Basic Home Inspections
Influenced by the changes in the economic and legal
environments over the past 30 years, home inspection
reports have changed to accommodate increased
consumer expectations, and to provide more extensive
information and protection to both inspectors and
their clients. |
Development of Standards
Prior to the mid-1970s, inspection reports followed
no standard guidelines and, for the most part, there
was little or no oversight or licensure. As might be
imagined, without minimum standards to follow, the
quality of inspection reports varied widely, and the
home inspection industry was viewed with some
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consumer, you should take the time to examine the Standards of
Practice followed by your inspector. If he is unaffiliated
with any professional inspection organization, and his reports
follow no particular standards, find another inspector.
Generally speaking, reports should describe the major home
systems, their crucial components, and their operability,
especially the ones in which failure can result in dangerous
or expensive-to-correct conditions. Defects should be
adequately described, and the report should include
Reports should also disclaim portions of the home not
inspected. Since home inspections are visual inspections, the
parts of the home hidden behind floor, wall and ceiling
coverings should be disclaimed.
Home inspectors are not experts in every system of the home,
but are trained to recognize conditions that require a
Home inspections are not technically exhaustive, so the
inspector will not disassemble a furnace to examine the heat
exchanger closely, for example.
Standards of Practice are designed to identify both the
requirements of a home inspection and the limitations of an
Checklist and Narrative Reports
In the early years of the home inspection industry, home
inspection reports consisted of a simple checklist, or a one-
or two-page narrative report.
Checklist reports are just that; very little is actually
written. The report is a series of boxes with short
descriptions after them. Descriptions are often abbreviated,
and might consist of only two or three words, such as “peeling
paint.” The entire checklist might only be four or five pages
long. Today, some inspection legal agreements are almost that
Because of the lack of detailed information, checklist reports
leave a lot open to interpretation, so that buyers, sellers,
agents, contractors, attorneys and judges may each interpret
the information differently, depending on their motives.
In the inspection business, phrases that describe conditions
found during an inspection are called "narratives." Narrative
reports use reporting language that more completely describes
each condition. Descriptions are not abbreviated.
Both checklist and narrative reports are still in use today,
although many jurisdictions are now beginning to ban checklist
reports because the limited information they offer has
resulted in legal problems.
From the standpoint of liability, narrative reports are widely
considered safer, since they provide more information and
state it more clearly.
Many liability issues and problems with the inspection process
are due to misunderstandings about what was to be included in
the report, or about what the report says.
For example, in 2002, an investor bought a 14-unit hotel in
California. The six-page narrative report mentioned that
flashing where the second-story concrete walkway met the
building was improperly installed, and the condition could
result in wood decay. Four years later, the investor paid out
almost $100,000 to demolish and replace the entire upper
walkway. In some places, it was possible to push a pencil
through support beams.
Although the inspector's report had mentioned the problem, it
hadn't made clear the seriousness of the condition, or the
possible consequences of ignoring it. Today, a six-page report
would be considered short for a small house.
Development of Reporting Software
Years ago, when computers were expensive to buy and difficult
to operate, inspection reports were written by hand. As
computers became simpler to operate and more affordable,
inspection software began to appear on the market.
Today, using this software, an inspector can chose from a
large number of organized boilerplate narratives that s/he can
edit or add to in order to accommodate local conditions, since
inspectors in a hot, humid city like Tampa Bay, Florida, are
likely to find types of problems different from those found by
inspectors in a cold, dry climate, like Salt Lake City, Utah.
Using narrative software and checking boxes in categories that
represent the home systems, an inspector can produce a very
detailed report in a relatively short time.
For example, using a checklist report, an inspector finding a
number of inoperable lights in a home would check a box in the
"INTERIOR" section labeled something like “some lights
inoperable,” and that would be the limit of the information
passed on to the client.
Using inspection software, in the "INTERIOR" section of the
program, an inspector might check a box labeled “some lights
inoperable.” This would cause the following narrative to
appear in the "INTERIOR" section of the inspection report:
“Some light fixtures in the home appeared to be inoperable.
The bulbs may be burned out, or a problem may exist with the
fixtures, wiring or switches.
If after the bulbs are replaced, these lights still fail to
respond to the switch, this condition may represent a
potential fire hazard, and the Inspector recommends that an
evaluation and any necessary repairs be performed by a
qualified electrical contractor.”
Standard disclaimers and other information can be pre-checked
to automatically appear in each report.
Narratives typically consists of three parts:
- A description of a condition of
- A sentence or paragraph describing
how serious the condition is, and the potential ramifications,
answering questions such as, “Is it now stable, or will the
problem continue?” or “Will it burn down the house?" and “When?”;
- A recommendation. Recommendations
may be for specific actions to be taken, or for further
evaluation, but they should address problems in such a way that
the reader of the report will understand how to proceed.
“Typically” is a key word here. Some
narratives may simply give the ampacity of the main electrical
disconnect. There is no need for more than one sentence. Different
inspectors would include what they think is necessary.
Inspection reports often begin with an informational section which
gives general information about the home, such as the client’s name,
the square footage, and the year the home was built.
Inspection reports often include a summary report listing major
problems to ensure that important issues are not missed by the
reader. It's important that the reader be aware of safety issues or
conditions which will be expensive to correct. With this in mind,
some inspectors color-code report narratives, although many feel
that color-coding exposes them to increased liability and don't do
Software often gives inspectors the choice of including photographs
in the main body of the report, near the narrative that describes
them, or photographs may be grouped together toward the beginning or
end of the report.
A table of contents is usually provided.
The main body of the report may be broken down into sections
according to home systems, such as "ELECTRICAL," "PLUMBING,"
"HEATING," etc., or it may be broken down by area of the home:
"EXTERIOR," "INTERIOR," "KITCHEN," "BEDROOMS," etc.
It often depends on how the inspector likes to work.
Many inspectors have websites which include sample inspection
reports for prospective clients to view. Take the time to look at
them. Also often included is a page explaining the scope of the
inspection. The inspection contract is usually included on the
website, and it should give you a good idea of what will be included
in the report.
In conclusion, for consumers to have realistic expectations about
what information will be included in the home inspection report,
follow these tips:
- Read the Standards of Practice;
- Read the Contract;
- Review a Sample Inspection Report;
- Talk with the inspector.
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