Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


But that is why they call it an Inspection.

It seems at times, home inspectors are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

What should report write-ups about home defects look like? If you talk to 100 agents and 100 inspectors you will likely get 200 answers.

If you talk to clients, you will not likely get nearly so many answers.

Since obviously, we are not going to get the answer from home inspectors or agents, I will, for this exercise focus on consumers. After all, it is them the report is written for is it not?

If you asked agents this last question some would argue that it is for them to assist in negogiations. If you ask inspectors some would argue they are written to reduce their liability. Both would likely add that of course they are also written for the consumer. Sometimes who the report is written for gets lost in the nuances of other interests.

It is obviously more complicated than this.

Since I work for the client, I write my reports for the client. In that context I also know that the agent needs to be able to read it and understand it, repair persons will need to read it and understand it, but primarily, the client needs to read it and understand it.

As I get to see a large number of inspection reports in the course of a year, I am noticing a trend toward simplification of report writing to the point of them becoming almost useless. I won’t go into all the reasons for this but a major reason is "time." There is a huge push to spend as little time on inspection reports so that the inspector can move along to the next inspection. To achieve this goal, the inspector relies on canned comments---canned comments that have a one-size-fits-all mentality.

For example the inspector takes the cover off the electrical panel and notices there are issues. The report reads something like this: “Inspector noted issues in the electrical panel. Recommend evaluation by electrician.”

This kind of report writing is not “informative,” or “useful,” in any way to ANY of the parties involved in the transaction---except to keep the inspector moving on down the road.

Keep in mind that not all inspections are even involved in a real estate transaction. This kind of reporting becomes even less useful when there is no agent involved to attempt to interpret whatever the report is trying to say.

More important---this is NOT INSPECTING!

To inspect something means, “to look at (something) carefully in order to learn more about it, to find problems, etc.”

What the report comment actually does is recommend that someone else do the inspection.

Without documenting what exactly the issues are, what is the client to think? They could think there is almost nothing wrong or the house is in imminent peril.

Home inspectors must provide enough information about what was observed to put the issues in some kind of context for the reader. The recommendation should discuss what the implications of the issues are; and, that would include some kind of indication as to the urgency of repairs. Can it wait until the electrician is at the home doing other things or does it need repairs yesterday?

A more appropriate write-up regarding the electrical panel would include all the noted issues in the panel, what each of the issues means (why it is wrong) and what the implications of the issue are. Is the issue a fire hazard, a shock hazard or a maintenance issue?

Most clients will have a knee-jerk reaction to “electrical issues” that is somewhat fearful or negative. Helping clients to understand the severity of issues can help them relax and have more room to deal with issues that might be of more consequence—electrical or otherwise.

Obviously it takes more knowledge, experience and time to inspect in this manner.

But that is why they call it an “Inspection.”


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Comment balloon 37 commentsCharles Buell • April 17 2016 10:07AM


Excellent post about the purpose of an inspection. I agree that too many canned answers that say virtually nothing about the condition are being copied & pasted in most reports.

Nice way to hand off a problem & not be the bad guy - call an electrician.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) over 4 years ago

I have had some doozie of inspections lately. My personal feeling is . . . there are no perfect houses. To me, an inspector's job is to find things that the untrained observer might not see, and explain, in writing and/or in person, issues the potential buyer might encounter in owning this home. It is not to scare the living daylights out of first-time homeowners

I deal a lot with Victorian homes and Mid-Century modern. I came close to mayhem when an inspector walked in the front door and said to the starry-eyed young couple, "Oh, you don't want to buy this house, it has cracks in the plaster."

So do most 125 year old houses, you idiot. That, to me, is not the role of an inspector. Just my two cents . . . LOL

Posted by Mimi Foster, Voted Colorado Springs Best Realtor (Falcon Property Solutions) over 4 years ago

Hi Charles - I completely agree with your very thoughtful points about the inspection process, and like you, want it to, first and foremost, meet the needs of our clients. If it doesn't do that, it isn't worth much.

Posted by Dick Greenberg, Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate (New Paradigm Partners LLC) over 4 years ago

I agree with you 100% and have seen some inspections lately (from the "other side" not my clients) that read mostly like a legal document, trying to avoid liability at all cost. 

Posted by Susan Haughton, Susan & Mindy Team...Honesty. Integrity. Results. (Long and Foster REALTORS (703) 470-4545) over 4 years ago

I am finding that my reports are getting more and more time consuming.  And they have for some time now.

Oh, and I recommend that an electrician evaluate that box in the photo above.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Here, here Charles...I deal with few buyers since I do listings primarily but the reports my buyers have received...well I think it is so they are not sued!  Really need more in depth comments or don't comment at all you do not know your profession.

Posted by Ginny Gorman, Homes for Sale in Southern RI and beyond (RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate) over 4 years ago

If someone wrote that box had electrical issues and left it at that... he should not be a Home Inspector! I spend more time writing my reports than I do the physical inspection because I try to explain all my findings in detail. You are after all, hired by your client to objectively report the present conditions of the home, not that it has "issues" and refer them to a specialist. That is useless, and stealing in my book!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 4 years ago

I have had great reports that are clear and concise and then I have had others that every other paragraph says "Recommend a Licensed Contractor to inspect further" and not say why? What are they looking for? I know there are so many excellent home inspectors but many idiots which can be in any profession. I respect many in my area. I hope the trend is getting better for reports to be more clear. Thank you Fred HerndenCharles Buell and Jay Markanich  .

Posted by Kristin Hamilton CA Realtor, (909) 557-6966- Specialize 55+ Communties Banning (Sun Lakes Realty) over 4 years ago

Charles, I work with and recommend only an inspector who is thorough and complete. He often shares his report with me do I can help the client to understand it, however he has photos and discriptions so all is clear!

Posted by Ellen Caruso (Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty) over 4 years ago

Very real post.  I am getting really frustrated with some of these 'inspectors' and the way they inspect homes.  Lack of experience, looking to cover their hind end on EVERY LITTLE THING "Buyer should consult a licensed XYZ to review this item";  and they just end up causing problems for everyone.  Buyers are anxious because there is no real information to assure them the house is sound, and sellers are pissed because the inspector makes their home sound like it's not livable and hasn't ever been cared for... There should be standards... but that doesn't look like it will be happening any time soon.

Posted by Deb Espinoza, GRI, Broker, SRS,ABR ePro, SFR, CNE (Stage Presence Homes, San Diego Real Estate) over 4 years ago

I agree.  The inspection is intended for the buyer to understand the current condition of the home and any items to look for in the future for maintenance and care.  They need to understand what is really important to them as a buyer, whether that means that the seller needs to address it prior to closing, or something that will need to be updated in the future that they need to start saving for now.  Thank you for sharing.

Posted by Karen Feltman, Relocation Specialist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA KW Legacy Group) over 4 years ago

Charlie, I think it is very important that the organization and format of an inspection report explain the specifics in "Run, Spot! Run!" English that the dumbest, stupidest listing agent can understand.  And it needs to be specific enough that we can point the electrician to the specific issues the box may have, which outlets have reverse polarity, and specific locations of house dings that might need attention.

Many really good inspectors are going to the "Inspection Book" approach that refers the owner (but I don't have a copy) to boiler plate language on page 32 of the book.  That doesn't give me anything to work with when I'm trying to figure out what to ask the sellers to fix -or not.  Nor does it tell me or the buyers which breakers are kaplooie.  So I'm pretty picky.  It's about a good inspector and a clear, well written report.  That's asking a lot.  Not many of you guys were English majors, after all!

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 4 years ago

I so loved this Post... please come live in Homer!  we often get the comment electrical has issues recommend evaluation by electrician as well as recommend contractor, recommend plumber, recommend roofer....  I would like to be able to recommend different inspector! 

Posted by Debra Leisek ( Bay Realty,Inc Homer Alaska) over 4 years ago

Another masterpiece.  I couldn't agree more with your thinking about inspecting and reporting. It's very refreshing to know there are others out there that think, inspect, and write reports like I do as I am surrounded by "minimalists" and 15 page reports.  My coffee maker manual is longer than that  

Now if the inspection fee were to be divided 4 ways amongst the buyer, seller, buyer's agent, & listing agent, perhaps the reports could be written/composed differently.  

However, as we all know, it's the buyer's money being spent for the house & the inspection though.  It's also the place their family will be residing for year and years to come.  

It's all about putting oneself into their shoes.  It makes things so easy (or more time consuming crafting reports ) when you do that.  

Thank you. Very much.

Posted by Joshua Frederick, Home Inspector in Defiance & all of Northwest Ohio (Home Inspector for ASPEC Residential Services, LLC) over 4 years ago

Yes, you're right; that sort of language isn't helpful at all.  Some may do this due to time; others due to lack of expertise.

Posted by Women of Westchester Working Together, Women helping Women get ahead (Women of Westchester Working Together) over 4 years ago

I tell my buyer clients the purpose of the inspection report is so they will know exactly what they are buying. As to the report, it has to be thorough and clear, but saying "inspector noted issues" is useless if the issues aren't identified.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (406-270-3667,, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty) over 4 years ago

Charles... I see this kind of language all the time, including when a light bulb has just burned out. I realize that many inspectors can't give in-depth analyses of hvac, electrical, mechanical issues... but if they recommend further analysis they need to provide more input on why.

Posted by Nina Hollander, Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor (Coldwell Banker Realty) over 4 years ago

Chicken spit happens on the agency side as well. One of the chief gripes we hear from agents we interview is how dissappointed they are in their brokers who refuse to provide direction or a straight answer to their questions, hiding behind the excuse that to answer questions could be construed as practicing law. The token answer is "call the local association" or "call the title company", who in turn say, "call your broker" or "call TAR".  We call BS. Passing the buck and shirking responsibility is not professionally managing liability. It is a copped out disservice to those we serve.

Posted by Amanda Thomas, ​Broker, SRES®, BPOR, MCNE, ​Certified DRS Agent™ (Providence Group Realty) over 4 years ago

Charles, The only time I question a report is when I do not understand it. Yes, I know the report is for the client … and I represent the client. Vague canned comments are useless.  They cause delays too because if it is me reading that report, I am going to ask for more details and information … not just get an electrician.  Tell me what you see and what the risks are. 



Posted by Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist, Probate Real Estate (KD Realty - 408.972.1822) over 4 years ago

Great article!  As a former home inspector, now REALTOR®, I go with my clients to every inspection walk-throughs to help explain things.  I would like to see more continuing education requirements over home inspections and what they do, look for, and reasoning behind their findings would be good for all agents.  The more you know, the better off you are!

Posted by Shawn and Angela Miller, Lincoln and Omaha, NE REALTORS® (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Amabassador Real Estate) over 4 years ago

Inspection is an accepted & reliable system that should be made mandatory

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 4 years ago

Well said. Will you move to Colorado so I can recommend you to all my future clients? Pretty please? :0)

Posted by Becca Rasmussen (HomeSmart Cherry Creek) over 4 years ago

"All vegetation should be at least six inches away from exterior walls." One of the standard phrases.

Posted by Gerhard Ade, What sets me apart, will set you apart. (RSVP Real Estate) over 4 years ago

Good morning Charles. Good point about canned language. The customer should at least get some inclination of what the electrician should be focusing on! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) over 4 years ago

I see of lot of those CYA comments in the inspections that pass through the office. I'd definitley have a licensed electrician evaluate that panel. 

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 4 years ago

Thanks to Patricia, I did not miss this great post!  Well done!

Posted by Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®, Giving Back With Each Home Sold! (RE/MAX Realty Center ) over 4 years ago

Hey, Charlie!   I included this post in today's Last Week's Favorites. Hope you enjoy the rest of this beautiful weekend!


Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 4 years ago

Unfortunately, there are many people in the world who want to collect a fee and do as little as possible to earn it. They especially don't want to be held "responsible" for anything at all - so are eager to pass the buck. 

Too bad we can't kick those folks out of every industry. 

Posted by Marte Cliff, Your real estate writer (Marte Cliff Copywriting) over 4 years ago

It is this kind of inspection reports get lawyers question the quality of homes.  I especially hate them to pick on soils, foundation, micriocracks (100% of sidewalks develop microcracks in seismic turf)...... Homes that are just a few years old.

Inspectors do not make much dough.  Their liability is high.  It is like appraisors that few wish to stay as a profession.  

Posted by Sam Shueh, mba, cdpe, reopro, pe ( (408) 425-1601) over 4 years ago


This is so well done and you make so many good points it's hard to know where to start. I have worked with some terrific inspectors who operate as you suggest, but have seen some on the other side of the transaction that make me cringe


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (eXp Realty of California, Inc.) over 4 years ago

Charles- you are so right with this one.  The inspection report needs to convey to the client not only what he sees but also any implications for now or in the future.  Most people don't do this on a daily basis and need assistance in understanding all of the points. 

Posted by Kathy Streib, Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224 (Room Service Home Staging) over 4 years ago

Charles Buell - exactly! This is what I want my home inspector to do - and write in the report --

"Home inspectors must provide enough information about what was observed to put the issues in some kind of context for the reader."

Posted by Praful Thakkar, Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale (LAER Realty Partners) over 4 years ago

Well said. An inspection report should identify issues not recommend someone else identify what you already see but will not write out in the report!

Posted by Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty, Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County (Bucci Realty, Inc.) over 4 years ago

This is why there are inspectors, and there are inspectors. I could probably take an electric panel off and see that something is "wrong", but an inspector is being paid to add value to a finding and give the client the option of further investigation.

Posted by Jane Peters, Los Angeles real estate concierge services (Home Jane Realty) over 4 years ago

Congratulations on the well deserved Feature Charles Buell 

I agree with your comment on the trend of canned responses, they are useless and create problems for the parties to the contract.

Posted by Lisa Von Domek, ....Experience Isn't Expensive.... It's Priceless! (Lisa Von Domek Team) over 4 years ago

     Septic and well, maybe even HVAC, I can understand being directed to a specialist in those fields. 

    But when the Inspector cannot or will not describe obvious wiring and plumbing issues, then that person is not qualified to be in the Inspection business.

Posted by Fred Griffin Tallahassee Real Estate, Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker (Fred Griffin Real Estate) over 4 years ago

I'm here from the Gary L. Waters, Broker Owner, Waters Realty of Brevard, LLC  reblog.

Excellent information. I a consumer, whether buyer or seller, I would want more details. Having those cookie cutter comments would not be something I would be happy about paying for.

Posted by Sharon Tara, New Hampshire Home Stager (Sharon Tara Transformations) over 4 years ago