Home Inspection Reports: What to Expect
by Nick Gromicko and Kenton
Influenced by the changes in the economic
and legal environments over the past 30 years, home inspection
reports have changed to accommodate increased consumer
expectations, and to provide more extensive information and
protection to both inspectors and their clients.
Development of Standards
Prior to the mid-1970s, inspection reports followed no
standard guidelines and, for the most part, there was little or
no oversight or licensure. As might be imagined, without minimum
standards to follow, the quality of inspection reports varied
widely, and the home inspection industry was viewed with some
With the founding of the American Society of Home Inspectors
(ASHI) in 1976, home inspection guidelines governing inspection
report content became available in the form of a Standards of
Practice. Over time, a second, larger trade association, the
International Association of Certified Home Inspectors
(InterNACHI), came into existence, and developed its own
InterNACHI has grown to dominate the inspection industry
and, in addition to its Residential Standards of
Practice, it has developed a comprehensive
Standards of Practice for the Inspection of
Commercial Properties. Today, most types of
inspections from mold to fire door inspections are performed in
accordance with one of InterNACHI's Standards of
As a consumer, you should take the time to examine the
Standards of Practice followed by your inspector. If he is
unaffiliated with any professional inspection organization, and
his reports follow no particular standards, find another
Generally speaking, reports should describe the major home
systems, their crucial components, and their operability,
especially the ones in which failure can result in dangerous or
expensive-to-correct conditions. Defects should be adequately
described, and the report should include recommendations.
Reports should also disclaim portions of the home not
inspected. Since home inspections are visual
inspections, the parts of the home hidden behind floor,
wall and ceiling coverings should be disclaimed.
Home inspectors are not experts in every system of the home,
but are trained to recognize conditions that require a specialist
Home inspections are not technically exhaustive, so the
inspector will not disassemble a furnace to examine the heat
exchanger closely, for example.
Standards of Practice are designed to identify both the
requirements of a home inspection and the limitations of an
Checklist and Narrative Reports
In the early years of the home inspection industry, home
inspection reports consisted of a simple checklist, or a one- or
two-page narrative report.
Checklist reports are just that; very little is actually
written. The report is a series of boxes with short descriptions
after them. Descriptions are often abbreviated, and might consist
of only two or three words, such as “peeling
paint.” The entire checklist might only be four or five
pages long. Today, some inspection legal agreements are almost
Because of the lack of detailed information, checklist
reports leave a lot open to interpretation, so that buyers,
sellers, agents, contractors, attorneys and judges may each
interpret the information differently, depending on their
In the inspection business, phrases that describe conditions
found during an inspection are called
"narratives." Narrative reports use reporting
language that more completely describes each condition.
Descriptions are not abbreviated.
Both checklist and narrative reports are still in use today,
although many jurisdictions are now beginning to ban checklist
reports because the limited information they offer has resulted
in legal problems.
From the standpoint of liability, narrative reports are
widely considered safer, since they provide more information and
state it more clearly.
Many liability issues and problems with the inspection
process are due to misunderstandings about what was to be
included in the report, or about what the report
For example, in 2002, an investor bought a 14-unit
hotel in California. The six-page narrative report
mentioned that flashing where the second-story concrete walkway
met the building was improperly installed, and the condition
could result in wood decay. Four years later, the investor paid
out almost $100,000 to demolish and replace the entire upper
walkway. In some places, it was possible to push a pencil through
Although the inspector's report had mentioned the
problem, it hadn't made clear the seriousness of the
condition, or the possible consequences of ignoring it. Today, a
six-page report would be considered short for a small
Development of Reporting Software
Years ago, when computers were expensive to buy and difficult
to operate, inspection reports were written by hand. As computers
became simpler to operate and more affordable, inspection
software began to appear on the market.
Today, using this software, an inspector can chose from a
large number of organized boilerplate narratives that s/he can
edit or add to in order to accommodate local conditions, since
inspectors in a hot, humid city like Tampa Bay, Florida, are
likely to find types of problems different from those found by
inspectors in a cold, dry climate, like Salt Lake City, Utah.
Using narrative software and checking boxes in categories that
represent the home systems, an inspector can produce a very
detailed report in a relatively short time.
For example, using a checklist report, an inspector finding a
number of inoperable lights in a home would check a box in the
"INTERIOR" section labeled something like “some
lights inoperable,” and that would be the limit of the
information passed on to the client.
Using inspection software, in the "INTERIOR" section
of the program, an inspector might check a box labeled
“some lights inoperable.” This would cause the
following narrative to appear in the "INTERIOR" section
of the inspection report:
“Some light fixtures in the home appeared to be
inoperable. The bulbs may be burned out, or a problem may exist
with the fixtures, wiring or switches.
If after the bulbs are replaced, these lights still fail to
respond to the switch, this condition may represent a potential
fire hazard, and the Inspector recommends that an evaluation and
any necessary repairs be performed by a qualified electrical
Standard disclaimers and other information can be pre-checked
to automatically appear in each report.
Narratives typically consists of three parts:
- a description of a condition of concern;
- a sentence or paragraph describing how serious the
condition is, and the potential ramifications, answering
questions such as, “Is it now stable, or will the problem
continue?” or “Will it burn down the house?" and
- a recommendation. Recommendations may be for specific
actions to be taken, or for further evaluation, but they should
address problems in such a way that the reader of the report will
understand how to proceed.
“Typically” is a key word here. Some narratives
may simply give the ampacity of the main electrical disconnect.
There is no need for more than one sentence. Different inspectors
would include what they think is necessary.
Inspection reports often begin with an informational section
which gives general information about the home, such as the
client’s name, the square footage, and the year the home
Other information often listed outside the main body of the
report, either near the beginning or near the end, are
disclaimers, and sometimes a copy of the inspection agreement,
and sometimes a copy of the Standards of Practice. A page
showing the inspector’s professional credentials,
designations, affiliations and memberships is also often
included. And it is a good idea to include InterNACHI's
Now That You've Had a Home Inspection book.
Inspection reports often include a summary report listing
major problems to ensure that important issues are not missed by
the reader. It's important that the reader be aware of safety
issues or conditions which will be expensive to correct. With
this in mind, some inspectors color-code report narratives,
although many feel that color-coding exposes them to increased
liability and don't do this.
Software often gives inspectors the choice of including
photographs in the main body of the report, near the narrative
that describes them, or photographs may be grouped together
toward the beginning or end of the report.
A table of contents is usually provided.
The main body of the report may be broken down into
sections according to home systems, such
"PLUMBING," "HEATING," etc., or it may
be broken down by area of the home: "EXTERIOR,"
It often depends on how the inspector likes to work.
Many inspectors have websites which include sample inspection
reports for prospective clients to view. Take the time to look at
them. Also often included is a page explaining the scope of the
inspection. The inspection contract is usually included on the
website, and it should give you a good idea of what will be
included in the report.
In conclusion, for consumers to have realistic
expectations about what information will be included in the
home inspection report, follow these tips:
- read the Standards of Practice;
- read the Contract;
- view a sample Inspection Report; and
- talk with the inspector.