Homeowner, Fix It Thyself

When I started in the home-inspection business back in 1985, I just showed up at the job, introduced myself, did the inspection, and gave the customers their report. I was happy and the customers were happy. But sometime around 1990, after encountering my first psychotic customer, I started bringing along a one-page contract which explained that I couldn't see through solid objects or predict the future.

Since then, the whole world has gone wacky. Perfectly healthy people have started jumping into wrecked buses, hoping to win a personal injury settlement. Ordinary balls of string come with warning labels, disclaimers, and disclosures. These days, as much as it pains me to say it, our contract is three pages long. Co-inspector Rick and I host a home inspectors' Internet list server. Lately, some of our online brethren have started exchanging horror stories. Some of 'em are worth sharing. Here goes:

From Rick, in New Jersey

My customer, a corporate transferee, bought a house without consulting his wife. Some time later, the wife called to say there was a "major problem" with the house, and I hadn't mentioned it in the report. It seems she had figured out (as, admittedly, I had not) that the family room was "on the wrong side of the house"-had her poor husband been informed, he "never would have bought the house." This one is part of a pattern: When one spouse likes the house and the other doesn't, the likee tends to tell the not-likee things like, "The inspector said everything was terrific."

From Pete, another Jerseyite

The customer said that within days of moving in, she had a flood from the master shower which ran down through the kitchen ceiling, destroying the ceiling and the turkey she was cooking for company that night. Of course, the tile guy she called said the tile was all bad and needed replacing. When I started interviewing the customer about the event, she said the "defect" in the tile was actually outside the shower, at the base of the wall, under the vanity. I asked how the water got there. Was anyone showering at the time, or was the door maybe open a little bit? She allowed that her 3- and 5-year-old sons might have been showering together (alone?) and just might have clogged the drain with a washcloth.

From John, way up in Northern Ontario, Canada

My craziest complaint was from a guy who called me up and complained that his basement was leaking. After I reread his report, I called back and said, "I identified the areas where the basement leaked before. Is it leaking there again?"

He said, "Yes," so I then asked if he had completed the corrective actions that I had included in his report. "No," he said. "I hired you so I wouldn't have any basement leaks or any other problems."

When I informed him that he really should have fixed the problems, he told me that I really didn't understand. He hired me so that he wouldn't have any problems! He didn't need any suggestions as to how to solve problems, that's what my inspection was for-to solve those problems before they happened. I guess I just didn't get it. I still don't understand how my report was going to stop that water from flowing into his basement.

From Bill, a real-enough rocket scientist in Huntsville, Ala.

A customer called a couple of months after the inspection and told me the cable man had been in the crawl space and told her that some of the ducts were loose from the registers and were blowing warm air into the crawl space. I pulled the report file and, sure enough, I had noted these problems and called for immediate repairs. When I pointed out that I had noted the loose ducts and air leaks in the report and recommended repairs, the customer asked when I would be there. I told her I didn't do the repairs and even told her what section of the Yellow Pages she should check to find a contractor. I suspect she is still waiting on me to show up.

And from right here in town, my own favorite customer complaint

This customer was a particularly intrepid guy who actually borrowed our special-guest coveralls and extra flashlight and followed co-inspector Rick into a crawl space. While they were down there, the customer saw that there were hundreds of humpback crickets living in the crawl space. He asked Rick what he could do about them.

"Well," Rick said, "You can either leave them alone, or you can call an exterminator. You can't really eliminate their food source. They'll eat anything, including each other."

So the customer called an exterminator, and a bug man came and gassed all the humpback crickets. A few days later, I got a call: "There's a horrible stench coming from the crawl space!"

"That's the smell of dead crickets," I said. "You kill enough of 'em, and they'll stink pretty good."

"Well, you guys didn't tell me they'd stink. What are you going to do about it?"

My first thought was to tell him to go into the crawl space with a teaspoon, dig hundreds of little graves, and give each cricket a proper burial. But instead I told him he'd just have to wait it out.

I guess he did.