Home inspection report length is a controversial subject among inspectors. It’s a question constantly asked by new inspectors, and there often is no clear answer; what’s appropriate is not always the same everywhere, for every property and in every market.
The best answer is that the best report length is what works best where you work. Unfortunately, we work in an industry with a lot of grey areas and vague answers to specific questions.
Here’s a list of the items that affect report length:
- Jurisdictional regulations;
- Standards of practice/Scope of the inspection;
- Personal preference:
- Narrative length;
- Number of photos taken and and used;
- Risk tolerance;
- Report content;
- Report format;
- Report generating system (software);
- Use of a narrative library;
- Property characteristics; and
- Local practices/expectations.
Beyond the basic requirements of the standards of practice and any jurisdictional regulations, report length and content are choices made by the inspector.
The jurisdiction most commonly affecting report content is the state, with Texas being the most famous (infamous according to many inspectors). The Texas Real Estate Commission requires that home inspectors adhere strictly to a specific format.
Although home inspection is not a building code inspection, for safety reasons, many inspectors identify conditions that are code violations, typically referring to them as “safety standards” to reduce liability. What is considered a deficiency may be related to which building standards is in effect in the jurisdiction in which an inspector is working.
Some conditions, like self-closing hinges on doors between the garage and the living space, and climbable balcony/deck guardrails, used to be code violations but in many jurisdictions are no longer listed as violations by the IRC. Most inspectors still identify these conditions as safety hazards.
Most inspectors will encounter conditions in older houses that were once common, but are now considered hazardous, like ungrounded electrical systems. Pretty much all jurisdictions now require grounding systems on new construction, so inspectors must address such conditions in their reports in an accurate manner, and that manner can vary depending on the issue and the jurisdiction.
Standards of Practice /Scope of the Inspection
Both the Standards of Practice and the scope of the inspection influence the number of items inspected, which in turn impacts report length.
Standards of Practice are a set of written, basic guidelines that describe the minimum that an inspector must do in performing an inspection. Both the InterNACHI and ASHI Standards of Practice are similar. The scope of the inspection is set by each individual inspection company. Some companies limit the scope of their inspections to what is described in the Standards, but most exceed them to some degree.
- The Standards of Practice describe what an inspector must do.
- The Scope of the Inspection describes what an inspector offers to do.
Inspectors are individual business owners and as long as they meet minimum jurisdictional and professional requirements, they are free to decide on what constitutes appropriate report content.
- Narrative length: Narratives should perform three functions: 1. Identification of the condition, 2. Describe how serious it is, and 3. Make a recommendation. Depending on where you are located you may also want to list common causes and corrections. Longer narratives increase the chance that the narrative will not be read, but provides protection from liability and gives your client more information. Generally, keep narratives as short as possible while providing the important information. Most clients do not want detailed technical information, although if the report being forwarded to a contractor is likely, some technical information may be helpful.
- Number of photos taken and and used: Inspectors sometimes take large numbers of photos to use as reference, if needed later. Fewer photos is better, especially if the software you use requires you to pull the ones for the report out of a large group. Increasingly, (especially) mobile inspection software allows photos to be taken and immediately, automatically placed in the report next to the narrative they support, and you should include photos in the report only if they support a narrative. Explanations can be simplified with photos, but no one needs a photo of a doorknob hole with a "Doorknob Hole" label and two arrows pointing at the hole (people do it!).
Longer reports offer more protection from liability, but are less likely to be read completely, which can result in misunderstandings and unhappy clients, which is always bad. Short reports may omit information that might later turn out to be important, and may leave the report open to interpretation and the inspector exposed to liability if damage occurs as a result.
Some inspectors use many photos, videos, disclaimers, introductions, long narratives, and additional material that other inspectors consider superfluous. More content that covers the house in greater detail will increase report length.
Digital reports can be supplied as:
- A digital version of a checklist report that supplies a minimum amount of information;
- A report consisting mostly of narratives; or
- A hybrid that includes a checklist showing what was inspected and narrative descriptions where appropriate, sometimes including photos.
Handwritten reports are widely considered obsolete and those using them will probably haveS a difficult time competing with those who use inspection software.
Report generating system (software)
Modern inspection software typically provides methods for both data collection and report compilation. Advantages are the instantaneous installation of narratives into the report, easy inclusion of additional information like introductions, disclaimers, and explanations, and easy installation and annotation of photos has drastically reduced the time required to compile a report. This in turn may affect report length.
Use of a narrative library
Use of an extensive narrative library that consists of organized, pre-written narratives will:
- Save inspectors the time otherwise spent writing narrative descriptions of conditions they find.
- Help reduce liability, since narratives have been written without the time constraints created by the need to complete and send off a report.
- Be helpful to inspectors who have good inspection skills but less- than-stellar writing skills.
- Allow multiple inspectors working the same property to provide a report with uniform language.
The property size, complexity, systems installed, accessibility, and condition will all affect the amount of time required to inspect it, as well as the report length.
Report length (and content) may also be affected by what is common in a particular market. Short reports in areas in which longer reports are common may be viewed as inadequate. Longer reports where most reports are short may be viewed as excessively detailed and more apt to kill a transaction.
Longer reports may be complained about by agents because assimilating the information is more time consuming and difficult. Inspectors who are heavily dependent on agent referrals for work (and this includes most new inspectors) are more likely to be influenced by these complaints.
Inspectors are neutral third parties in a transaction and should do their best to limit outside influences in making decisions about report content.
In making decisions about report length and content, inspectors may want to view online sample reports from other inspectors in their area and should speak with a local attorney familiar with home inspection. Attending professional association chapter meetings is a great chance to discuss this directly with other inspectors, and the InterNACHI message boards are another good place to ask questions.