There’s a well-developed discussion that attracted a lot of commentary on one of the industry message boards that I visit regularly on what reporting methodology, Checklists or Narratives, is better.

The discussion centers on the question of which one is more likely to provide a defense in the event that a claim eventuates from the inspection. What was interesting to me was that, while the narrative format was by far the preferred methodology, each reporting format had its supporters and both received what I thought were insightful critiques of their respective shortcomings.

In the checklist format, the inspector follows a sequential series of questions about the home and simply checks a box to indicate whether the issue was “Satisfactory”, or “Needs Repair” or was “Not Inspected”. Some forms provide a limited space for annotating the reason that an item “Needs Repair” or was “Not Inspected”.

In the narrative format, the inspector states precisely what was inspected in a narrative form and gives a brief explanation why the item’s condition was satisfactory or not.

I have personally always found the narrative format to be better for squashing claims, provided that the inspector does a creditable job of explaining his findings.

Checklist reports I generally find to be too skimpy on details. A lonely check in a box next to the word “Satisfactory” in the HVAC section of the report provides precious little defensive support when the heat pump breaks down two weeks after the client moves into the house.

It is much better if the report explains that the inspector put the heat pump through its paces and that it worked satisfactorily at the time of the inspection but also points out that the device is of a certain age and requires regular servicing and maintenance for optimal performance.

And narrative reports simply look better, in my opinion. After all, it is the inspection report that is the inspector’s work product. Make sure that it is comprehensive, well written and easy to read. If it is, it will be a positive reflection on your professionalism and expertise and vindicate your client’s decision to hire you and, perhaps, motivate him to refer you to his friends and acquaintances.

Of course, whatever format an inspector uses will be of little import, if she actually does miss something material and her client sustains an economic loss as a result.

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