Is your inspector’s report a CliffsNotes version of the real thing?

Charles Buell PhotoOur members are also great writers :: Charles Buell

As an inspector and instructor, I have had many opportunities to view inspection reports from other inspectors. Sometimes I find them on other inspector’s websites, and other times it is because I have been called by other parties asking me to attempt to decipher an inspector’s report. These reports and interpretations can be difficult.

Most commercial inspection software is adequate to produce very through inspection reports.  Unfortunately they are all to often used to crank out meaningless reports that provide almost no real information to the client. All, as far as I know, can be modified to do a great job, and many inspectors do modify them in an attempt to provide excellent service to their clients. Some obviously do not do so and take the easy way out.

Many inspectors do not go beyond simply stating the issue–leaving any real solutions to the issue up to speculation by the client–as in example #1 below. The statement is so non-specific as to impart almost no information of value. Some reports are not even specific as to where a problem was located on the premises, but merely state that the issue occurs “one or more” times in the home. This reporting style, allows the inspector to get in and out of the house very quickly and may even enable the inspector to provide the report on site before they scamper off to their next inspection.

But one must ask, are any of the parties involved in the transaction served by such report writing? I will argue that, for other than very minor issues, this type of “short-hand” report writing serves no one–not even the inspector, if the inspector is looking to reduce their liability (although I have heard it argued that being thorough “increases” liability somehow).

So let’s take a look at some samples of report writing styles. The issue being discussed is for something that could be considered a “deal breaker” in a home (of course “minor” issues would not require this much elaboration). Now while none of these are “actual” examples they all could be, and they are all supposed to be about the same issue. Of course there are as many variations in-between these three examples, and even beyond these examples, as there are inspectors to write them.

#1. There is inadequate resistance to shear for the East wall of the home. Recommend further evaluation.

This statement does not tell the client what shear is and what can be the consequences of lack of protection against shear. It also does not leave the door open to the possibility that it might not be missing at all. While the statement calls for further evaluation it does not say who it should be evaluated by or who should make any repairs deemed necessary.   I have seen where the recommendation is for evaluation by an “engineer” without spelling out that they do not mean a railroad engineer, a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, or a structural engineer.

With such report writing, clients fears/worries are increased, or worse, they might not even be informed enough to understand that there is even the possibility of there being a serious issue.

#2. There appears to be inadequate resistance to shear for the East wall of the home. All homes need to have walls capable of withstanding horizontal movement. I recommend evaluation by a licensed structural engineer.

House with possible missing shear

While this goes a little further as it tells us what shear is and does leave the door open to the possibility that it may not be missing (use of the word “appears”), it does not elaborate on any possible consequences of its being missing. The client ends up learning that it should be evaluated by a licensed “structural” engineer but the report is silent as to what kind of contractor would make repairs based on the engineer’s findings and recommendations. Also, the inspector has included a small picture of the East side of the home that may or may not be useful, and may, or may not, be in the body of the report–some reports merely stick all pictures at the end of the report.

Client’s fears/worries are somewhat softened and they do have a litle more information.

#3. Protection of the East side of the home against horizontal forces–“shear”–are not readily apparent. This is not to say that such protection is not present. However, large expanses of glass, with no solid wall interruptions, are consistent with missing shear or are consistent with the use of steel framing which can’t be determined visually. Missing shear support can result in the breaking of windows or even the collapse of the structure itself in a seismic event. I recommend a qualified general contractor and licensed structural engineer review construction plans to confirm that proper shear is provided for, and I recommend that it be verified that the house has been built according to the permitted plans.


Any repairs deemed necessary should be designed by the licensed structural engineer and all engineered repairs should be made by the qualified general contractor. The age of this home has insufficient “history” that would allow concluding that the home has withstood previous seismic events. It is too new to have withstood any tests of time.

This recommendation covers a lot more bases. It gives the buyer a more complete picture of what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, who is to evaluate the situation and who is to make repairs—not Uncle Harry. It also includes a link to more information about “shear.” The picture is large, clear, with arrows/overlays and is included right with the finding in the report. The picture is used to clarify what the concern is. The client is also informed that there should be permits and plans for the building as well. It also gives some indication that in the end it might be OK the way it is.

Client’s fears/worries are still present but they now have knowledge/information to put those fears/worries in proper perspective and lays out a plan to get the issue resolved.

By looking at the way the inspector has written their findings in the Inspection Report you can easily tell if your inspector’s report is the “real thing” or the CliffsNotes?


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

ASHI member Charles Buell has been designing and building residential structures for over 35 years and currently sits on the Washington State Home Inspector License Advisory Board.

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