Introduction Deficiency statements are probably the most important part of an inspection report. Clients usually focus on these statements to the exclusion of all else in spite of exhortations urging them to read the entire inspection report. Deficiency statements must comply with the SoP used by the home inspector and with state regulations. The following are common elements of a deficiency statement. Each element is usually required unless otherwise indicated. The form or wording of each element may change depending on the report format used and on the deficiency, but the information provided should be similar regardless of the report format and the deficiency.
Identify or Describe the Deficiency The deficiency statement should provide enough information to help the client understand the type or nature of the deficiency. The deficiency description should be accurate and precise. Inaccurate and imprecise statements can cause confusion and the home inspector may be held accountable for damages caused by any confusion.
For example, the home inspector sees a thin crack in the mortar of the brick veneer wall covering. An example of a potentially confusing description statement is: “We observed a crack in the bricks on the front of the house.” This statement can be interpreted many ways. The client could assume that the bricks are structural bricks, not brick veneer. The client could assume that the crack runs through the bricks; this is a potentially more serious condition than a crack in the mortar. The client has no information to determine the width or length of the crack. Thin cracks are common and are usually not serious, but wide cracks are often more serious. A better description statement is: “We observed a thin crack in the brick veneer mortar on the front of the house.” This statement accurately describes the crack as running through the mortar of brick veneer, and precisely describes the crack as thin which is a term the ordinary client can understand.
Describe the Location of the Deficiency Describing the location of the deficiency is not required by SoPs; however, many home inspectors do so. This serves all users of the report and reduces unnecessary and unproductive communication by helping people find the deficiency. Home inspectors often define directions used in the report by specifying that left and right are based on looking at the house from the street.
Include a Picture of the Deficiency Pictures are not required by SoPs; however, many home inspectors include them in reports. A picture helps identify and describe the deficiency, helps people locate the deficiency, and documents the condition of the system or component at the time of the inspection. A picture of each room can document the conditions during the inspection. Pictures can be very useful if questions about the inspection arise later.
Introduction SoPs identify general conditions that the home inspector should identify and report. Most SoPs use similar terms; however, some use other terms, the meaning of which can be unclear. The home inspector must have a clear understanding of what constitutes a reportable deficiency both to serve the client and to avoid liability for failure to report a deficiency. The following are common terms used in SoPs to identify reportable deficiencies, and definitions of those terms. These definitions may vary by jurisdiction based on interpretations by regulators and by courts.
Reporting deficient conditions is often easy and obvious, but it can be difficult. The home inspector must decide for each potential deficiency whether to report it and what words to use when reporting it.
Not Functioning Properly (Not Functioning as Intended) A system or component that is not functioning properly is failing to perform an important function during the inspection, or evidence is visible that the system or component has failed. Examples are numerous and range from major deficiencies to minor adjustments or repairs. Specific examples include evidence of active water leaks, deformation of structural components, doors that stick or rub on the frame, and dripping faucets.
Significantly Deficient A system or component that is significantly deficient may, or may not, function properly during the inspection; however, it presents a deficit that is likely to cause improper functioning under certain conditions or at some future time. Conditions that can cause significant deficiencies include failure to comply with manufacturer’s installation instructions or other standards, damage (intentional or unintentional), and deterioration. Examples include evidence of water leaks (current activity cannot be determined), structural components that are damaged, deteriorated, or improperly installed (e.g., over-spanned joists), clearance to combustible materials issues, and many electrical issues (e.g., double-tapped circuit breakers and wire splices that are not in covered boxes).
One difficult aspect of significant deficiencies is deciding whether and how to report significant deficiencies that have existed for years or decades without failing. Many systems and components are over-engineered such that failure will occur only under unusual conditions. A significantly deficient system or component may not have been, and may never be, subjected to conditions that can cause failure. Just because a significantly deficient system or component has not failed does not mean it will never fail.
One example of a significant deficiency that can take years or decades to cause failure is the clearance between heat source and combustible materials. Pyrolysis can cause a reduction of the ignition temperature of wood, and this process can take many years depending on the temperature and frequency of exposure. Failure (ignition) can occur without visible evidence and without warning.