This article was first published in the August 2016 issue of the ASHI Reporter.
Inspectors must practice good written and verbal communication skills as a vital part of the job. I used to tell my clients, “If I leave this house knowing more about it than you do, I have not done my job.”
Here are the communication rules I developed and followed:
Tell your client everything you discover, good things as well as bad things.
This very simple rule must govern an inspector’s communications with clients. What you observe in a house is not your information; it belongs to your client. And what you see must be described in a way that will be easily understood.
Be sure you know what you are talking about before you talk about it.
There are four phases of reporting your inspection findings and they must be done in this order:
As you move through a property, the bad stuff will jump out and grab you. If it doesn’t, you’re either not looking closely enough or you don’t have enough experience or knowledge to recognize bad stuff.
Think about the anomaly you’re viewing and how to best describe it to your client.
Then enter it into your report as clearly and concisely as you can. Review what you’ve written and make any changes or improvements you feel necessary to adequately convey your finding.
Now you are ready to talk. You will not have blurted out the first thing that came into your mind. Instead, you will provide a well thought out, concise and easily understandable description of the defect.
Don’t say or write anything that you wouldn’t be able to defend in courtroom testimony.
- If you are providing factual information, be able to back it up with credible reference material if and when the occasion ever arises.
- If you’re offering an opinion, be sure to state that it is an opinion based on your background and experience.
Communicate in a way that is most appropriate for the particular client.
I like to say that you wouldn’t talk to your grandmother the same way you would talk to your three-year-old or the same way you would talk to your wife or the same way you would talk to your beer-drinking buddy. Assess your client’s communication needs and respond accordingly.
Some clients want a lot of information. Their body language and questions will make their interest obvious. These people are probably extroverted and expressive. Give them all the information they want. Others who might be introverted are more reserved and thoughtful and may not outwardly signal their interest. These folks need time to process information, so back away and present your findings, giving them time to think things through. Don’t confuse their reticence with a lack of interest. Periodically ask these clients if they have any questions (throughout the process). This allows them to think through their questions and know that you welcome their questions.
Stay focused and don’t be distracted from looking at everything you need to inspect.
A good checklist report can guide an inspector through all of the elements of a property. I called mine a roadmap; it helped me ensure that I looked at, reported on and discussed all of the important elements of a house. Each item should also be evaluated. I used columns to signify whether an element was “Functioning as Intended,” “Minor Repairs Recommended,” “Areas of Concern” or “Not Applicable/Not Inspected.” This is the essence of the report; it helps the client put the information into a context he or she can understand. In addition to the rating, I used a “Comments” column to further define any relevant findings. And, of course, I discussed my findings with the client as well.
Help your client understand what is wrong and how important it is.
To communicate effectively, inspectors must be able to explain and document areas of concern in easily understood, non-technical terms. Explanations should be concise and to the point. The component is “not functional” or “not functioning as intended” or a “safety concern” or “affects habitability.” This should be followed by a brief explanation of the condition. For example: “the unit did not respond properly to user controls,” “it is a fire hazard,” “it is a potential shock hazard” or “the damp environment could support unhealthy mold growth.” And remember, if it is your opinion based on your background or experience, be sure to state it as such.
Insist that your client attend their inspection.
Communication is such an essential part of the home inspection process that, to the extent possible, I insisted that my clients attend their home inspections. As I explained things to them, I could show them what I was talking about, read their body language as a gauge of their comprehension, use analogies to help them understand, ensure that they received the information and put the information into proper context for them.
I could go on and on about the importance of communication. In over two decades in the home inspection business, I was never sued—not once! I am convinced that good communication was a big part of that rarely achieved track record.