It Was an Accident – Part 3

Note: This article is part 3 of a series. Click here to read part 1.

It can be tough being a professional home inspector. We’re constantly bombarded with stress, every day of our professional lives. There’s always someone looking for answers. Whether it’s a client trying to figure out our next available appointment, an agent looking for someone to make their job easier, or a seller telling us that we don’t know what we’re doing, we always seem to be on the wrong end of someone else’s problems.

a seller mad about the results of a home inspection

Throw in the fact that we’ve got to touch just about everything in someone’s house during the inspection, and that (eventually) some of those things are going to break, it’s no doubt that our stress levels are through the roof!

(Hmm, I wonder if anyone offers a home inspector meditation class?)

While it’s a given that someone’s going to try and hold us responsible when something breaks, that doesn’t always mean that we’re on the hook for the repairs. There are many different circumstances that can affect who’s really going to pay to fix a problem.

Often, one of the most important factors effecting our level of responsibility is the attitude of the home seller. Their attitude often determines exactly where our level of responsibility (and our level of stress) ends up.

Today we’re going to look at two people on the opposite ends of the attitude spectrum: the cool, calm and collected seller and the person we’d prefer to have never met.

4. The don’t worry about it

As has become blatantly obvious to anyone who’s done more than a handful of home inspection, everyone is different. Certainly, there are overriding personality groups we can assign people to (the nervous nelly, the aloof goof, the know-it-all, the a-hole…), but every person, buyer, seller, and agent, is different and will react in their own unique way to a situation.

Sometimes, when things get damaged during an inspection, people fly off the handle. Sometimes there’s lots of screaming and shouting. Other times, people are upset but able to manage their emotions accordingly, satisfied in knowing that things will be properly resolved. Then sometimes we come across a seller (and/or their agent) who are so easy-going about the process that we wonder exactly what type of medication they’re on.

Occasionally, the whole process is completely painless, with the seller’s side telling us not to worry about the damage. They say, “Hey, don’t worry about it; it was an accident,” and implore us to forget that anything ever happened.

Of all the personality types, this one is often the most surprising to encounter. We can certainly understand a seller getting angry at us for damaging something in their house, as that’s a normal human emotional response to an added problem during a time of already heightened stress (selling their house). It’s just not normal for a person to take something like saturating their first-floor ceiling with water from the upstairs bathroom in such a cool, calm, and collected manner.

There could be a few different reasons why these people react (or don’t react) in such a way. They could be so ready to get out of their home that they’re willing to overlook the damage we caused, as they’re already planning on fixing all the other stuff we’ve found. They could care less what’s on the list, as long as they’re out of the house in as little time as possible.

It’s possible that they’re hiding some other really big deficiency that we haven’t found, and they want to get us out of their house as quickly as possible, before we do discover whatever deal-killer they’ve (so far successfully) covered up.

Or it could be a unique situation where the sellers don’t care what we find (or break), because they’re not fixing anything in the house and the buyers are moving in regardless of what our inspection report says.

Or it’s always possible, that they’re just really nice people (or really, really high…)

seller really calm after having a home inspection done on her house

I once inspected a two-story home where the sellers were present during the inspection and my buyers were out of state. The sellers were quite nice, and gladly explained the whole situation of their sale. They were moving to Alaska, weren’t planning on making any repairs, and had priced the house accordingly. They also explained that the sellers were in love with the home and would probably not care what I found during the inspection, as they were moving in regardless.

I proceeded to do the inspection anyway, and things went pretty well. As I neared the end of the process, I walked around the home turning on the faucets so that I could see if there were any leaks below the house while I was checking out the crawlspace. Thankfully, it was a fairly easy crawl, and I wasn’t under the house for too long.

As I walked upstairs to turn off the tub and sink faucets in the hall bath, I heard the terrifying sound of water hitting the floor. I sprinted up the stairs, taking the last four steps in one big bound, only to find water flowing out of the sink bowl, into the base cabinet and onto the floor. I quickly turned off the faucet and grabbed whatever towels I could see in an attempt to soak up as much water as possible. I called for the homeowner, who quickly brought me more towels.

Once I had dried up the floor and cabinet as much as possible, I started looking around to see what had happened. It looked like the sink stopper had slipped to the mostly closed position while I was running the water for my crawl space test. Normally that wouldn’t have caused an issue, as I never run the water full bore when I’m inspecting a crawlspace and any excess should have easily drained from the overflow. Upon closer investigation (while kneeling on the floor looking around), I discovered a defect that I hadn’t caught when I was doing my bathroom inspection while standing up. The undermount-sink was slightly loose at the back, and there was a small gap between the sink and the countertop, which allowed the water to escape into the base cabinet instead of draining down the overflow.

I walked downstairs to check out the mudroom (that was below the upstairs hall bath) only to find water stains starting to form on the drywall. I was horrified, and started to apologize profusely, explaining that I would take care of whatever damage that I’d caused. I was certainly taken aback by the sellers, who couldn’t seem to care less about the stains. They told me that the weren’t worried about the ceiling, and as long as the buyers didn’t say anything about it, I’d never hear from them again.

I explained the situation to my client’s agent and assured her that I would take care of repairing any damages that had occurred. She seemed pretty confident that the buyers wouldn’t even bat an eye about the ceiling stains, as they were planning a major renovation, anyway.

I waited anxiously for several weeks, anticipating a phone call that never came about that moisture damaged ceiling. And while the situation did cause me a bit of stress for a month or two, I’m pretty confident that I no longer have to worry about paying for a ceiling repair every time my phone rings.

5. The bag of hot air

As we’ve already stated, everyone is unique, and everyone has their own personality. Unfortunately, we sometimes run across a person who’s so caustic that we’d pay any amount of money to get away from them. As we’re not trained psychologists, there’s really no way for us to figure out exactly why this person is such an a-hole. The best thing for us to do is to figure out how to put as much distance between them and us as we possibly can, keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

One of my inspectors was having a bad day and got stuck with two really rough inspections. As my inspections were two small houses in relatively good shape, I was done before he was and decided to meet him at his second house to try and help him out.

I proceeded to inspect the pool, hot tub and associated equipment. Everything was in fairly good condition, with a few minor issues present. I took some pictures, made a few notes and emailed them to the inspector later that evening.

The report went out that night and as far as we knew, everything went well with the home and the closing proceeded as planned.

And that’s when it all started. Our client, the new homeowner, moved in and started “discovering” things that “we missed” in the inspection report. He first called my inspector with his list of complaints. As it was plainly evident that his complaints were not really problems, simply a misunderstanding of what it is that professional home inspectors are responsible for, I got involved in the conversation.

At first, the client was courteous with me on the phone, but that must have been an act, because it didn’t last long. He quickly became irate as he threw different accusations at me, blaming us for missing things on the inspection.

home inspector testing a heater during an inspection

His first accusation was that the heater on his swimming pool wasn’t working, and we missed it on the inspection. I assured him that the pool heater was indeed working during the inspection, and I would be happy to stop by his house and show him how to use it (as he had not been present at the time of the inspection.) This calmed him down a bit, and (against my better judgement) I scheduled a meeting on the next day.

He showed up at the house ready for battle, armed with even more accusations about the inadequacies of our home inspection. Each time he complained, I was able to easily prove that either his complaint wasn’t valid or that it had, in fact, been covered in the inspection report.

After about a half-hour of this back and forth, I knew that no matter what I said, he wasn’t going to be happy. I made a last-ditch effort to rid us of this problem customer. I apologized to him for all the trouble that he was having and assured him that we were disappointed for not having lived up to his expectations. I told him that we never like our clients to feel as though they received a bad inspection and offered him a full refund of his inspection fee for his trouble.

Quite to my surprise, he refused, even though it was fairly clear (to a reasonable person, anyway) that our inspection report covered everything he was complaining about. I knew that things weren’t going to get any better, so I repeated my offer to him and wished him a good day as I high-tailed it out of there.

Once I was home that evening, I sent him a cordial email repeating my offer to refund his inspection fee. He sent back a reply vowing to crush my company and put us out of business. He threatened to have both my and my inspector’s licenses revoked by our state board, as well as the license of my home inspection school. Although it’s not exactly what I wanted to say to him, I remained professional and polite in my response, reiterated my apologizes and again offered to refund his inspection fees.

About a week later, I received another email from him, complaining that we had failed to inform him that there was moisture damage to the roof decking, below the shingles at the soffit area of his home. He included pictures taken by his roofer, with the shingles and underlayment at the soffit lifted to show the moisture damaged decking.

I responded in a professional manner, explaining that home inspectors do not lift roofing materials during the inspection and cannot possible see what the top side of the roof decking looks like at the soffit area of the home. I again repeated my offer to refund his inspection fees and left the ball in his court.

I did, however, throw in a little language explaining that if he had taken the advice of his inspector, and had the visibly worn and damaged shingles evaluated by a qualified roofer before the end of his inspection period, he may not be in his current predicament. (Yes, I know I probably shouldn’t have poked the tiger with a stick, but a person can only take so much…)

After his reply email promising to own me and every one of my offspring, I sat back and waited for the problems. Would it be a lawsuit straight away? Maybe a BBB complaint? Or would I be called to appear in front of our state board of home inspectors to answer for my crimes?

home inspector anxiously waiting for a phone call from a seller

Amazingly, I never heard from him again. And knock-on-wood, it’s been 7 years since our last email chat.

Who knows, maybe he’ll call me to inspect his next home.

Join us next week for the conclusion of our accident series, where we’ll take a look at our last two situations: the investment and the right place, right time.

I welcome all feedback (both positive and negative) on this post.
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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector

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