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Reuben Saltzman

Less fluff, more home inspection report

I’ve always been proud of the home inspection reports that I produce, but a recent peer review of my reports turned my pride to embarrassment.  I swapped home inspection reports with a couple of home inspectors in different parts of the country for a brutal review of each others reports, and had my inspection report torn to shreds.

These home inspectors spent several hours going over every line and every sentence in my inspection report, and I did the same for them.  They pointed out awkward sentences in my reports, photos that weren’t clear, opinions on how much info was being conveyed, and so on.  The most pervasive issue with my inspection reports was too much useless information… or fluff.

What is a home inspection report?

After this review, I decided to re-think the entire purpose of a home inspection report: the main purpose of a home inspection is to educate a potential buyer on the condition of a home.  A home inspection report documents the findings of the home inspection; in other words, a home inspection report documents the condition of the house. The key word here is condition(not components).

Maintenance manuals?

Over the years, many home inspection reports, including my own, have morphed in to a homeowner’s maintenance manual that waters down the condition of the house by including oodles and oodles of maintenance information that may or may not be of any use to the new homeowner.  A lot of page space also gets dedicated to documenting the components of a building; the condition of these components isn’t always easy to determine.  I once attended a week-long home inspection ‘school’, and was shocked at how little time was spent teaching new home inspectors how to identify defects with houses.  The majority of the class was spent teaching new home inspectors how to fill out a home inspection report, and how to properly document the components of a home, rather than the conditions.

With all of the extra homeowner maintenance information and documention about whatcomponents exist at a home, the most important part of the home inspection report can be tougher and tougher to find.  Why am I including the brand of air conditioner in my inspection reports?  Why does the beginning of my inspection report have a warning about lead paint in old buildings?  Why do I have so much fluff?

I’ve decided to get rid of all the fluff, and I’ve also decided that my home inspection reports are not going to imitate a homeowner’s maintenance manual.  I still discuss homeowner maintenance during the inspection, and I still include items in my report that are in need of maintenance, but that’s all.  If a new home buyer wants a homeowner’s maintenance manual, they can buy Home Maintenance for Dummies for ten bucks on Amazon.  I’m sure there will be much more useful information there than I could ever try to cram in to one of my home inspection reports.

My new home inspection reports

From now on, my home inspection reports are packed with photos and comments that explain the photos, as well as recommendations that tell my client what to do.  As an ASHI Certified Home Inspector I follow the ASHI Standards of Practice, so I’m required to document severalcomponents in a house, such as the type of foundation, the type of siding, the size of the electric service, etc.  This documentation is now going to be pushed to the very end of my inspection reports; I think this is the least important stuff that I report on, so it belongs at the end.

I’ve always included a summary for my inspection reports, but my summaries have always beenway too long.  My new summary lists the items that, in my opinion, are most likely to affect someone’s decision to purchase a property.  That’s it, that’s all.  Here’s a sample.

I’m sure in five years I’ll look back on this report with disgust, as I do now with the reports I was writing five years ago… but hey, change is good.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email– ASHI Home Inspector Minnesota

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No responses to “Less fluff, more home inspection report”

  1. Jan Lindsey
    May 31, 2011, 4:37 pm

    Hi Reuben:
    I live in CT, and have been following your posts on facebook for about 6 months now. You supply informative details about items I wish I knew more about when we bought our home. For instance the former owner was an electrical engineer, and I assume felt it necessary to display what he knew (or didn’t as the case may be). We have 22 phone jacks in our house, and only two actually work. There are so many wires in the basement I cannot follow them!
    We have two circuit breaker boxes (if that is what they are called) and I continue to pop circuits all the time. Ironing and watching TV is sure to pop the circuit breaker.
    Our roof includes a few pipes that do not lead to anywhere, a hole in the roof I guess!
    My favorite, no gutters on the house, and clearly the reverse batten board rotting all over the place! We have since replaced the entire bottom half of the home, the roof will be done as soon as we have a week of warm weather.
    My opinion is, don’t change something when it works just to please others!

  2. David
    June 1, 2011, 9:40 am

    Hmmm. I think it makes good sense to separate the important information from the “fluff,” but I would caution you about leaving out the fluff altogether. When we bought our first house and didn’t really know what we were doing, that “fluff” was really useful and something we returned to again and again. Yeah, we can buy a home maintenance book from Amazon, but that’s assuming that we know we need one!

    I think I would encourage you to show the comments you got from other inspectors (who aren’t using your reports and wouldn’t need them) — to a couple of your recent clients and ask them if they agree. After all, it’s your clients who are paying for the reports and who provide the all-important word-of-mouth referrals.

    Enjoy the website. – DK

  3. Michael Harrell
    June 8, 2011, 6:37 am

    As a real estate buyer’s broker I look to the home inspector to find problems with the home. There are always problems. And then, I expect the inspector and his inspection report to help my client understand the nature of the problems, how they could be corrected, and their significance and importance in the buyer’s decision about buying the home and how much to pay for the home. Most of my clients are first time home buyers and most are first-generation immigrants. So a report that gets to the meat and the bottom line without the distraction of the fluff will be a better report I believe. I agree, if the home owner wants to know more about maintenance, repair, and improvements, there are tons of printed and online resources they can access after they own a home.

  4. Ian Arthur
    June 13, 2011, 8:58 am

    I think you may be making a mistake only relying on other inspectors to critique your report. After all, they are not the ones who will normally be using them. Your clients may be coming to the table with a lot less knowledge of the subject of homes and may like the “fluff” that you are cutting out. I’m all for more clarity, just make sure you don’t end up creating less useful reports for the people who pay your fee. I would suggest getting some clients to critique a few reports too.

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