If you were going to do your job better, should you not use a technique that ensures improved performance? A checklist can be one tool that a home inspector should have during an inspection.
I received another fishing for information email a few days ago. Intelligence gathering on your competitors is part of any business environment, and emails make this easy. The person poses as a potential client asking a list of questions. For home inspectors, this list is a variation of a set of questions posed by a Realtor organization. I think that these can be great for the consumer, but the have to understand the factors behind the list. What I do see is other inspectors sending out this list to my email to find out how I respond. It almost seems that they are using a form letter, since they begin with the same sentence stating why they are emailing you. I began to think about these questions when I saw another fishing for information email arrived. I thought it might be time for potential clients to ask the inspector about what he does to improve his service. Does he use a checklist?
Most home inspectors work in a pattern that you can call the “information dump”. You walk around the room, possibly taking notes or recording notes. You walk back to your central spot, where you dump the information down on a form. The idea here is that the inspector is so knowledgeable that he or she does not need anything other to aid them in the inspection. The information dump can take different formats. Some inspectors walk around with a notepad taking notes as they go. Some have assistants who transcribe their notes from one area, while they go onto the next. Most inspectors who subscribe to the information dump concept see the idea of a checklist as the lazy man’s route to a home inspection. They may have cause for this idea.
I have seen more than one inspection report that took the checklist formula in a direction that I did not like. At its best, the home inspector has a easy to read sheet where boxes are checked to indicate the problems found. Inspector spots a problem; he checks a box. At its worst, the number of boxes and their arrangement become difficult to read, and the client is not sure what was signified by the check mark. Sometimes you feel the inspector is walking through the home quickly checking the boxes to indicate an issue with no context added to the document. This is where the checklist can fail.
I am currently reworking my checklist. There is an example on this site of one list that I have used. I do have yes/no questions on the list, but you will notice that much of this list is writing down information, and not a simple checking of boxes. I remember a study conducted at a hospital system which showed surgeons using a checklist improved their performance during operations. I had to create many checklists at different firms where I worked. I found that when an employee took the list seriously, the job performance improved, but you always had those who did not care about the job, so no checklist could correct that behavior. My current thinking that what may be the best for home inspectors is a list that asks a series of questions where the answer is a description. Not a box to be checked. Not a yes or no answer. I know that sellers become bothered by four hour long inspections; however, four hours is not enough to discover every detail, but that is not the point of the inspection. With so much going on, a checklist ensures that we have covered all the areas. By writing a description of what we see, we maintain a better record of our inspection. The idea is combining the best aspect of the information dump in the context of a checklist.
Maybe our potential clients should ask us how do we ensure the best gathering of data. If you are a home inspector, knowledge is not enough. Each inspection is different, so we need to be prepared for those variables, check to see that we covered all of our bases, and apply our knowledge. Improving our knowledge is a factor as well. There have been a few times when I have run into experienced inspectors who did not know something that I had learned. There is always something new to learn. A checklist can be updated to help us remember these new facts. A checklist forces us to complete the job well.