Paint and Sell

The Paint and Sell

It was a recent home inspection on a nondescript Monday. I had never worked with this Real Estate agent before, but I was aware of her. Her name and color portrait on Home for Sale signs had adorned the front landscape of many a property. Even though this was our first meeting, it was safe to say that she was aware of me, because my home inspection reports had punctuated many a transaction on properties that she had adorned with her name and portrait.

I don’t know what prompted her to call me to inspect for her buyers this time around. I knew who her regular guy was, an established and respected home inspector who I expected would have been her first choice. But in this business, even for the most prestigious among us, it doesn’t take much of a slip of the tongue for a home inspector to fall out of favor. I wonder what he did.

Anyway, this real estate agent was an experienced and well-known professional, which should have meant that, at this particular home inspection, she was one less thing for me to be concerned about: sorting out the underlying motivations of an unknown used-car-salesman come REALTOR.

It was a nice upscale property, not a mansion, but certainly not small. The home was perched on a million-dollar vista with no visual obstructions. Not too old, I could expect to see upgraded flooring, newer kitchen appliances, and a replaced water heater; whereas the roof, heating system, and windows would all still be original.

So why was she so twitchy?

She met me in the street in front of the property with an apparent nervous condition. This wasn’t the seasoned and calm real estate professional whom I had expected to greet. She was clearly anxious about something. I could have suspected that it was her clients or, maybe, the sellers who had her on edge. There are those home buyers and home sellers whose presence can rattle the nerves of even the most stable of real estate agents. Some people just naturally have retentive and litigious personalities. But that couldn’t have been the case at this home inspection. The only people at the inspection were the agent and me.

Immediately after unlocking the front door, the agent began an intense querying about the inspection of the roof. “Are you going to inspect the roof? Are you going to do it today? Will it cost any extra?” This line of questioning took me a bit by surprise. This agent had attended dozens, if not hundreds, of home inspections. Why would she even suspect that I wouldn’t inspect the roof, I wouldn’t be doing it that day, or it wouldn’t be included in the home inspection fee?

As bizarre as the query was, it provided insight into the nervous condition: something was up with the roof.

Spanish Tile RoofThe roof: Its terracotta textures and deep patina looked almost organic with tiles flowing in deliberate, irregular lines. It was definitely a key architectural feature of the building. More importantly, it was expensive, which made it a key focal point of my inspection even before I got out of my truck.

As I began my home inspection, the agent nervously scurried into the kitchen and dove into her laptop computer on what appeared to be a barrage of important online communiqués. That or she was playing an intense game of solitaire.

Almost immediately, I was discovering more “concerns” than I had expected at a property of this caliber and this age. When I got to the roof, things really went south. How could a roof this ornate and this expensive have been installed this wrong? It was so bad that it prompted me to interrupt the normal order of my inspection process (which is to continue through the building area by area, room by room) and take a deliberate preemptive walk through the upstairs to look for more clues about the roof. That proved to be a good move. JACKPOT.

Fresh paint can be a clue to a variety of conditions that a home inspector would want to be keen to because, obviously, paint covers things up. It covers, well, old paint. It covers cracks and patches. It covers mold, and it covers moisture stains. Fresh paint can be the first clue to anything from an unpermitted addition to a bad foundation.Fresh PaintFresh paint wasn’t exactly what I had hoped to find, but it was a good enough clue because it led me directly to what I had hoped to find. Fresh paint, when applied in haste for the purpose of covering moisture stains, for the purpose of selling a home, is often omitted in closets. The ceilings in the upstairs closets were mixed bouquets of water stains from winters past—the smoking gun of a bad roof.

Now that I had diagnosed the cause of the nervous condition, I needed to prepare myself for the reaction of the patient, I mean real estate agent, to the news.

It is always better for me, in the long run, if my first personal encounter with a real estate agent is at a home inspection where there are minimal deficiencies. I like to show the agent that I can say things like, “the roof looks great,” and that I can write a “clean” inspection report. But, if the first inspection turns out to be a “fixer” or a bad “flip,” then sometimes the first home inspection I perform for that agent is the last home inspection I perform for that agent.

No bedside manner or optimistic remedies were going to temper the dissemination of this bit of information. The roof was terminal. On my short walk to the kitchen to inform the agent of the situation, I resigned myself to the idea that this bad news about the roof, and my being the messenger of said bad news, were going to give her the opportunity to reconsider if whatever it was her regular home inspector did to cause her to call me this time instead of him wasn’t that bad after all. In my mind, two things would need to be replaced: the roof and me as her potential, new, regular home inspector.

When she thanked me for informing her about the roof, it struck me as a little weird, but not that weird. Evidently I confirmed her suspicions. The really weird part was that the news about the roof seemed to cure the nervous disorder. I had just thrown a five-digit wrench into this real estate deal, and she acted like the sedative just kicked in. Maybe it did.

With the then perfectly-relaxed real estate agent, I ended my work and finished a verbal overview of my findings. After a rehashing of the ominous details about the roof, she pulled from a folder a several-page document and handed it to me. It was a roof inspection report by a local roofing contractor.

After a quick skim of a few paragraphs and pictures detailing everything that I had just explained, I jumped to the end of the roofing contractor’s report to see his estimated cost to repair or replace the roof.

There was only one recommendation:

“It is our recommendation the property owners repaint the interior walls and ceilings that have been stained by roof leaks and sell the home.”

“Now I understand the nervous condition,” I thought. “Now I am nervous.”

These days, nondisclosure about a material defect in a real estate transaction is about as smart as peeing on an electric fence to see if it really works. This roofing contractor’s recommendation and apparent subsequent following of his recommendation by the property owners could have put everybody within a five-mile radius of this transaction in a legal and financial nuclear disaster.

Thankfully, a competent and fearless home inspector, dare I say a “deal killer,” saved the day.


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