“I Don’t Know”

“I don’t know”: A test of the home inspector’s maturity.

I can explain, because this I do know.

So, let’s start with the home inspector who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know, and in his not knowing comes face to face with a query that he does not have the answer that he fears should be easy for a home inspector to have.

The immediate lack of response from the home inspector to the question he believes he should have the answer to but doesn’t, could be interpreted as a thoughtful pause, if it weren’t for his sudden deer-in-the-headlights stare. The inspector who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know has, by his own fear of not knowing, just indicated to his audience that though it might be perfectly reasonable for him not to know what he doesn’t know, he should know. Now everybody knows he doesn’t know.

Should he know? He doesn’t know. This is a condition that only time and experience can cure.

Now let’s take the inspector who thinks he knows what he doesn’t know.

“I don’t know” means he doesn’t know, but because he thinks he does know, or should know, the inspector who thinks he knows what he doesn’t know can’t bring himself to admit that he doesn’t know. It is a form of narcissism.

The response of the inspector, who thinks he knows what he doesn’t know, to a question he doesn’t have the answer to, is a bluff. This is a craft in and of itself and can be found in many walks of life, not just home inspection. Real estate agents politely refer to it as “pontification,” though there is a more common and less dignified reference.

The responses given by the home inspector who thinks he knows, but doesn’t, to questions he doesn’t have real answers to, can have an almost standardized form and pattern, as if it were part of his training. The answer begins with reformation of the question, then a recitation of part or all of the inspector’s resume, and how exactly he came into knowing such an unknowable thing, that thing that he doesn’t know, and how it might not be even possible for anybody to know. Then he begins the unexplainable by first reciting everything that everybody already knows: Yes, this is a house, which was likely built by licensed contractors who are subject to authorities, standards and codes, with electrical, plumbing, etc. His audience will be able to nod in agreement. Then, he will unleash a seemingly infinite array of possibilities. “If this was the case, and it still may be, then it could be that, but only if, and in that specific instance . . .” Finally, he will begin to speak in foreign tongues; this is the disclaimer and closing phase of the answer.

The home inspector who thinks he knows what he doesn’t know believes he can compensate for his lack of professional quality with excessive verbal quantity.

The mature home inspector, the inspector who knows what he doesn’t know, has the courage to go where many inspectors fear to tread: into that great void, the divide between the knowledgeable and the unaware, into the great “unknown.” And when he gets there, he has a simple response, “I don’t know.”

His self-confidence is unshaken. He is familiar with this realm. Experience has taught him that there is no knowing of everything, and that he knows more than enough. When he says, “I don’t know,” it’s almost impressive. It’s as if, if he doesn’t know, then who could?

For the home inspector, “I don’t know” is the purest form of honesty, and honesty engenders trust. Trust is what gives home buyers and sellers the peace of mind that they pay home inspectors for.


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