In searching for a home inspector for out-of-state family members buying a home, I ended up comparing dozens of home inspector web sites, trying to separate the great home inspectors from the hacks. It wasn't difficult to find qualified home inspectors, but finding someone who I thought was a great home inspector was much more difficult. As I mentioned at the end of my blog about finding an out-of-state home inspector, it all came down to comparing sample home inspection reports.
Reading sample home inspection reports is the best way to compare home inspectors, short of actually attending the home inspection.
In my humble opinion, the best home inspection reports have several things in common, and these were the things that I looked for in a sample home inspection report while searching for an out-of-state inspector:
Photos - this is a no-brainer and doesn't need much explanation. Good home inspection reports have photos. This is a basic requirement for a good home inspection report that most home inspectors include today. In a recent survey of ASHI home inspectors with 4,500 responses, over 84% of ASHI home inspectors include photos in their reports.
Easy to read - I don't want to have to look at a legend to figure out what the inspector is trying to say, and I especially wouldn't want my family members trying to figure that stuff out. Home inspection reports should be easy to understand and shouldn't need someone with industry knowledge to interpret what the inspector is trying to say.
Customized - home inspection reports should contain three basic components when addressing an issue: what the issue is, why it's an issue (if not obvious), and what should be done.
For example, if a water heater had a pressure relief valve that was plugged off on the end, a great home inspection report might say
"The pressure relief valve discharge tube has a cap attached to the end, which will prevent the valve from functioning; this could cause the water heater to explode or turn in to a missile if the water heater malfunctioned. Have the cap removed."
A weak inspection report might say
"Capped relief pipe needs repair"
Both of these descriptions address the defect, but the first description is obviously a far superior description, and lets the client know why this item needs repair.
Disclaimers kept to a minimum - I looked for inspection reports that were focused on helping my family members; not explaining away why they couldn't. Many home inspection reports are filled with CYA verbiage that is focused on explaining away why the home inspector couldn't see this or why they couldn't inspect that. This isn't helpful to the home buyer, and when there's too much of it, it starts to sound 'weaselly'. I don't want to read through a huge list of stuff that wasn't inspected. That list belongs in the contract or the standards of practice. If the roof was covered with snow, say it was covered with snow and not inspected. The end.
Realistic recommendations - This one is huge. Many home inspection reports are filled with recommendations for further testing and inspections to the point where it gets absurd. Mold testing? Asbestos testing? Lead testing? Sewer scans? Plumbing inspections? Electrical inspections? When I see recommendations for all these other inspections, I get the feeling that the home inspector is only concerned about not getting sued; they're not nearly as concerned about providing a good service to my family members.
Confident reports - this point is a little harder to define, but it's really what sets asides the rookies from the experienced home inspectors. Anyone with the most basic understanding of a house can observe an abnormality, call attention to it, and recommend repair or a second opinion. With knowledge and experience comes the confidence to say that something isn't a problem.
Ownership - This might be something that many home inspectors don't even consider when they write reports, but I got turned off reading inspection reports where the inspector clearly didn't take ownership of the comments and recommendations he or she was making. For example, "It is recommended..." takes no ownership. "I recommend" does.
That makes up most of the stuff that I looked for in a sample home inspection report when choosing a home inspector for out-of-state family members. In the end, I found a home inspector who had all of these qualities in a sample report, and I weeded out a ridiculous amount of qualified home inspectors who didn't.
If you're shopping for a home inspector, be sure to read a sample report.
Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections