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  1. #1
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    Default How a new H I should write a report.

    Recently I had a discussion with someone entering the Home Inspection field. It was not long before software became the topic. I said that there is a process that they should go through before getting into software reports. Like understand wood. First start with a knife and do some carving. Then learn to use a hand saw, bit and brace, a hatchet, hammer and nails. Not till they have become expert in the basics to then progress to electric saws and pneumatic nailers. It is a crawl, walk, then run.

    From time to time a new Home Inspector will question which software is the best to use. The discussion usually is about format, inserting pictures, description library and ease to add/edit the library. Oh yes, time to complete.

    Often the thread is created to questin what others would say about an item in a report. More often than not it is not about what is wrong but how to best explain it simplistically. The semantics of the statements become extremely important and we all need help from time to time.

    Would it not be in the best interest of the new HI to not use any software, but compose their report solely using Windows Word. Where the emphasis is on them being able to communicate exactly what they saw and being able to express it in a way that the client can understand through the narrative.

    By using the individualized narrative for each observation the HI is reinforcing what they know and determining what they don't know. Whereby, they would research the unknown item so they could effectively express themselves as to what they had observed. Granted much will become redundant, but that is the method used by most of us to retain information through rote learning.

    So many to the people entering the Home Inspection field have little to no real hands on experience. They learn about a brick from a book and see how it is used, but they have no experience in laying a brick. Being able to recognize something is wrong is far different from understanding what went wrong in its' use/application.

    I understand that most people entering Home Inspection are not going to spend 15 years learning all of the trades that go into building a house. The school of hard knocks, being hit in the head with a 2x6 is educational but painful, to form a foundation of their knowledge.


    So, other thoughts on the concept of learning Home Inspections and Report generation via using entirely a narrative approach?

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Interesting topic Garry!
    The idea of learning how to formulate your observations into a narrative that gives your client a clear understanding of what you are talking about, is a great one. However, I'm not sure spending time developing a inspection software program (a Word Processing program library of narratives you use time after time), then switching to another program (professional HI software) is a good way to develop writing skills.

    Granted, the inspector needs to convey their findings to their client in a clear manner. Writing skills are absolutley necessary. The ability to put your observations into words that are easy to understand is not easy. Based on a lot of posts I see on this forum, as well as others, its obvious that basic spelling and grammar are not the strong suit of some. Working with a Word program will not help those individuals.

    Working with a mentor would do a lot more. Having a seasoned inspector review and critique a report, would help make someone a better report writer, and possibly a better inspector. I think a lot of inspectors would benefit from playing with the software for a long time before they even do their first inspection. Then do a bunch of practice inspections.

    But without having someone look at their reports and give feedback, they are still not going to know if they are conveying to the client, information that is easily understood.

    One of the best thing about belonging to ASHI is the local Chapter network. Meeting with other inspectors in my area regularly was invaluable in my quest to become a good inspector. Not only is the education valuable, but the contact with other inspectors helps all of us grow. I'm not sure if InterNACHI has a Chapter network, or how involved they are. I would encourage all inspectors to find a local Chapter, and visit. I know our Chapter welcomes any inspector to our meetings. ASHI membership is not required to attend meetings.

    While I agree with your premise that writing narratives from scratch could improve report writing skills, unless a person can formulate their thoughts with correct spelling and grammar, its like putting the horse before the cart. Maybe the inspection schools should spend a lot more time with report writing.

    Just my 2 cents.


  3. #3
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    The current crop of HI's appear to not have any interest in crafting narratives at all, just looking for a quick way to describe an issue, often times written by someone other than the actual inspector.

    Whether it's MS Word, a commercial HI software program, or a yellow notepad, people need to start learning how to write up a defect.

    And that includes doing one's own research, not posting queries on bulletin boards asking for someone else to find the install guide or specs, without at least trying to locate the info first.

    Dom.


  4. #4
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Jack,
    I hoped that it might be an interesting topic of discussion, we will see.

    No HI software involved, only MS Word. They could make a template to use that they would fill in the specific conditions observed. But the narratives would be generated each time.

    Don,
    You are correct on spelling and grammar being an issue for many. MS Word can assist in both areas. The more you write the better you get at it. Having a proof reader would be good as well as a mentor to review the report.

    I am not talking about writing for an English class, just developing logical thought and the ability to express ones self in writing.

    To many who are rushing into the field are using HI software as a crutch to over their lack of knowledge and skills. And yes I agree many will ask first so they will not have to dig for the information on their own. There is a big difference in offering a helping hand and carrying some on your back.

    In general I do believe that you need the knowledge and also need the ability to communicate that knowledge.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Interesting topic - MS Word was almost my first software for writing my inspection reports. Actually my first one was WordPerfect.

    Actually once you have developed a pretty good template for the report, it is not that difficult to modify for the next or future reports. I also tried to develop one using Excel.

    The only real downside was being a narrative report seemed to take a lot of time, even modifying the base template. From time to time I would borrow and seek out narratives from others. But overall, most of it was based on creating my own narratives while following to ASHI SOP.

    I tried that for good number of years, eventually trying several other pre-canned computer based "templates".

    I look forward to other comments.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    The idea of using Word is good because that would have them first and foremost create a template of what the SOP requires as a minimum (so they don't 'not do' something which needs to be done).

    Then expand the template to include more items, and they could even create paragraphs (narratives) of things they expect to find in their area, then delete the ones not needed at their trial inspections, and add more detail to the ones they leave.

    The best way would be to do this for trial inspections for friends and relatives homes in the area they will be inspecting.

    That will give them a heads up on what they may find, allow them to adjust their reporting style to suit them, and, before getting too far along in the creating of the paragraphs - they get a feel for what their report will look like and what is needed - then look at software which allows them freedom adapting the software to their uses.

    I think Garry's idea is a great one, but Jack's realistic assessment of getting to far into creating something which will then be replaced is on the money, as well as, (and unfortunately) Dom's assessment that "The current crop of HI's appear to not have any interest in crafting narratives at all, just looking for a quick way to describe an issue," ... so true for most new HIs 'graduating from the HI schools'.

    There are few new HIs who will be interested in learning the long and proper way, no money in that, and their source for referrals (the agents) will dry up faster than they can establish themselves.

    Its a Catch 22, to be sure. I'm glad I started when I did, and retired when I did as I can imagine that it is tough for a new HI to establish themselves doing quality inspections when so many are doing 'quick and cheap' inspections (those inspectors don't realize that they actually have to work harder to make the same money, and that their liability goes through the roof doing 'quick and cheap' inspections.

    Jerry Peck
    Construction Litigation Consultant ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  7. #7
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    I'm retired, but still active as long-time volunteer behind the scenes in the home inspection sector mainly in Canada. As such, I have a lot of experience in reviewing tons of home inspection reports of many types and from various report vendors.

    One thing I see far too often is poor reporting skills. Lack of information, and some that seem to not take the time to complete a report properly, let alone in compliance with a SOP. I can say that with reasonable confidence based on the field testing system that "we" use to benchmark home inspectors for "certification". You know one of those things that some associations seem to fail to do.

    In our testing system the failure rate of finding at least 80% of the significant defects in a test house is approximately 20%. This includes inspectors that hold designations from other organizations. So you can see that it stands that in general home inspectors regardless of association can do a much better job.


  8. #8
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Several points that keep popping up with inspectors and why they find themselves in trouble.

    1. The report identifies a problem condition, but NOT its significance or
    meaning.

    2. The report understates the significance or meaning of a problem condition.

    3. The inspector verbally dilutes the significance or meaning of a problem
    condition identified in the report.

    4. The report fails to suggest that the client retain an expert to more fully
    evaluate a problem condition.

    5. The report fails to identify a limitation which prevents or hinders a more
    thorough inspection of an area.

    6. The inspector does not obtain a signed contract from the client.

    7. The inspector presents the contract for the first time immediately before
    the actual inspection.

    8. The contract does not contain a limit of liability provision. (where legal)

    9. The contract does not identify what services are being offered and excluded.

    10. During a re-inspection, the inspector makes some admissions of liability to
    the client or agent.


  9. #9
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Excellent points Raymond! Claude brought up an important point. Writing the report with the SOP in mind. I can't tell you how any times I have worked as an expert trying to defend a home inspector, and they don't really have a clear understanding of the SOP.


  10. #10
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Feldmann View Post
    Excellent points Raymond! Claude brought up an important point. Writing the report with the SOP in mind. I can't tell you how any times I have worked as an expert trying to defend a home inspector, and they don't really have a clear understanding of the SOP.
    One of the benefits of having to create from scratch all aspects of a report so that it does cover the SOP. If the HI has to actually think and then make sure that all aspects of the SOP are covered it will become ingrained. The SOP becomes totally second nature and instinctive.

    I am sure Jerry and many others like my self started old faction typing then moving to DOS and on to MS WORD. Many in the ancient days used/created carbon forms that had many fill in the blank format, either purchased or personally created. But the process of creation is what drove home the fundamentals.


  11. #11
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    The idea of using Word is good because that would have them first and foremost create a template of what the SOP requires as a minimum (so they don't 'not do' something which needs to be done).
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Feldmann View Post
    Claude brought up an important point. Writing the report with the SOP in mind. I can't tell you how any times I have worked as an expert trying to defend a home inspector, and they don't really have a clear understanding of the SOP.
    What am I ... chopped liver?

    Jerry Peck
    Construction Litigation Consultant ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  12. #12
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    It sounds to me like we are talking about several things here:

    1) Understanding of construction
    2) Understanding of SOPs
    3) Ability to research
    4) Ability to write and convey information

    These all go into making a good home inspector. The fact is that getting all four in a single individual is difficult. Many of us went into trades because we did not do well in academics. Writing and/or reading may have been difficult for us, whether because of a learning disability (ADD, dyslexia, whatever) so we initially chose career paths that do not require a great deal of expertise in that area. For those of us who have worked our way through the building trades and then into inspection understand the principles of construction, but often have difficulty when describing conditions to someone with little or no experience. This is a valuable skill in itself.

    I had the fortune of starting my inspection career working for an established firm. While I could already write comprehensively, it was helpful to have their "canned" statements to use and guide me. I also was able to improve (in my opinion) the comments over the years and provide better information to the client.

    For my part, I doubt that using a word processor would really change anything over using an inspection software. Part of what you get with a software is presentation quality. The report looks good when you are finished. While this does not compensate for a poorly written report, it does help with setting some expectations. If the report looks professional, people will start from that. The old 3-part hand-written reports do not have the same level of a professional look.

    When I purchased my software, I ended up removing all of their generic comments and replacing them with mine. One at a time. Over a number of years. I too believe it is necessary for an inspector to spend the time crafting comments that will reflect their own understanding and style. But, having the software made the presentation part much easier.

    Mentoring has been mentioned. This is especially true with report writing. Also, classes might be available through local community education. Writing skills are vital and working with someone who understands documentation and report writing would be beneficial, even to experienced inspectors. That is one of the real benefits of local chapter meetings and keeping good relations with colleagues/competitors.

    "Bring out yer dead"
    "I'm not dead yet!"
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  13. #13
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    When I started doing inspections I had a software program which I thought would guide me through the process. However, I immediately found it to be captivating as if I were in jail and could do nothing. My camera saved me. I just started taking pictures. When I got home I would look at the pictures and would remember exactly why I took them. From that I formulated narratives in a Word doc.

    I've since moved on to using software since it helps me organize things better. Although, my inspection info collection is still primarily done with taking pictures.

    Good approach to the topic Gary. Stay safe in MD inspection brother.

    John Dirks Jr - Arundel Home Inspection LLC
    Licensed Maryland Home Inspector

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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Personality traits are more important than technical skills in many cases. You may be an effective inspector but if you have an inward personality, good luck. People skills are very important along with good English and punctuation and spelling.


  15. #15
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Started using MS Word. Wrote reports for a year or so then had one reviewed by state HI association. Response was it failed to meet the criteria of the state SOP. They were so right.

    Completely rewrote my report template to follow the state SOP exactly. Wrote all my own narratives. Developed a format so that the narrative listed the location last. Could drop in saved narrative and then update the location to match the days inspection. Word has a built in grammar and spell checker.

    Submitted reports to ASHI for review. ASHI SOP was a tad different from state SOP. Response was lacked details regarding fireplaces/chimneys. Updated template to follow state SOP and ASHI SOP.

    Later I became a report reviewer for the state association. My goal was to help others but more to hone my report format and writing skills. To see how my report stacked up against others in my area of operation. My report got tighter and more lean.

    Software does not make an HI a better writer. Just allows one to produce a bad report faster and more consistently. A bad author is still a bad author. Saw a many narratives that included a lot of words and were obviously the inspectors hot button topic. Paragraphs for simple problems with simple repairs. HI had to scratch an internal itch to say everything possible about that defect. Next defect was under reported. Foundation is broken. Repair. The weight of importance was skewed based on volume of narrative.

    Writing a better report is about being a better author. Understanding sentence structure. Writing faster reports is about saving narratives and learning to type.

    For a new inspector I would suggest learning to type. Then have a mentor review multiple reports. Make the narratives more succinct. Leave out as much opinion and conjecture as possible and stick to the observable.

    "The Code is not a peak to reach but a foundation to build from."

  16. #16
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    Default Re: How a new H I should write a report.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    What am I ... chopped liver?
    No, more complicated. You are Foie gras. Quack Quack.


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