Telling the difference between a gate and a wall

There are lots of metaphors related to the paths our lives can take.  There are even metaphors of metaphors.

nowheregateWe like to think that we can pretty much do whatever we want.  The reality, for most of us, is that our choices are limited by where we have been–where we have come from–and the many restrictions our culture places on us.  Most of the time it is difficult to tell, except in retrospect, that we have truly chosen.  If the outcome turns out “OK” we take credit.  If the outcome is less desirable we are not quite so willing to take responsibility for what has happened.

Our “choices” more closely resembles our being driven–as opposed to our choosing.

Sometimes the road blocks are obvious—sometimes not.  They are mostly of our own making but often there are limits based on the culture we grow up in.

Freedom beyond being a “state of mind” is very difficult to pin down.

Ultimately, that is all it can ever be.

Some paths appear blocked, we know they are blocked.  We may even know they are supposed to be blocked and yet we still look for a way around or through them.

Such is the case with the gate in the above picture.

Why do we waste time–sometimes our whole lives–on paths that are obviously blocked?  Sometimes we have to look very closely to tell the difference between a gate and a wall.

While some obstacles along the way are meant to be pushed out of the way, climbed over or even ignored–sometimes we need to learn when it is more efficient to go around.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Are your clients alive and kicking?

Most of us can remember the movie “Vacation,” where Chevy Chase is much more interested in getting to Wally World than almost anything else along the way, as they drive across country. The scene where he spends less than 5 seconds taking in the Grand Canyon is epic.

Home inspections can be a bit like this scene from vacation.

Inspectors are so interested in getting to “Wally World” they minimize the importance of what happens along the way–ever ready to give up 5 seconds (or less) to any given scene—and then “move on.”

What “moving on” is often more about is, the inspector being concerned about moving on to the next inspection—the next stop on his way to Wally World (his own bank account). The inspector has simply lost touch with the client’s Wally World.

Without the “process” along the way, the client is left like grandma on the roof of the car and no longer with us by the time we get to our destination.

Inspectors can do so much more, but it takes time, knowledge and willingness.

When the inspector finds an issue, they can describe thoroughly what is going on, what it means to the big picture, what should be done about the problem and even who should make the repairs.

Sometimes this means the inspector will need to do research off site to provide the best level of information for the client. Researching manufacturer’s requirements, code requirements or other sources of “best practice” is often necessary with this approach.

The more experienced inspectors will even be able to describe possible options as to what those repairs might look like. This can help put things in perspective for the buyer. Otherwise the client might not grasp either how inconsequential the issue is or how serious the issue is. They may just conclude the issue is serious, triggering a flight and fight response. Knowledge is power and freedom.

This approach takes seeing their client as what is most important, so that ultimately when they do get to their destination, the client has the information and ammunition they need to proceed in a meaningful way.

And, they are still alive and kicking!


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Sometimes the inspector must be wishy-washy

Most of the time, in report writing, it is advisable to be as clear and to the point as possible.

leaking around toiletWhen reporting on issues discovered in the home, we want to describe what the issue is, what the consequences will be if nothing is done, and what repairs should be made and who should make the repairs. Most of the time this is not difficult for an inspector, and the more experienced the inspector is, the number of times this is not the case goes down.

Sometimes however, it simply is not possible to “know” with any degree of certainty what is “actually” going on, or what the “actual” consequences will be.

An all too common example of this is moisture around toilets.

How can the inspector determine this? Well obviously if the area is visible from a crawl space and the floor is all wet, the written narrative is pretty easy and straightforward. But let’s say it is a second floor bathroom with no access under the toilet. If the inspector checks around the toilet with a moisture meter, and they notice what appears to be moisture under the floor covering, can the inspector categorically state there is moisture under the floor covering?  If there is in fact moisture under the floor covering can the inspector tell how much damage there is or is not?

They certainly should not conclude there is moisture under the floor without other forms of confirmation. Some types of floor coverings will allow moisture meters to indicate either “false positive” or “false negative” readings.  A lack of temperature differential will even result in thermal imaging to be of little use–or at least to a high level of confidence.

If salts are present around the toilet, this could confuse the moisture meter. Houses with boys can often have this issue. Cleaning the floor can often eliminate this variable.

I routinely hear of home inspectors stating something like: Moisture was noted around the toilet as indicated by moisture meter. I recommend repairs by a licensed plumber.” The plumber subsequently shows up and finds nothing wrong with the toilet seal when the toilet is removed and no indication of moisture under the toilet.

There are two big problems with the inspector’s statement. Just because the moisture meter says there is moisture does not mean there is moisture, and repairs may not be necessary.

So the inspector has a problem.

How do we communicate this finding to the client?

All we can do is comment something like this: “A moisture meter was used to check for moisture in the floor around the toilet and it indicated the possibility of moisture. The only way to know for sure is to remove the toilet and check. False positives are possible and common. I recommend further evaluation by a licensed plumber and if any leaking is found I recommend that proper repairs be made as deemed necessary. Damage discovered may also involve other parties that might need to make repairs to the structures under the toilet. Hidden damage is common, but often times there is no damage. This is especially true when the toilet is in fact leaking, but moisture is confined between layers of floor coverings.”

How is that for wishy-washy?  However, this is what is necessary to communicate an issue that cannot be “positively” confirmed in the context of the home inspection. Stating that there “is” moisture is not adequate and stating there “is not” moisture is not adequate.

Sometimes the inspector MUST be wishy-washy.

Black and White has little place in the lives of home inspectors, and sometimes we must live in the greys and is part of establishing inspection expectations.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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