Understanding the Home Inspection Report: What You Need to Know

September 18, 2020 | 
Inspection Report

For many home buyers, it’s one of the most stressful times in the buying process: their home inspector sends them a link to a hefty report listing all the problems with the home they’ve just made an offer on.

It can be intimidating, not to mention confusing, to try to make sense of a dense report filled with unfamiliar issues that may or may not impact your life in your brand new (to you) home. But what does a home inspection report include, exactly?

Because a home inspection report can make such an impact on you and your home search process, you should understand it thoroughly. In this post, we’ll go over the specifics of the report itself and how to read it. We’ll also cover tips for home inspectors for creating the kind of inspection report that their clients will understand and appreciate.

Let’s dive in!

The purpose of a home inspection report

A home inspection is a crucial step in the home-buying process. After a buyer makes an offer on the home and that offer is accepted, the buyer hires a home inspector to review the physical structure and components of the home to find any visible defects or needed repairs.

Unlike a home appraisal, which is all about determining the home’s market value, a home inspection is not about making a judgment call on whether a house is “worth buying.” The inspector will simply hand you a report that lists items that may need to be repaired or replaced in the home — and for some issues, they may advise you to get another specialist’s opinion before making a decision.

And since we live in an imperfect world, it’s rare to find a house that doesn’t have something wrong, somewhere.

So an inspector’s job is to let you know what kinds of problems that particular house has, and then it’s up to you to decide what to do with that information. Will you:

  • Ask the homeowners to make repairs?
  • Ask for a reduced purchase price?
  • Request a credit against the closing costs?
  • Decide that the defect isn’t a big deal—and you don’t need any changes to be made?

In most cases, the issues discovered in a home inspection aren’t the kind that urgently need repairs to stop the house from crumbling in on itself tomorrow. Most issues fall somewhere between urgent and cosmetic, and it’s up to you to decide how to handle the results once you have them.

Who typically hires a home inspector?

Usually, the person hiring a home inspector is in the scenario above: they’re a potential buyer who has had their offer accepted, and now they’d like to get a professional inspection of the physical condition of the home before finalizing the purchase.

The purchase agreement often includes language about a home inspection. It may be required for the purchase to go through, or perhaps the purchase is contingent on the results of a home inspection. The latter is called the “inspection contingency,” meaning the buyers have a right to an inspection a certain number of days after the offer is accepted, and they can negotiate with the sellers (or even back out of the deal) based on the findings of the inspection.

Some buyers are tempted to waive this contingency, especially if it’s a very competitive market and the house has a lot of interested buyers. But most experts agree that unless you really know what you’re doing, it’s usually a bad idea to skip the inspection.

While most of the people ordering inspections are prospective buyers, sometimes other individuals choose to hire a professional home inspector. For instance, some sellers will commission a pre-listing inspection before putting their house up for sale.

This type of seller likes to know ahead of time what kinds of items they might need to fix before someone would buy the property. They don’t want to be surprised at the last minute by finding out that their roof needs to be replaced or that their electrical system is severely outdated and unsafe.

An inspection can also give sellers an accurate idea of how they should price their home in the listing.

How to read a home inspection report

When you receive your completed inspection report, how do you make heads or tails of it?

After all, even though most inspectors follow the same general procedure to make sure each aspect of the house is inspected, no two reports are the same. Inspectors use different software to produce their reports, and a report can vary in length depending on the size and condition of the home.

That being said, a few similarities are usually present in inspection reports. For instance, the first page will usually be introductory. It will probably include the inspection company information along with identifying information about the property, like the address and an exterior photo:

inspection report

(View full sample report here)

Somewhere near the beginning of the report, there should also be a page that lists information to help you interpret the results, like this comment key:

report comment key

Then, the report will proceed to list every single item that was inspected. A good inspector will include photos throughout the report, and they should give detailed explanations of anything that appears to be an issue.

The inspector will list every little thing that they find wrong, so the majority of most reports will be minor issues that don’t need to be addressed before you close on the house. For instance, they might note that the screen on one of the windows has a tear in it. Or, the garage door is scratched and needs to be repainted:

minor inspection issues

If you’re overwhelmed by the size and detail of the report, feel free to flip or scroll through to the “general summary” (or “primary recommendations”) section, which is a normal component of most inspection reports:

general inspection summary

That summary section should point out any health and safety or glaring issues with the property, such as:

  • Major roofing issues
  • Foundation problems
  • HVAC or major appliance defects
  • Electrical problems
  • Plumbing issues

inspection report issues

Once you’ve ruled out any severe problems, you can read through the rest of the report for any other red flags that stand out to you. Look for things that will be expensive to fix or are safety issues — those are the items you don’t want to let slide.

The less expensive items can probably wait until after closing; you don’t want to hand the seller an extremely long request list, after all. Save space in for potentially involved or pricey items such as:

  • Termite damage
  • Pest infestations
  • Water damage or mold

HomeGauge reports come with the Create Request List™ (CRL™) feature, which allows you to list your requested repairs for the seller directly from the inspection report. This handy tool saves you time and helps keep your requests organized when you’re deciding which items to ask the seller to fix.

How to write a home inspection report

Many successful home inspectors probably started their career because they enjoy helping home buyers learn about properties. It can be rewarding to demonstrate your expertise with homes and walk your clients through various issues with the property, and their appreciation and trust is often very satisfying.

But when it comes to writing out the report, many of those factors are lost.

Writing doesn’t always come naturally, and many home inspectors aren’t trained technical writers. Translating your findings into clear, concise written communication can be a struggle.

Let’s take a look at a few things to keep in mind about writing effective inspection reports that will satisfy your clients and earn you a reputation as a thorough, helpful home inspector.

Tips for writing a home inspection report with clarity and efficiency

  • Be consistent when going from the visual inspection to the written report. If you point something out to the client on the walk-through, make sure to include it in the report as well. It’s okay if you speak differently than you write (most of us do), but the facts need to be the same.
  • Take as many pictures and videos as you can. It’s hard to remember everything that took place during the inspection. If you don’t record your inspection thoroughly, compiling an accurate report becomes even more challenging. And documenting everything you’re saying with pictures and video provides evidence to the client and helps them understand the problem at hand.
  • Make the important things stand out. Include a summary section in your report that highlights the major issues. And if possible, add illustrations to your photos (arrows, circles, etc.) to label problems clearly.
  • Limit the industry jargon. Your clients aren’t experts in construction or real estate, so keep your explanations simple and in layman’s terms. And don’t get long-winded. Let your photos do the talking; keep your words concise and clear.
  • Make your comments useful. You could say “The furnace capacity is 85,000 BTU/hr,” but your client may not know whether that’s a problem or not. Always stay within the scope of your practice, but try to include a sentence or two mentioning the defect’s impact on the client.
  • Use home inspection software that’s user-friendly. HomeGauge software has ready-made and highly customizable templates that let you create the reports efficiently, which is especially helpful if you’re not comfortable writing them from scratch each time. It also lets users navigate the finished report easily and quickly, which your clients and their agents will appreciate.

Home inspection reports: Essential to the home-buying process

A home inspection is part of almost all residential real estate transactions for good reason: it’s what helps the buyers understand what they’re getting, keeps potential safety issues from going unnoticed, and it can play an important part in pre-closing negotiations.

Whether you’re a new home inspector learning how to create an effective report, or a new home buyer wondering how to interpret a report once you’ve got one, it’s important to understand the basics.

And once you have a better idea of how home inspection results fit into the bigger picture of the home-buying process, digging into that lengthy report might start to look a little bit less intimidating.

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