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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You sort of have to be bad to be good!

I find the whole discussion about inspectors being “deal killers” interesting. I have come to embrace the notion that not all deal killers are created equal. What one person considers a “deal killer” is another person’s “butt saver.”

The key is coming to an understanding of what is important as well as what the difference is.

Once one figures out what is important, then it is easy to understand why one might even want an inspector that is known as a deal killer on one’s team.

If all a person is interested in is “closing the deal,” then one is likely to have a very narrow and negative connotation of “deal killer.” If one is solely focused on seeing that their client is “taken care of” to to highest possible standard, the term “deal killer” can merely mean that the inspector is on the same page as the agent in seeing the client taken care of.

Obviously this does not account for the fact that some inspectors and some agents do nothing to help themselves out with how they are perceived.

These few agents and inspectors should not reflect badly on the rest of the barrel that are actually trying to provide good service to their clients.

I am pretty sure that I have never had a client think of me as a “deal killer” but probably frequently as a “butt saver.” Most, while perhaps disappointed that the house did not work out, are generally grateful for being saved from something they were not willing to take on.

Agents on the other hand fall into two camps. The first camp of agents are the few that most likely think I killed the deal–for a host of reasons. Although, quantifying what exactly I should have “left out,” or how I should have communicated the concern, in order for the deal to have not gone South would have been very difficult.

Figuring out what should be “left out” is no place any inspector should ever have to go. Of course these agents will sometimes argue that it is the “way” the information was conveyed that is the problem, not the information itself. I find, with rare exception, that this might be a smoke screen for them merely being bummed that they are back to square one finding a home for the client. There is sometimes simply no “euphemistic” way to say there are two many rats in the attic, that the crawl space would make a better swimming pool, or that the foundation has a 6” crack in it behind the furnace where nobody looked (that accounts for the living room being a bowling alley).

The second camp of agents are those that know that I have protected both the buyer and the agent from problems that neither the buyer or the agent would have wanted left out of the report. Because these agents recommend me because I am a “deal killer” I have already passed the test of “how” I impart the information to the client. These agents have already shifted gears and are on to exploring other options for the client even before they get the report back. It is all merely part of the “process”–otherwise why bother with inspections at all?

Sometimes you simply have to be bad to be good.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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New construction home? Why not?

I inspected a very nice new construction home a while back–excellent builder, that obviously cares about the homes he builds.

I love new construction.

Let me put it a better way.

I LOVE NEW CONSTRUCTION.

Sure there can be issues, but if old and new homes consist of 1000 things that can go wrong, starting at anything less than 500 issues is way better than starting at 1000. Of course I am exaggerating in both extremes. The reality is most older homes are going to have more issues to deal with than a new home will. This new one was better than most new ones. In other words–there was not much to fix. If you think my analogy is wacky let me create a basic list of things to think about:

Grading,

Retaining walls,

Drainage,

Foundation,

Exterior cladding,

Decks,

Windows,

Framing,

Insulation,

Interior finishes,

Plumbing,

Appliances,

Heating/Cooling systems,

Energy efficiency,

Air sealing,

Wiring,

Roofing,

Chimneys,

In older homes, every single one of the things on this list can have issues of deal killer proportions–not to mention just normal everyday kinds of issues from leaky faucets to outdated finishes (unless someone has already spent the money to remedy them–and then of course the house will still have a marginal foundation, marginal framing–or whatever else that has not been upgraded).

Of course we have not even yet started to talk about lead, asbestos and buried oil tanks.

In a new home, how many of the things on that list are going to have issues of deal killer proportions?

I rest my case.

I am sure that most of the things I found wrong in this new home were things that were already on the builder’s own punch list. One thing that I found wrong was in the kitchen, when I turned on the gas range. This is what the burners looked like.

It looked more like what you want your gas fireplace to look like than what you want your range to look like. The problem is a simple one. Someone had not changed the orifices from natural gas to propane.

While I was doing the inspection there was a flurry of activity all around the home as workers rushed to get the place cleaned and detailed. Realistically I was about a week early–but the inspection had already been put off a couple of weeks and it had to be done.

By the time I finished the upstairs and came back downstairs, the appliance installer had changed out the orifices and now the flame looked better.

This meant that now I would not have to report on the defect, but would instead get to use it as blog fodder. So all was not lost.

Did I tell you how much I love new construction?

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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