Home Inspection Bells and Whistles

Very few products and services are offered in their purest form these days. More often than not purchasing a device without the bells and whistles is “special order.” Try buying an appliance that doesn’t come with a built-in clock.

I can’t walk through my kitchen without being reminded four or five times that I hit the snooze-button on the alarm clock once or twice too often, the alarm clock that plays CDs, mp3s, and displays the current weather. The oven, the microwave, the coffee pot; even the toaster glows blue with its own chronology in disbelief that the alarm clock that I had just seconds ago abandoned in the bedroom was enough forewarning.

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the bells and whistles from the actual product or service itself. What is a smart-phone without a camera and a place to put all of your contacts, photos, music and apps, not to mention the all-important built-in clock?

Salesman“Added value,” being the operative phrase, the used-car salesman/wannabe politician is incredulous that you wouldn’t want to protect your investment with the “latest thing” in undercoating, the cost of which would barely be noticeable when added to your financing, the same financing that you had already been persuaded to add the extended warrantee plan, which coincidentally, as an “added value”, also covers your financing in the event there is an accident and the vehicle, including undercoating, are damaged beyond repair.

Home inspections, in their earliest and purest form, were delivered verbally by the inspector/contractor himself. The first home inspection bell and/or whistle was the sheet of paper torn from the yellow note pad on which he scratched his findings, the “report.” Then came the preprinted “checkbox form” home inspection report which included basic information such as the location of utility shutoffs and descriptions of the various components and materials that comprise the home, all of which have become part of today’s home inspection Standards of Practice (SOP).

Some home inspector’s websites look like the websites of big box stores offering multiple services both individually and in a variety of upgrade “packages.”

I guess you could call it “bell and whistle creep.” There is an almost organic evolution by which bells and whistles become the standard. Garage doors open with a push of a button and fireplaces ignite with the flip of a switch, yesterday’s bells and whistles that are today’s standard features.

But what is too much of a good thing? If two cups of coffee in the morning are good, wouldn’t ten be better? That may not be perfectly analogous to the discussion at hand, but in any case there is a point at which enough is enough. Are we any more entertained with over two hundred channels on the TV? The auto industry long ago settled into the idea that four wheels and one motor were enough –as long as they come with a built-in clock.

If a “Standard of Practice” is a guarantee of a minimum degree of quality, then the logical assumption is that any “added value” product or service would further increase the degree of quality. However, given too much added value, it is easy to be distracted from, and even to forget, the original purpose. What is a smart phone if not a phone?

Home inspection seminars are largely sponsored by the purveyors of add-on services and equipment including, but not limited to, scopes, probes, petri dishes, infrared cameras, and added guarantee and warrantee services. Bells and whistles have been creeping their way into the home inspection industry from the beginning. One could argue that some of the added value services, the bells and whistles now being offered by some home inspectors, undermine the basic purpose of home inspection. I should explain… when I say, “basic purpose of a home inspection,” I define that purpose as “peace of mind” for our clients.

Current home inspection SOPs exclude things like measuring, testing, probing, sniffing and any means, real or imaginary, of x-ray vision. If the inspector can’t see it without moving furniture, without tearing down the house, or without the use of one or more specialized gadgets, especially gadgets that require training to operate properly, then it’s not part of a home inspection as defined by the various associations and state laws. A home inspection, by definition, is more analogous to a physical, a checkup. But what is being offered today by some home inspectors and home inspection companies is the equivalent of a full blood exam, an MRI and a marriage with a money back guarantee.

Some home inspector’s websites look like the websites of big box stores offering multiple services both individually and in a variety of upgrade “packages.” The uninformed homebuyer can end up believing that if the home inspection doesn’t at least come with a built-in clock, he’s not getting a real home inspection.

The point is bells and whistles cannot take a poor product or service and make it a good one. A built-in clock will not toast the bread any better, make the car any faster, or make the home inspector any more experienced. But on the contrary, bells and whistles can mask what is a poor product or service to begin with.


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