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Off The Net - Photos in Reports

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Off The Net:

PHOTO'S In Reports:

Photos in Reports, my take
I have pondered inserting photos in reports for a long time and arrived at the conclusion it is not a good idea.  Too many things can happen and none of them are good.  If your client attends your inspection you physically show them the defect other than if it’s on a roof top, within the attic space, or under the house.  In these cases give them a verbal description and follow up with same within your written report.  Follow the tried and true formula of meaningful inspection reporting   In other words always employ LIDER;
1. Locate – where is it? 
2. Identify – what is it? 
3. Describe - What is its condition? 
4. Explain – What does this mean?
5. Recommend – What should be done?  (and by whom?)

Photos by and large are report fluff and serve no meaningful purpose, but present a potential for real trouble for the inspector.  Example; There’s a photo of a described defect in the report.  However, in the background there's also visual evidence of another defect that is not addressed within the inspector’s report.  Result; the inspector just bought that unreported defect.  As one of the two CREIA board appointed inspection report reviewers I have seen this time and again and filling one’s inspection report with photos can insure the old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

I’m all in favor of taking plenty of pictures during an inspection, but keeping them with your job file for a possible defense down the road.  The classic is the sellers packing the garage full in readiness for their move-out and later your being accused by the buyer of not reporting a defect that was visually inaccessible within the packed garage.  Producing a photo of the condition at the time of your inspection will trump the client's complaint.  This also applies to the home’s foundation crawl space, attic area and any room overly packed with furniture or personal items.

There will be those that argue that the agents and/or clients expect photos or the competition always supplies them within their reports.  However, I’ve never believed in chumming the waters before taking a quick dip in shark infested waters.


CORRECT AGAIN,  Always when taking photos do closeups of the defect ONLY, NEVER take a wide angle or panoramic photo.


I don't totally agree, the beauty of this online society. Jerry you are absolutely right that if a picture is used there is a potential not to point out what else is in the photo verbally. I place some photos, not many in the report to better illustrate what I might be describing. I also prior to placing the photo, review it on my larger screen for those "other" items and feel confident that I report what is in the photo. Those new to this business should take your advice but when they have gained the confidence in their work I see no harm in providing a photo or two. Mikes suggestion to shoot close ups only is well founded.

On average my report will have 3-7 photos overall. My basic criteria and this is explained at the site in front of all, is a photo will be used when I believe I am going to get a call asking where or what I am talking about (in verbal explanation). I got very tired of some contractor calling as saying they could not find the issue I brought up. The photo has significantly reduced those types of calls.


I'm aware of your inspection report protocol Jeff and will be the first to admit it’s one of the better ones I've reviewed.  However, if I may continue to play the devil's advocate in this thread whether you insert 3, 6, or 10 photos into your report the classic attorney maneuver is to ask during deposition or at trial, "Mr. Frishof, of all the defects you discovered and reported on why did you only show a handful of them in your report or did you think they are more significant than the ones you didn’t show?"

As I’ve said in the past TMI can come back to haunt one and keeping it as simple as possible presents less ammunition for the folks with esquire after their name.  My theory proven time and time again goes to the old saying, “vague is good” and/or “less said, best mended.”


The problem that I see is that there is no way to quantify how much good photos do.  Specifically, in terms of verifying that the inspector did indeed do his job. 
I would argue that by this time you are probably already involved in a lawsuit and have paid your deductible.  A photo in the report might have prevented the buyer even contacting an attorney.  Yes, it might work if the homeowner contacted the inspector prior to contacting an attorney, but how often does this happen? 

I know of one specific instance where the main sewer line backed-up a week after a new homeowner moved-into his home.  In my report, I showed water filling all of the sinks, tubs and showers.  This guy was on the warpath and wanted to sue me, but concluded from the pictures in my report that I had done my job.  This was before an attorney was involved.  How many other situations have been avoided by including photos?  The problem is that we will never know.  We only find out if it shows something bad. 

If you take a photo, then it is a part of the evidence that can be used against you in a lawsuit, whether or not it is included in the report.  If you are sued, you are required to submit any and all information as evidence.  This means emails, field notes, photos, whatever.  Granted, any misses that you photographed will not come up until you are in a lawsuit, but the photos will be used, for good or ill. 

I have had attorneys tell me that photos are a double-edged sword.  However, the feedback that I have received is that photos have more positive benefits than ill.


Here is my procedure: I do my report back in my office at my leisure and on my schedule. My report contains photos (all close ups). My report DOES NOT contain photos of EVERY condition/defect and says so in the report introduction. The client hired an inspector not a photographer. My report is generated from my field notes, photos and memory. All notes and photos are not kept, they are destroyed. The best defense in a deposition is "I don't recall" or "I don't remember". I let my finished report rest after it is completed, I go back to it and review it again before I release it to the client. In a court of law you will will live or die by what is in your report. Your report is your product, that is what the client has purchsed and what the client relies on.


Once again, attorneys that I have talked to differ on document retention.  Many will say do not destroy anything because if you do, they will raise the  question as to whether or not you destroyed something incriminating. 


Someone correct me if I am wrong. No matter what you do with pictures after the report is delivered, there is an electronic signature to each photo. They're sequencial and it is easy to tell if the list provided is every photo taken. You would probably have to go to some pretty great lengths to completely remove the file. Still geeks no how to recover data files. So in the end write the best most accurate report and if you place a picture in a report, make sure you talk about what is in the photo.

Just this morning I have received a report that has 22 photos with comments lacking. In some the comment on what might be in the photo is "not there".


After attending over 150 depositions and at least 2 doz. Court trials testifying for and against contractors and home inspectors I feel I have a pretty good grip on the reality of what’s an acceptable risk and what is not.  As I said before I always kept my photos and field notes (who was there, what was said, etc.) with the copy of my written report.  I decided what to produce if and when I was sued, not the attorneys.  Bottom line, you don’t show up with a length of rope to an old fashioned western neck-tie party.

His/ her inspection report is the inspector’s living legacy, at least for 4 years after the inspection was performed.  Inspectors perish or survive by what the put on paper.  It makes absolutely no difference how experienced, knowledgeable, forthright, or honest an inspector is, but rather how they’re perceived by the other side’s attorney, arbitrator, judge, or jury.  Show me a jury who has several members who got a bad home inspection, or another jury who basically understands what the limitations on inspecting a home are and the outcome will be easy to predict.

Understanding human nature and controlling client’s expectations may well be the most vital part of home inspecting.  There can be just so much fluff, but in the end the inspector has to deliver a meaningful inspection report that can be easily understood by the client.  Photos are a totally unnecessary accoutrement to the inspection report and originally the brain child of a large northern California inspection company that pushed fancy packaging and lots of photos and naturally the rest of us eventually got on that train.

The truth is that home inspecting is a people business.  We are not used cars or mattress salesmen. “Do we trust this inspector and do you think they will find everything that’s wrong with the home we are buying?” still prevails in the client's mind and probably always will.  People need to trust our judgment when sinking most or in many cases all of their entire life savings into a new home.  We perform a vital service that requires an extended amount of construction knowledge, continuing education, physical dexterity, risk of bodily harm, and the communication skills of politician while exposing ourselves to litigation every time we set foot on a piece of property we were retained to inspect.


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