Using Online Listings to Prepare for Home Inspections

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Gabe Semenza, InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector®, and Kate Tarasenko


As a home inspector, you probably spend a good chunk of your work day writing inspection reports. One strategy that will help reduce that time spent at your computer, as well as prepare you for the specifics of your next job, is to research online real estate listings the night before the appointment.  Doing so will allow you to begin building your report, document the details you collect during the inspection, and flag areas that might be problematic.

It’s in the Details

Online listings are a great tool to collect basic information to include in your report. From the photos and details that real estate agents include in listings, as well as the public assessor’s records that may be available online, you can begin to determine a wide range of information about the house you’ve been hired to inspect. Include these details in your report the night before the inspection and you can devote less time to information-gathering on the day of the job.

A few of these details, which you are required to document per InterNACHI’s Home Inspector Standards of Practice, include the following:

  • the roof covering materials;
  • the exterior cladding;
  • whether there is vegetation that’s touching the exterior;
  • foundation type;
  • heating method and fuel source;
  • the location of the main fuel supply shutoff;
  • the cooling method (if applicable);
  • the type of fireplace, if present;
  • whether the water supply is public or private;
  • any missing GFCI devices, if visible in photos;
  • whether the garage vehicle door is manually-operated or electronic;
  • indications of possible foundation movement, such as sheetrock cracks, brick cracks, etc., if visible in photos;
  • issues with surface drainage and improper grading; and
  • any visible issues with the stairway baluster spacing.

Sometimes – but not always – these findings appear clear in online photos. You have a duty to be diligent, however. Houses change with time and upgrades, and alterations or repairs might have occurred since the online photos were taken.

If You Go Beyond the SOP

Online listings can really save you time by revealing details and/or issues that you regularly document or encounter. While these particular elements go beyond the SOP, you might report them for your clients. Some of these items include:

  • the age of the home;
  • the number of levels or stories;
  • whether the house is on a sloped or flat lot;
  • the driveway materials;
  • whether the home is vacant or occupied;
  • whether the range is gas or electric;
  • the type of permanently installed kitchen appliances;
  • the interior wall-covering materials;
  • the flooring materials; and
  • the location of the attic access.

Knowing these details in advance of the inspection allows you to pre-input into your report standard remarks or home maintenance tips you commonly provide in them.

Based on your experience, you can view a photo and predict with some certainty what you’re likely to find in person. For example, if an online listing photo shows trees rubbing on the siding or roof, you could insert recommendations for correction beforehand.

Here are a few more examples of how to pre-load your report with possible findings:

  • If vegetation is seen touching an older home with wood siding, you might highlight the possibility of deteriorated siding, trim or fascia.
  • If the listing indicates that the home is two stories, you might include tips for safe egress from a second-story bedroom window in case of a fire.
  • If the listing reveals the home was just built, you might pre-document that the roof covering was new and in serviceable condition.

The possibilities for pre-documentation are limited only by the quality, timeliness and thoroughness of the online listing, as well as the photos provided.

The importance of verifying your pre-documentation can’t be understated. A new home’s roof could have been poorly installed or might be missing shingles from a recent windstorm, for example. The idea here is to play the odds based on your experience and the quality of online listing. 

This pre-inspection research and documentation isn’t meant to replace the time and effort required to perform a thorough inspection. Rather, these recommendations can allow you more time to inspect while spending less time generating your report on the job because it takes less time to delete a pre-loaded comment that turned out to be incorrect than it does to insert a detailed finding onsite. This is generally because, while at the job, inspectors face the pressure of time constraints, questions from clients, and the cumbersome nature of carrying a tablet, laptop or clipboard around the home.

More Information Sources

Another helpful feature of online listings is the description area written by agents. In those few paragraphs, agents often pitch to buyers the highlights of the home. But inspectors can pull out nuggets, too. Oftentimes, agents will write about major recent repairs, heating or cooling system upgrades, and more.

For example, it’s good information for an inspector to know that the foundation was repaired a year ago, or that the interior walls were re-textured and painted last month. This information can help put apparent signs of settlement in their proper context. If included in your report appropriately, documenting these details – such as fresh paint, texture and drywall repair – also lets your client know about the limitations of the inspection. Fresh paint can hide drywall stains, and texturing can mask structural movement and settlement.

Trust But Verify

You can’t fully rely on the listing agent’s sales pitch or the details therein. You must verify those elements in order to include them as facts in your report. If you can’t verify a listing detail, you might attribute the comment in your report like this: “The foundation was repaired two years ago, according to the online listing. This was not independently verified.”

So, not only do online listings prepare you for what you’re likely to find during your inspection, but they can save you time once you're there. If you saved just 10 minutes a workday by following this process, it would grow to a time savings of just under an hour per week, which is roughly four hours per month.

While this pre-job research is not meant to be a shortcut to a thorough inspection, you can gain more than a full workweek back in free time each year, if done responsibly.

And remember that although there’s is no shortcut to a thorough inspection, inspectors should take advantage of helpful information that’s readily available online.

And just as you counsel your clients not to rely on an inspection report written by someone else at an earlier time, you should not overly rely on details found in MLS listings.

InterNACHI’s Home Inspector Standards of Practice