, SOP requirements, and extraneous stuff that no one I know really seems to care about is in the back, and the summary/report is a simple list, numbered 1-whatever, with the stuff I want them to think about.

How often have you wished we could just provide a simple defect list report? All things being equal, it's the best and most efficient manner to get the ideas across.

Writing redundantly, i.e., writing a report, and then having to extract everything that is important into a separate section or document so folks can understand it, isn't necessarily good writing. Folks think it's good writing mostly because they all use software that requires them to do it that way.

Malcolm Gladwell (I love that guy....) writes often about how successful writing is not about the ability to persuade, win arguments, or show off one's extensive vocabulary. Successful writing should be measured by how well we engage our readers, and how we maintain that interest all the way through to the end.

I like that approach. Wish I could do it all the time.

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So then the next question: does the market place support the extra fees associated with spending that much extra time and care in generating a so-called good report?

I've made the point before many times in the past: my report writing time has increased drastically and my fees are no longer commensurate with the hours spent. It's a problem.

If I were to charge more, I'd likely lose jobs in this tight market. Maybe not- I just don't have the cojones to experiment right now.

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"Good writing is clear thinking made visible." —Bill Wheeler

Kurt, that's the way I do it as well - A straight foward Summary as the first thing seen, assuming that after a page they're probably going under...

I always ask myself, "If this isn't in the Summary, will I be hearing from these folks?" That endless question has insulated me from a lot of trouble.

When I first transitioned to software, I spent about four solid days surgically purging it of horrific language.

Have a great weekend all!

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You betcha......Those basic principles have guided me on the path I've taken with report writing.

My report is the summary. All the materials descriptions, SOP requirements, and extraneous stuff that no one I know really seems to care about is in the back, and the summary/report is a simple list, numbered 1-whatever, with the stuff I want them to think about.

How often have you wished we could just provide a simple defect list report? All things being equal, it's the best and most efficient manner to get the ideas across.

Writing redundantly, i.e., writing a report, and then having to extract everything that is important into a separate section or document so folks can understand it, isn't necessarily good writing. Folks think it's good writing mostly because they all use software that requires them to do it that way.

I just checked my state SOPs regarding this idea. We are required to have a Summary section. So what if the defects were ONLY in the summary section and not the body? No redundancy. Since the summary is part of the report, then documenting the issues in ONLY the summary meets the requirement. No more duplication and moving things about.

I like this. Hmmm... Need to ponder and investigate further to ensure I am not overlooking some technical point of the SOPs.

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  • 5 months later...

I always ask myself, "If this isn't in the Summary, will I be hearing from these folks?" That endless question has insulated me from a lot of

Good Point... Not to cut/snip away your other thoughts... but worth repeating.

Good other thoughts on "tuning up" of how we communicate to our clients, and how we can improve.

Maybe, less IS more.

Thanks

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