It Was an Accident – Part 4

Note: This article is part 4 of a series. Click here to read part 1.

There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.

Bob Ross

Our lives are filled with things that happen when we’re not expecting it; accidents we call them. So, why should our jobs be any different? We’re all going to have accidents when we’re inspecting houses. It’s inevitable that, one way or another, we’re going to be held responsible for things that break while we’re inspecting. Regardless of if it’s really our fault or not, we often have the unfortunate luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes it’s our fault, other times it’s not. But there we are, stuck in the middle, caught in the act, or simply looking around and thinking “how the hell did I get into this predicament?”

wondering how we ended up with this many problems on a home inspection

As I’ve often said, the lessons we learn as home inspectors come with a built-in cost. Whether it’s physical pain, monetary strain or mental anguish (or some combination of the three), there’s always a cost associated with learning. Important lessons don’t come cheap.

But there are sometimes in our lives, albeit not often enough, when things fall in our favor. We catch a break; the stars align; we hit the jackpot; we’re in the right place at the right time. Whatever we want to call it, we all get lucky every once in a while. Yes, there’s still an accident to deal with and a price to be paid, but somehow, things work out.

Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I’m always happy when things turn out in my favor. In this, the last installment of our accidental article, we’ll take a look at two times when fate smiled down on us and things turned out much better than anyone could have anticipated.

6. The investment

Ironically, the best outcome for us doesn’t always involve saving money in the short run. Sometimes the best action to help ensure that our long-term goals are met is for us to bite the bullet, take it on the chin, and take responsibility for something that’s not entirely our fault.

An incident that I always think back on whenever I’m stuck trying to make a decision that’s likely to cost me too much money (relative to the immediate benefit) occurred many years ago. One of my inspectors was checking out an occupied house, slipped off a joist while walking the attic and cracked the ceiling in the home’s den. He didn’t go all the way through the drywall ceiling, but it was enough damage to necessitate a call to my drywall repair guy. (As I’ve been inspecting since 2001, of course I have a drywall guy!)

My inspector called to let me know what had happened, and I told him that I’d handle everything. I first contacted the buyer (our client) to let him know that we were going to get in touch with the seller to arrange the ceiling repairs. He was quite agreeable and thanked me for quickly responding to the situation.

I then called the buyer’s agent to tell her what had happened. She was a new agent and was clearly concerned about whether this was going to affect her ability to close the sale. I assured her that these things happen all the time, we were going to take care of fixing the ceiling, and it would look as good as new once we were done. That seemed to calm her fears and we hung up agreeing that she would contact the seller’s agent to have them get in touch with me to set up the repairs.

Soon thereafter I received a call from the seller of the home. I explained what had happened during the inspection and apologized for any inconvenience that this may cause him. I let him know that I was waiting for some possible repair dates from my contractor and would let him know as soon as I had some firm options. He seemed to be quite understanding and said he would wait for my return call.

That’s when things really started to get interesting.

Once my drywall guy had given me a few options, I called the seller back to try to arrange the repairs. It was at that point he threw off the mask of “reasonable person” and revealed his true identity: “legal, licensed a-hole.” It turns out that the seller was an attorney, and that soon after our first phone conversation, he had discovered two very important facts. First was how much this damaged ceiling had affected him, as he was now experiencing mental anguish over the possibility that this could negatively affect the sale of his home.

He also discovered that his agent had scheduled me to perform the upcoming inspection on the new home that he was buying. He suggested, in light of the damage that his current home had sustained, as well as the considerable mental pain and anguish that he was suffering, that I should do his upcoming inspection for free. (Man, you’ve gotta love attorneys…)

This was clearly not a good situation for me and my business. I was facing a $200 repair bill for fixing the ceiling on the seller’s house, and now he was trying to muscle me into comping a $600 home inspection on his new home, all because his feelings were hurt.

Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.

Jim Rohn

This certainly looked like a no-win situation. If I told him to pound sand and cancelled his upcoming inspection (which is exactly what I wanted to do), then it’s likely that I’d be facing a “mental pain and anguish lawsuit” from this weasel. The agent who was representing him on the purchase of his new home (who incidentally was a different agent from his listing agent) was a brand-new agent in an office where I was trying hard to make inroads and take over from an older, established, competing inspector. Cancelling the inspection certainly wouldn’t endear me to her or her broker.

But the flip side meant that I was losing out on $600 revenue from the inspection of his new home, as well as performing an inspection for someone who deserved nothing better than to be tied up, covered in honey and dropped into a massive mound of fire ants. (No, I don’t harbor any ill-will towards him; why do you ask?)

Either way seemed to be a no-win situation. It was clearly not going to be a good week for my inspection company’s bank account.

In the end, I decided to follow my own advice and make sure that I get maximum benefit from a bad situation. I called both agents involved in the sale of the first home (where we stepped through the ceiling) and explained the whole situation to them (even though they weren’t involved in the second transaction). I wanted to make sure they were aware what type of seller we were dealing with, and the extent to which I went in order to keep the peace and move their deal forward to a closing.

I then contacted the attorney’s agent (representing him as the buyer) for the second home. I explained the entire situation to her, telling her about the ceiling damage, my conversations with the attorney, and his subsequent attempt at blackmailing me and my company. I told her that I wanted to tell him off and walk away from his upcoming pre-purchase inspection, but I knew this was her first sale, and I didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize her commission. I explained that I was going to do his inspection for free in order to make him happy and keep her sale moving forward.

Being a brand-new agent, she was obviously overwhelmed by everything that had transpired. She became quite emotional on the phone and actually started crying a bit as she thanked me for agreeing to do the inspection.

I wrote the most air-tight contract that I could, exempting myself from any future responsibility regarding the upcoming free inspection and sent it off to the attorney (the seller of the first house). To my surprise, he signed it, no questions asked. The inspection went fairly well, as the house was almost brand new, and the attorney (now the buyer) didn’t bother to show up.

His agent thanked me again at the inspection and again after the report was delivered. Since that incident, she has gone on to become one of the top producers in her office and uses me for all her inspections. I’ve also muscled my way into her office, and now do inspections for most of the big hitters in her group.

I’d say that may have been the best $800 I’ve ever spent on marketing.

7. The right place, the right time

Sometimes, when we wake up in the morning, we get that feeling of dread. We’re not entirely sure why, but we just know that it’s not going to be our day. Maybe we stub our toe on the bedpost while walking to the bathroom. Maybe the dog left us a nice little present that we’ve got to clean up before we leave for work, or maybe we spill coffee all over the front of our clothes when we’re already running late. Whatever it is, we just can just tell that today’s not going to be our day.

But, on the other hand, sometimes the day starts and we’re raring to go. We feel like we could spit fire! We wake up 10 seconds before the alarm goes off. The morning moves along perfectly. We leave the house 5 minutes early and it seems like Moses was waiting for us on the freeway, as the traffic miraculously parts for us like the Red Sea! It’s days like those when we feel most alive!

I’m gonna stop on the way home today and buy the winning Power Ball ticket!

I was having one of those wonderful days when it happened: one of my inspectors called me in the afternoon and told me that he had demolished the dining room ceiling in the vacant house he’d been inspecting!

He was checking out an attic in an older home at the end of his afternoon inspection and had a little accident. As the house had different ceiling heights in some of the rooms, the attic was broken up into two different levels. The homeowner had devised a wooden ladder to get to the top level of the attic, and my inspector used the ladder to access the upper area so he could inspect the HVAC system that was mounted there.

As he was climbing back down the homemade ladder, and was halfway down the rungs, he noticed something concerning: the ladder wasn’t even attached to the attic fraaaammmmiiiinnnngggg.

He crash-landed right across the ceiling joists over the dining room, sending about 150 square feet of drywall cascading down onto the wooden floor. Thankfully, he escaped the fall without any serious injuries.

I received his phone call just as I was wrapping up my afternoon inspection and packing up my vehicle for the ride home. As I was not too far away from his location, I headed over to see exactly what had happened.

It looked about as bad as the image you’ve got in your mind, with drywall pieces and pink, loose-fill fiberglass insulation covering the floors of the dark-paneled dining room. (Just for the hell of it, I made my inspector stand in the room and wave at me while I took a picture of the scene…)

Just about that time, our clients, the potential home buyers, and their agent arrived at the inspection. Obviously, they were quite surprised to see their dining room ceiling strewn across the floor. I quickly went into full damage control mode, apologizing for the destruction we’d accidentally caused and assuring them that we’d take care of the whole situation.

The agent, understandably, was quite flustered, and at this point had trouble even forming complete sentences. The buyers, on the other hand, took it all in stride. Without even batting an eye, the husband joked that we had done him a big favor, as they were already planning to pay someone to redo the popcorn ceilings throughout the home and we had just made their job that much easier!

After realizing that the situation turned out much better than it could have, I recused myself from the inspection and walked outside to call my drywall guy. (That guy must love me!) He answered quickly but put me on hold while he finished another call. While waiting for him to return to the phone, a thought popped into my mind. When he clicked back over to my call, I proceeded to tell him about a client that I was working for who was buying an older home and was looking for someone to remove the popcorn ceilings throughout the structure.

I could almost hear him salivating on the other end of the phone as he proceeded to tell me that he loved popcorn removal jobs, as they always proved to be very profitable ventures for his company. Smiling to myself, I knew that he was nibbling at the bait and I simply had to take it slowly in order to set the hook!

I told him that I’d be more than happy to refer him to these people, as he’d always taken care of my clients in the past and made me look good for having had referred him. But, I said, there could be one little problem with the situation, as my inspector had damaged some of the drywall in the dining room and I was worried that the clients may back out of the home purchase as a result. Maybe, I suggested, if he agreed to repair the damaged dining room ceiling at no charge, the clients would be able to look past the damage and still close on the property. I texted him a few pictures of the house and waited for him to access the situation.

He quickly called back, assuring me that he was the man for the job. He told me that with the profit margin built into a popcorn job on a house that size, replacing a few sheets of drywall was absolutely no problem. He would certainly take care of it for me and smooth everything out with the buyers and seller.

I sent emails all the way around, connecting my contractor with everyone involved, checked to make sure that my inspector was OK, and jumped into my vehicle to drive home with the weekend clearly in my sights. I stopped for gas on the way home and decided it was a no-brainer that I’d grab a few lottery tickets to capitalize on the luck of my unbelievable day.

Yeah, of course I’m not a millionaire. I guess every good string of luck’s gotta end sometime.

gambling away your future as a home inspector

It’s pretty clear to see that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to problems with our inspections. Sometimes the right thing to do is obvious, but often it’s a “make it up as you go” type of situation. Sometimes we end up paying for things that we know we’re responsible for, while other times we pay just to keep the peace, even though it’s not even remotely our fault.

Like everything else we encounter while running a small business, we quickly come to the realization that most things aren’t black and white; there’s always a lot of grey area to be handled.

All we can do is what we think is best in each situation. Always try to diffuse tension, err on the side of caution, and remember to try not to piss people off, as they’ve always got access to social media channels and can leave reviews that will make running our business a bit more tough.

Learn from our mistakes, learn from our successes, and do whatever it takes to make our life run as smoothly as possible.

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector