A home inspector in Connecticut recently asked me this question: Which report writing style is more defensible: writing in the first person or the third person? “I observed the roof to be in poor condition” or “The roof is in poor condition.”

I personally cannot recall ever reading a report that called out defects in the first person but that certainly does not mean that there have not been any. I think that most reports are written in a style that flows from first to third and back in a logical non-jarring way. “The roof appears to be in serviceable condition. No signs of water infiltration were observed, I recommend that you inquire of the sellers whether they have ever had any problems with the roof.”

But I do not believe that the choice of person – first or third – has any bearing on the defensibility of the report. The reports that I have the easiest time defending are ones that note the defect/concern in clear language, show a photograph of it with a red arrow pointing to it and repeat the observation in the Report Summary.

If a client surfaces with a complaint sometime after the inspection, if the complaint is noted in the report, end of story. But even if it is not in the report, if the report notes other issues with the property in clear detail with accompanying photos and indicator arrows, that goes a long way to resolving issues that were not noted in the report.

Why is that? Because that is the nature of a limited, non-invasive, visual inspection. One can only report what is observable at the time.

Many conditions go unreported because they were concealed at the time of the inspection or because access to their location was blocked or because they were actually functioning at the time of the inspection. An inspector has no responsibility for those developments.

If the inspector has taken multiple photographs, a habit that every inspector should cultivate, it is easy to demonstrate that the defect was not observable. If the inspector has noted that the attic was padlocked and has taken a photo of it, the inspector certainly cannot be responsible for any issues that would otherwise have been observable had access been available. And a photo of water blasting out of spa jets demonstrates beyond cavil that, although it may not be working now, it certainly was on the day of the inspection.

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