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HOME & BUILDING INSPECTORS & INSPECTION METHODS
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Watch out: ASHI data indicates that one of the most common sources of dispute and subsequent litigation is the "skimpy" un annotated "checklist" report, particularly when used by inexperienced inspectors.
Some checklist reports can be quite effective. And some narrative reports may be ineffective, particularly if their length is consumed with disclaimer and obfuscation at the expense of content.
This article, which defends checklist reports, would suggest that a properly annotated and detailed report might be effective in checklist form, that such a report might be easier to read and thus might communicate better than a narrative, and that both forms have strengths and weaknesses.
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Over the years, there has been controversy as to what is the best type of home inspection report: narrative or checklist. Certainly each well-seasoned professional inspector has his or her opinion on the subject. Each type of report has its strengths. Each also has its weaknesses. When you say "checklist" most inspectors think of a bland, watered down style of report which, above all, lacks detail.
If you consider the idea that inspection reports should be both accurate and concise, a conflict develops for the inspector. The inspector's client should be fully informed of the condition of the property in an effective manner and in easily understood terms. If the client's attention is lost through an endless series of pages or with foreign terms, the inspector falls short of the goal of efficient and effective report writing.
On the other hand, not providing enough detail leaves the client with a lack of adequate information and simultaneously exposes the inspector to potential litigation.
Finding the "middle of the road" often takes years of experience in report writing, unless you have the benefit of using one of the well designed reports available on the market today and unless you know how to use such a report properly.
Let's review some of the facets of both the narrative and the checklist reports:
Comments on Narrative Home Inspection Reports
The narrative report requires more words to communicate both good and bad parts of the property. The reason more words are needed is due to the phraseology required to complete full sentences in order to make the reading material flow in a professional manner. (The whole sentence needs to be read to fully understand the condition.)
Obviously more words means longer reports. Longer reports promotes a drop in concentration on the client's part. In addition to this, the narrative style makes it harder for the reader to scan the report to get a "feel" for the property and it's condition.
Comments on Checklist type Home Inspection Reports
Although inspection reports have come a long way in recent years, many checklist reports are still too brief in the description of the items, components and materials of a property and their condition. Many times they also don't describe the gray areas of inspection conditions. The gray areas are those conditions which are not black or white or cut and dry and therefore need more extensive and detailed description. This can present the inspector with a dilemma.
If standard phraseology can be used to describe a property's defects (and good conditions as well), without the inspector writing every single word, then we would accomplish our task: a short, efficient, easily read and yet meticulous report.
It seems to me that the best reports combine the narrative and the checklist together to create the "best of both worlds". If a checklist report permits both succinct problem identification and sufficient description of what the problem means to the buyer, then it can be very effective.
Curling / buckling / broken / missing shingles
Shingles are worn and will need replacing soon
Low spots in the roofing - brace / replace roof
Missing sections need replacing
Bent / Damaged sections need repairs
Downspout extensions should be added as we discussed
In this example, words with slashes between them allow the inspector to circle the proper choice, followed by checking the box to complete the statement of condition.
The next time someone says "checklist" report, don't automatically assume it's not effective and efficient due to a lack of detail - but DO review the report to see that it contains actual content, not just some checked-boxes.
Similarly, when you hear the term narrative report, don't assume it can't be less than 30 pages to be accurate and to the point.
Shown at above left: Carson Dunlop's Horizon home inspection report writing system.
Automated or Online Narrative or Hybrid Home Inspection Report Writing
See HOME INSPECTION REPORT WRITING - How to write a home inspection report - by Alan Carson, Carson Dunlop Associates.
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