I'm blown away by the number of home inspectors who don't believe in a report summary. I've always provided a summary at the beginning of my inspection reports, and I probably always will. I'm not stuck in my ways; my methods may change someday, but for now, I'm a firm believer in a report summary. Maybe this blog post will change all of that.
What's a report summary?
If a home inspector includes a summary with their inspection report, what goes into the summary should be explained. For my company's home inspection reports, we include this text at the beginning of our summary: "This Summary Report includes the items that were, in my opinion, the most important items to bring to your attention. This is not by any means a substitute for the full report. Please read the entire report."
We hand-craft our summaries with every report. What goes into one summary report might not make it into another. I've explained the summary report to everyone on my team like this: you've just finished the home inspection for a close family member who wasn't at the inspection. You have 30-seconds to tell your family member what you found during the home inspection. What are you going to say? That's what goes into the report summary.
While life-safety devices like smoke alarms and GFCI devices may be important, they shouldn't make the summary. I think of the summary as the stuff that would be most likely to affect someone's decision to purchase a property. We don't define the summary that way because we have no way of knowing what is the most important to our client, but we certainly try to learn what's most important.
How long is a summary?
The length of a home inspection report summary will vary dramatically from company to company. For my company, I recently reviewed twenty random home inspection reports from my team and counted the number of summary items. The average was six items per report summary, with the shortest summary containing two items and the longest containing twenty (oof). Of course, I feel that this is the perfect way to write a summary, but I'm biased.
Many years ago, our report summaries contained all of the "action items" in our reports. If we made a recommendation to do something, that went into the summary. This made for some extremely long summary reports that were tough to digest. If I were buying a home and I were handed a summary like that, I would have a difficult time distinguishing the big stuff from the little stuff. That's what made us change our report summaries to be more of the hand-crafted type.
Many home inspectors include all of the action items into their report summaries. I'm not saying this is wrong... but I sure don't think that this method is nearly as helpful to a new home buyer.
Arguments against a report summary
I hear the same arguments against report summaries all the time. The most common argument against a summary is that if a summary is provided, that's all the client will read. To that, I say too bad. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. Removing a report summary to force your client to read the entire report is like dunking the horse's head under water.
I believe that my clients appreciate report summaries, and I know that I would appreciate this if I were buying a home. If I'm paying a professional for their opinion, I want to know what they thought was the most important.
The other argument that I hear against report summaries is that it's only there for the real estate agent. Again, I believe that my clients appreciate report summaries, but even if this was true, so what? Would it be so wrong to provide this requested service? All of the best agents that I know read the entire report no matter what, but I believe most of them appreciate report summaries.
What say you?
While I firmly believe that my clients appreciate report summaries, my evidence is purely anecdotal. I've never conducted a survey, so here goes. I posted a survey on my website at the bottom of this same post, here: Home Inspection Report Summary?
The results of this survey might change how we do business. Please vote. You can see the results of the survey after you've voted. Thank you!