Tips on Reading an Inspection Report

When interviewing a home inspector, there are two basic questions to ask. One is what type of report format he or she provides. There are many styles of reports used by property inspectors, including the checklist, computer generated reports, and the narrative style.  Another is what fee he or she charges, and when that fee must be paid.  Fees in Northern Virginia typically range from $300 to $750, depending on the size of the house, and most inspectors will require payment immediately on conclusion of the inspection.

Some reports are delivered on site and some may take as long as 4 - 6 days for delivery. All reporting systems have pros and cons.

The most important issues with any inspection are the quality of the inspector and his or her ability to provide you with a meaningful report.  For the report to be meaningful, the descriptions given for each item or component must be suitably specific. For example, a report that indicates the condition only as "Good", "Fair" or "Poor" without a more detailed explanation, is vague and can be easily misinterpreted. An example of a vague condition is:

Kitchen Sink: Condition - Poor.

This description does not give the homeowner an idea of what is wrong. Does the sink have a cosmetic problem? Is there a leak around the setting? Does the home have a plumbing problem? A good report should supply you with descriptive information on the condition of the site and home. An example of a descriptive condition is:

Kitchen sink: Condition - Damaged, chips in enamel finish. Leak around rim. Recommend sealing sink at counter top.

As you can see, this narrative description of condition also includes a recommendation for repair. Narrative reports without recommendations for repairing deficient items may be difficult to comprehend, should your knowledge of construction be limited.

At the end of the inspection many inspectors will provide their report and a summary with a question and answer period. Use this opportunity to ask questions regarding terms or conditions that you may not be familiar with. A good inspector should be able to explain the answers to your questions. If for some reason a question cannot be answered at the time of the inspection, the inspector should research the question and obtain the answer for you. For instance, if the inspector's report states that the concrete foundation has common cracks, be sure to ask, "Why are they common?" The answer you should receive will be along these lines: common cracks are usually due to normal concrete curing and or shrinkage. The inspector's knowledge and experience is how the size and characteristics of the cracking is determined.

You should always schedule the inspection at a time when you will be available to accompany your inspector through the entire inspection. This helps you to understand the condition of the home and the details of the report.  Of course, we will also accompany you, so that we can understand areas that need to be further negotiated as the contract negotiation process continues.

Take the time to become familiar with your report. Should the report have a legend, key, symbols or icons, read and understand them thoroughly. The more information provided about the site and home, the easier to understand the overall condition.

Read the report completely and understand the condition of the home you are about to purchase. After all, it is most likely one of the largest investments you will ever make.