Some home inspection reports right themselves. Two-bedroom one-bath houses built in the 1940s could practically have a one-size-fits-all home inspection report.
I have inspected thousands of homes that fit this description and I have learned that there are rarely any surprises. It doesn’t matter if the home is completely original or if it has had a “down to the studs” renovation. The inspection of a 1940s home is simply a process of fine-tuning the details of what I already know.
It was at a 1940s two-bedroom one-bath home where I let my reputation get ahead of me; where I let the protection of my reputation, rather than wisdom and prudence, dictate my decisions.
This story actually begins at a previous inspection of a two-bedroom one-bath 1940s home mostly in its original form. I was just finishing my inspection when the pest inspector arrived to perform his inspection. I always like to confer with the pest inspector when I have the opportunity. Information sharing is good for our clients. Since I was leaving and he was just beginning I gave him a quick overview of the conditions that I had discovered and that he would be interested in, one of those conditions was that the subarea beneath the home was generally inaccessible due to its small spaces.
Since it was a typical 1940s home, I wasn’t terribly concerned about not being able to crawl every inch of the home’s underbelly. I was able to confirm what I already suspected, and I was able to fine-tune a few details, by observing the subarea through a few small openings at the exterior of the building.
A few days after emailing out the home inspection report the real estate agent called and informed me that our client, the buyer, had canceled escrow due to the condition of the property. But on the upside, the reason the agent had called was to schedule another inspection for the same client. It was a home in the same neighborhood as the previous but appeared to be in better condition. It was a two-bedroom one-bath home built in the 1940s that according to the sellers had been fully renovated.
After setting up the details for the inspection, and after a brief conversation about how everybody was hoping the second property would be in better condition than the first, the agent had a question about the previous home’s inspection report. She asked why I noted in my report that I was unable to get into the subarea, because the pest inspector was able to get into the subarea.
I had to turn my head to the side to get it to fit under the beam. One ear was rubbing on the beam while the other ear was in the dirt.
The agent didn’t seem to be concerned or dismayed that I wasn’t able to do what the pest inspector did, but she and the client were both understandably a little curious about why he could and I couldn’t.
It was a small hit to my pride; that the pest inspector did what I couldn’t, and the last thing I needed was for this to happen twice in a row with the same client and the same real estate agent.
This put me, and my reputation, in a possible precarious situation. I was going to inspect another two-bedroom one-bath 1940s home that had the potential to have the same small and inaccessible subarea as the previous inspection.
The second 1940s home was not revealing any surprises, good, bad or otherwise. When it came time to put on my coveralls and respirator, I didn’t even allow the question to enter my mind as to whether or not I could or couldn’t, whether I should or shouldn’t, as I began to twist my body in ways my chiropractor would later scold me for as I squeezed down the small access well and into the subarea.
I had made it in, headfirst all the way to my ankles when I encountered the first obstacle. It was a horizontal wood beam just inches above the soil. There was one spot where the soil was a little lower, a passage others had used in the past, and a place for me to squeeze through. I wiggled my way to it, still not allowing myself to think that I might not fit.
It should’ve been my first clue. I had to turn my head to the side to get it to fit under the beam. One ear was rubbing on the beam while the other ear was in the dirt. But I was still determined. I took a deep breath, exhaled and squeezed my shoulders forward. It didn’t work. I backed out and tried again. I couldn’t even get one shoulder past the beam. At the third attempt it occurred to me that even if I did make it to the other side, what were the chances I wouldn’t be able to get back out? What if I got stuck?
It finally occurred to me that being stuck underneath a two-bedroom one-bath 1940s home might be more embarrassing and a bigger hit to my reputation than simply stating that I wasn’t able to fit under it in the first place.
The facts and circumstances finally prevailed and my reputation would have to take the hit. I wasn’t getting any further under this house than I did the last.
I don’t know what conversations transpired between the real estate agent and the buyer. I was the guy who couldn’t get under two houses in a row. I still don’t know if the pest inspector was able to get in the subarea of the second home, and I don’t want to know.
By Chris Temple
Temple Building Inspection
San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara, CA