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Reuben Saltzman

Home inspection report writing style guide

I participate in a lot of online discussions amongst home inspectors over how home inspection reports should be written. I’m pretty opinionated about this stuff, and so is everyone else at Structure Tech. We’ve put together a report-writing style guide, which is something we use to help make sure our reports are consistent and easy to read. This document was George’s idea, as he used to be a technical writer.

Don’t I have awesome people on my team? When I tell other home inspectors about our style guide, the most common question I get is “can I see yours?”

I don’t have a whole lot of secrets. I share all of my inspection methods, tips, and tricks, but our internal report writing style guide has always felt like personal property. I’ve never wanted to share this document before, but the more I get to know my own company, the more I realize that one of the core values of Structure Tech is education. We’re transparent educators.

In keeping with that value, here is our internal Home Inspection Report Writing Style Guide. Enjoy, and please share your thoughts, whether you agree or not.  Thanks!

Structure Tech Report Writing Style Guide

Always use complete sentences.

Recommend replacement of the garage service door.  

I recommend replacement of the garage service door.

Avoid the use of “I recommend”; everything in the report is a recommendation, so beginning every other sentence with this phrase makes for a very repetitive-sounding report.  The same advice can be given with fewer words and less repetition.

I recommend replacement of the garage service door.  

Replace the garage service door.

Use past tense to describe conditions. This helps to create a more consistent report and implies that conditions may change.

The garage door is rotted.

The garage door was rotted.

Avoid the word “you”.  

You do not always know who your audience is.

The identity of the audience is not always known.

Avoid the word “I”. The report isn’t about you.

I found mouse droppings on the floor throughout the basement.

There were mouse droppings on the floor throughout the basement.

Avoid the word “appeared”.  This is weak language that gives the appearance of uncertainty.

The garage door appeared to be rotted.

The garage door was rotted.

Avoid the word “evaluate.” We’re inspectors. Use the word “inspect”.

The driveway could not be evaluated because of heavy snow cover.

The driveway could not be inspected because of heavy snow cover.

When describing the condition of components, make the component the subject of the sentence.

Rot was noted at the garage door.  The subject of this sentence is “rot”.

The garage door was rotted.   The subject of this sentence is the garage door.

Avoid the use of absolutes while giving recommendations.

Install a handrail to prevent accidental falls.  A handrail will not prevent accidental falls.  It can help to prevent accidental falls.

Install a handrail to help prevent accidental falls.  – or – Install a handrail for safety.

Use less words when possible.

The range was not equipped with an anti-tip bracket.

The range lacked an anti-tip bracket.

Recommendations should be based on health, safety, and building performance. Not codes.

Minnesota requires CO alarms to be installed within 10’ of every sleeping room.

CO alarms should be installed within 10’ of every sleeping room for safety.

Side note: don’t mention smoke detectors or CO detectors when you surely mean smoke alarms or CO alarms. They’re not the same thing.

That concludes our style guide. It’s not super-long, and it’s not supposed to be.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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No responses to “Home inspection report writing style guide”

  1. Hank Spinnler
    March 27, 2018, 6:30 am

    Good topic. Thanks for sharing some of your recommendations. Do you specify who should replace the garage service door? The homeowner, a qualified person or a qualified licensed contractor? I think it matters to go the extra step. Does simply stating “garage door” not suffice? What makes it a service door vs. an entry door? To me, the term service connotates more of a commercial application. Again, thanks for the article.

  2. Alan Mackenthun
    March 29, 2018, 10:46 am

    The inspector has no business specifying or commenting in any way regarding who should make any repairs. They simply inspect and report. The buyer has to decide if they need to negotiate for a repair or price adjustment.

  3. Reuben Saltzman
    March 29, 2018, 11:05 am

    Hi Hank,

    No, we don’t specify who should do the repairs with each comment. We have a line at the beginning of our reports which says “The service recommendations that we make in this report should be completed by licensed, qualified, competent specialists”. That’s about it. I see no need to repeat that information with every comment.

    As for specifying garage door vs. service door vs. entry door, it depends. Use the least amount of words to get your point across. If there was one overhead door, say the overhead door. If there was one entry door to the garage from the exterior, we call it the garage service door. For the door to the house, we call it the garage/house common door. In all cases, we try to use words that get our point across clearly.

  4. Doug
    March 27, 2018, 2:30 pm

    Brief and simple. As an old retired English teacher, I highly approve. I especially like making the object the subject, not the condition (the door was rotted vs rot was noted), and the use of active verbs (replace the door). A good evaluative/editing tool that would be useful to any technical writer.

  5. Reuben Saltzman
    March 30, 2018, 4:01 pm

    Thanks!

  6. Dusty Jameson
    March 27, 2018, 7:47 pm

    Good article Reuben! My writing style has drastically evolved over the past year or so, and what’s really encouraging is that I’ve actually narrowed down these exact same principles naturally over the past few weeks / months. The most recent example is using the word “you”. I typed it a few days ago and immediately thought “YOU don’t know who is reading this”… so I changed it.

    I’m glad to see that the things that have been tossed around in my head while typing out reports are the same strategies that a very successful inspector / business owner is already following. Good to know I’m in line with what you’re doing.

    Thanks for the great article!

  7. Reuben Saltzman
    March 30, 2018, 4:00 pm

    Thanks, Dusty! Keep up the good work.

  8. Jim Katen
    March 29, 2018, 12:32 am

    While consistent use of the past tense might make for a more uniform style, it often yields awkward results. Saying that the door “was” rotted leaves the reader wondering; was it rotted and then repaired, or is it still rotted? Using the present tense eliminates this mental stumble. To say, “The door is rotted,” eliminates any doubt and still allows for the possibilty of change.

    Next challenge: cut down on passive voice and stop using “there is” to begin sentences.

  9. Alan Mackenthun
    March 29, 2018, 10:52 am

    It seems like the use of past tense is a good thing. It was rotted at the time of the report and may or may not have been addressed. The reader can assume that if they just received the report that the condition is current, but if someone is reviewing it a few months or years later things may have changed. When writing for other audiences present tense and active voice help make reading more engaging and enjoyable, but this isn’t the goal of an inspection report. It should be accurate, but not unnecessarily alarming. I’m fine with the passive voice here.

  10. Reuben Saltzman
    March 30, 2018, 3:58 pm

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for weighing in. When it comes to report writing, I trust whatever you have to say.

    Nevertheless, I like past tense. We’ve never had anyone get confused, at least not that I know of. The problem with present tense is dynamic situations; for example, a backdrafting water heater. I would never want to say that a water heater “is” backdrafting, because this situation can/will change quite easily. For consistency sake, I want everything described in our reports to be written in past or present tense. Past tense always works, but not so with present tense.

    As for passive voice, yes, I’d like to use it less.

  11. Tim!
    March 30, 2018, 3:09 pm

    “Use _fewer_ words when possible.”

  12. Reuben Saltzman
    March 30, 2018, 3:47 pm

    Yes, you are absolutely correct. Fewer.

  13. Erik Haltson
    April 9, 2018, 12:16 pm

    It’s been about a year since our inspection, and my wife and I have repeated the phrase “the driveway is nearing the end of its usable lifetime” as we plan for spring upgrades to our place. Our report was detailed, clear, and at closing the seller said it was the most complete he had ever seen.

  14. Seth
    April 18, 2018, 1:55 pm

    Great article. Thank you for sharing this; it is extremely helpful as I’m starting out and haven’t been convinced by other writing styles.

  15. Roger Williamson
    June 1, 2018, 8:53 am

    Something to think about. If you didn’t inspect the driveway, how would you know it was covered with snow.

    The driveway was covered with snow when inspected and could not be fully evaluated.
    or
    The driveway was covered with snow when inspected and was not visible to the inspector.

    Example: Ignorant clients think the plumbing system is not inspected when the water is off to the home. I have to inspect the plumbing system to determine the water is off to the home. I would still look at the supply piping, waste and vent piping, water heater, under every vanity, ceiling areas beneath bathrooms, check to see if toilets are loose, etc.

    Great article! But.. My advise, never tell your client that you didn’t or couldn’t inspect something that you did observe. That visual observation is your inspection. Perhaps, your observation did not allow you to fully evaluate that area, that you did, however, inspect.

    Something to think about. Thanks for mentioning the smoke alarms. That is one of my HoT buttons, pun intended.

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