The first edition of the InterNACHI Narrative Library was the result of a suggestion by Nick Gromicko that I offer my narrative library for sale. Although he gave me full ownership after a short time, he and I started out as partners and that's how it wound up with the InterNACHI title. The Library narratives are not biased toward any professional association, they're just descriptions, and they cover far more than is required by any home inspection standards of practice.
I had been inspecting for seven years at that point and spent several months in late 2007 going through my entire narrative library, making sure that the narratives that described deficiencies all conformed to the same formula:
- Describe the condition;
- Tell how serious it is; and
- Make a recommendation, not a specific remedy, but typically for repair, correction, or further evaluation.
Since that time I've spent a lot of time thinking about factors that affect how narratives are written. The factors are:
- Limiting interpretation:
- Your report may be read by those with different motivations: buyers and sellers, their agents or attorneys, their family or friends, contractors, loan officers, and judges or arbitrators. Everyone who reads a particular narrative should come to the same conclusion about what it means. Good narratives leave little room for interpretation.
- Their length:
- Clients are less likely to read long narratives. Bad things can happen if your client fails to read something important! Narratives that are too short may leave out important information. Being able to pick the sweet spot between enough information but not too much takes judgement based on experience that improves with time.
- Their accuracy:
- Few things can make an inspector look as bad as being just plain wrong.
- It's not a code inspection or a warranty:
- You don't want an attorney pointing out that, since you quoted code in one part of the report, you were negligent in failing to identify a number of code violations that you are now liable for fixing. In reality, this is seldom an issue and although I don't quote code, some inspectors do.
- You may comment on something "... at or near the end of its useful life", but you typically won't want to specify remaining lifespan or speculate on future conditions;
- Level of expertise:
- If your report winds up in court, you'll want it to contain narratives using professional level terms. Example: architects and engineers use the term, foundation "footing". Those with less training and experience sometimes use the term "footer", which doesn't sound professional. Sounding professional help protect you from liability!
- The voice. This means the manner in which things are stated... the vocabulary; the relative simplicity and technicality of the sentence wording and terms used. I use this approach:
- It's about communication. For the most part, your report should be understood by anyone with an average education. The idea is that your comments are designed to get the idea across, not show off your technical expertise. You use the term "windows" not "fenestration"!
Although any library is always a work in progress, I've done major revisions about every three years, that last one in 2020. During the 2015 revisions I was living in Cuernavaca, México and had the entire library translated into Spanish. That year I edited, wrote or reviewed about 40,000 narratives. Roughly the equivalent of writing two books.
Writing courses for InterNACHI has helped in developing the library, since it forced me to deal in detail with each system. I also designed and built InterNACHI's two Houses of Horrors for which I had to develop defect lists for the various home systems.