August, 2004
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Practical, Professional Phrases for Common Situations


From Michael Casey’s e-mail newsletter for home inspectors - February, 2004, Issue #22.

Here are some practical on-site phrases I’ve found to be useful. In this exercise, I present what I consider to be unprofessional language followed by language that has worked for me. Have fun with it.

RULE #1: Always write what you say and say what you write. Be consistent!

Instead of saying, “This is stupid,” or “Geez, look at this,”

Say: “For increased safety, we recommend the following:…” or “for optimum performance we recommend the following:…”
Instead of the “Code” word,

Use: “Not serviceable, nonstandard, substandard, unconventional, inadequate, or temporary.”

When a client asks, “Do you think I can do that myself,”

Say: “You know your capabilities better than I do; you should decide for yourself.”

Instead of saying, “It’s old” or “it’s shot,”

Say: “The component is nearing the end of its useful life and may require repair or replacement at any time.”

If the component is really old,

Say: “The component is beyond its expected useful life and may/will require replacement at any time.”

Instead of saying, “It’s toast,”

Say: “The component is at the end of its useful life and is in need of replacement.”

When the client asks, “Should I buy this house?” or “Would you buy the house?”

Say: “You are going to live here. You need to make this choice with your family based upon the information you obtain from me, as well as all the other factors you feel are important to make this decision.”

When a client asks you (usually on the phone), “I’ve been shopping around; are you better than ____ inspector?,”

Say: “_____ is a good inspector. My qualifications are similar and my company’s inspections cover…..”

Change the subject from the other inspector; don’t fall into the negative marketing trap.

When client/real estate agent asks, “But was it to code when the house was built?”

Say: “We are not doing a code compliance inspection; however, the current standards are our guide for safety recommendations. The recommendation I provided is to increase safety or performance of the component, not to determine its ‘code-compliance’.”  Code compliance inspections require intense research on the history of the property, additions and codes in use at the time of construction and are beyond the scope of this general performance inspection.

Instead of saying,
“I found many problems with this house,”

Say: “There were some conditions requiring attention in this house.”

If there are several serious items (safety and/or high cost),

Say: “I found several items requiring attention in this house, some of which I would consider significant safety (or cost) conditions.”

When the owner/agent/whoever says, “But a contractor was just here and said everything was fine and to code,”

Say: “Professionals are entitled to their opinions, and based upon my training and experience I believe…… You are entitled to a second opinion, just ask for it in writing, on professional letterhead, like my report is. We are required to provide our opinions in writing; other professionals should do the same, along with backup information sources.”

When you see something that is impossible to determine if it has been repaired or if is performing,

Say: “Inquire with the seller regarding the performance of the cooling system during hot weather,” (an example of a comment for the winter),  or “Inquire with the seller regarding the history (if any) of water intrusion frequency and intensity during wet weather in the basement” (an example of a when water stains noted at base of basement walls).

Instead of saying, “That looks like a homeowner repair to me,”

Say: “This appears to be a temporary repair and I recommend …..”

If you say “homeowner” you just allocated responsibility.

Instead of saying, “The builder should have ...”

Say: “This component may not perform as intended” or “the installation does not appear to conform to minimum standards.”

If you say, “The builder should have,” you allocated responsibility.

When asked by the client, “Does the seller have to fix that?”

Say: “No, everything in real estate is negotiable and I recommend you discuss this with your real estate agent.”

Never, ever say,
“That’s illegal.”

Only municipal deputized code inspectors acting in their municipal capacity can make a determination if something is “legal.”

Say: “It appears to be not serviceable, unconventional, not standard, etc.”

Never say, “It’s grandfathered.”

There is no such category in any zoning ordinances. Usually a municipality uses the expression, it’s “existing nonconforming.” However, only the municipality can make that determination. Recommend the client consult with the municipality.

If you are inspecting a system and notice many items requiring repairs, don’t say, “There’s a bunch of stuff wrong here.”

Try: “There were too many conditions noted needing correction to effectively catalog in my report. I recommend evaluation by a licensed ____ and correction as necessary to assure the system is safe and performing as intended.”

If a component is shut down and not operational when you are there, don’t just write “not tested, recommend activate.”

Direct the client to have the component activated by a licensed professional AND repaired if necessary. It might be shut down because it is not working.

Recommend a safety check as well if it’s a fuel-burning appliance.

If you are looking at something and not quite sure what is wrong, but it looks questionable,

Try: “The _____ is installed in an unconventional manner. I recommend evaluation and repair if necessary by a licensed _____.”

Sometimes the seller will follow you around and start fixing things you are observing and verbalizing, then try to convince you to change your report.

Try: “I write things down only once. Also, just because I write something down does not mean you have to do anything. You might as well relax and wait until you get the response to the home inspection from the buyer.”

When asked, “Can I go up on the roof with you?”

Say: “It is our company policy, and a request from our insurance carrier, that only the inspector use the ladder.”

I never tell people not to buy a house.  I have no idea what the deal is (maybe they are paying way below market price) or the comparables in the neighborhood. That is up to the appraiser. My job is to report visible, ascertainable performance of the components and systems and general condition (including any observed safety issues) of the house.

There are many other situations we could think of and have some fun with; however, this is all I have room for today.