I occasionally get calls from frantic sellers wanting a “second opinion” on something that another home inspector has found during the home inspection.
In this case, what the other inspector had to say was not totally inaccurate. It was the language the inspector used in the report that set off alarm bells for this particularly nervous buyer. The written description of the defects, and what they recommended about the defects, was not wholly untrue, but their languaging in the report opened doors that had no need of being opened. Some of the recommendations showed a lack of basic knowledge of the particular type of wood destroying insect they were describing.
Of course there is no way to guarantee how any buyer will react to the written report. However, all control is lost if the information is inaccurate–or just plain wrong.
It is what was said under each relevant picture that caused some of the problem. Under each picture it said the following: “Evidence of Insects, Action Required, Repaired “past” insect damaged floor joist in crawl space.”
What the nervous buyer honed in on was “evidence of insects,” and “action required.” That there was “repaired ‘past’ insect damage….” seemed somehow unimportant when compared to the fact that the inspector said their was insects and that action was required.
This particular instance related to past Dampwood Termite infestation. What was further expanded upon in the “Narrative” portion of the report (the part that ends up in the summary) was acceptable right up to the point where they recommended treatment by a “licensed exterminator” to “ensure the insects are dead.”
So between what was said under each picture and in the narrative of the report the buyer was left confused, misinformed and frightened.
The following picture is of Dampwood Termite damage (plus some Annobid Beetle damage) at one of my own inspections that was both active and in need of major repairs.
This next picture is of damage that is a past condition. The joist has been sistered (note the bolt into the previously damaged joist). The end of the damaged joist shows some evidence of the past condition–about 12″ to the left of the bolt.
In the State of Washington, people who treat for wood destroying insects are licensed as: “Pest Contol Operators,”–not exterminators–even if that is in fact what they do on occasion. This was my first clue that the writer might go out on a limb elsewhere; and, as they continue: “to ensure the insects are dead.” This particular wood destroying organism is only present if the wood is wet. If the water intrusion issue has been fixed, the Dampwood Termites have no interest in staying and they disappear on their own. No formal treatment is warranted. In this case the areas of damage were VERY old, the result of leaks into the structure many, many years ago–the wood was too dry to support any moisture dependent wood destroying insects. Structural repairs had clearly been made and the only additional “repairs” that anyone might want to do would be considered “cosmetic.”
Sometimes the removal of damaged wood is a good idea so that unwarranted red flags don’t get waved–as in this case, where the waving flag likely scared away a potential buyer–due to inaccurate information about the condition.
In this case the observation could have been worded in a way that a nervous buyer could be made to understand that there was indeed a past condition and that nothing further was required–other than for cosmetic or psychological reasons.
Sometimes psychological repairs are warranted.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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