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Inspectors With Their Heads Up Their Butts


hausdok
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Hi all,

About 10 days ago I did a pre-offer inspection for a long-time customer - an environmental attorney, no less.

The house wasn't too bad. There were the typical things with a 70-year old house and there was a little bit of asbestos sealing tape in the heating registers, but, overall things looked pretty good. Pretty good, that is, until I got into the attic, where I discovered that beneath about 6 inches of blown-in fiberglass over about another 3 inches of Silva-Wool, the joist bays were full to the tops of the ceiling joists with vermiculite. There'd been absolutely nothing said in the disclosure statement about vermiculite.

I recommended that he take a sample and get it tested and then, if it turned out to contain asbestos, to really, really, really think very hard about it before he made up his mind about whether or not to profer an offer on the house.

Anyway, that's only part of the story; about 3 hours after I started, another inspector showed up and began inspecting. I stayed out of his way and he out of mine. When I came down out of the attic, I offered the use of my ladder so he could take a look. He passed. A little while later, when I crawled out of the crawlspace, I offered to leave it open for him. He walked over, squatted down in front of the opening, shone his light inside, and then said, "Ok, close it up," and walked away.

I just scratched my head, smiled at the client, and went about replacing the hatch, wondering how he was going to possibly know that the insulation at the other end of that crawlspace was all knocked down and destroyed by rodents and that I'd just had to crawl through a puddle of rat urine to get out of there. By the time I'd picked up my gear and had walked around to the front of the house, the other inspector was walking away with his check in hand and his clients were getting in their car with a checklist report in-hand.

My clients and I spent about 10 more minutes reviewing everything that they'd been shown, and then I collected my check, took my notes home and the following day sent them the full narrative report.

A few days later, I got an email from the client thanking me for the detailed inspection and report. He said that after long hard thought about it, he and his wife had decided to go ahead and make an offer on the house, despite the vermiculite, but that they'd been beaten out by the other couples offer, which was $150,000 more than their own!!!!!?????

I wrote him back: "Guess the joke is on the folks who won the bidding. Wonder what their reaction is going to be when they discover that there's enough vermiculite in the attic to fill the bed of a dump truck and that there are a bunch of rats using their crawlspace as winter headquarters, not to mention the other 57 items we found." (His report was 23 pages, 17 of which were actual single-spaced narrative.)

Part of me wants to go find that other inspector and slap him upside the head, the other part wants me to drive over to that house and warn the buyers about what's in that attic. I won't do either, of course, but it's hard some days.

What's ironic is that my client specializes in Zonolite-related lawsuits. It's ironic that he would have even considered buying a house with the stuff in it, and it's even more ironic that when/if the owner of this house discovers that their house is full of an allegedly dangerous substance that she'll probably end up hiring my client to go back after the listing agent, seller, and, of course, the inspector who couldn't be bothered to inspect an attic or crawlspace.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Mike--

Sometimes you get what you pay for, right?

Relatively early in my career, I went to a home about 45 minutes outside of town in a small community. Those of you who have done inspections outside of metropolitan areas know the kind of @#$% you often find in these homes. It's bad enough when there ARE city inspections being done during construction and remodeling, you can imagine how bad it is when the owner gives Bubba down the lane a six-pack to come over on Saturday and plumb and wire their new addition. The home was about 60 years old, and had been added on to twice, bringing it to about 1900 square feet...on a very short crawlspace, to make matters worse. The local agent let me in, and said she'd be back in 45 minutes to lock up! I let her know that I would be there about 3 hours but that I would be glad to lock up when I was through. I'll never forget the look on her face. You could see the color leave even through the makeup. It was impressive. I'd never had that power over a woman. Not that I'd tried...but I digress.

I completed the inspection, walked through with my clients, and delivered my report the next day. They decided to pass on the home.

Several months later, I got a call from an attorney representing the eventual purchasers asking if I would testify in a case against the sellers and the inspector who did the inspection for his clients. I declined. I suppose they could have subpoenaed me; I don't know.

I wanted so badly to ask the attorney if the inspection was a 45 minute one.

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Forgive me for revealing yet another layer of my ignorance. Mike, you spoke fairly dramatically about vermiculite. I can ID it. I can tell you what it might have in it, and why, and when, blah, blah, blah. I get the impression from you, though, that even undisturbed, it presents a higher risk to occupants than other asbestos-containing stuff.

Am I interpreting something wrong? Am I inferring too much from your story? EDUMACATE ME!

PS - Loved the story. Kinda how I feel when I tell some body I'm a home inspector, and he/she tells me what a great guy his/her home inspector was. The inspector was there for almost two hours, and found that the kitchen didn't have those outlets with the buttons. "So we got the seller to fix that!"

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No,

That's not what I'm saying at all. The attic is full of vermiculite. Then too, there's a possibility that the walls are too and I made him aware of that fact as well. Every time they go into the attic, replace a ceiling fixture, slam a door, fibers in the attic will end up in the air. I don't care what you do, there's virtually no way to fully encapsulate that stuff. Personally, it wouldn't bother me at all, because I think that the only people that get sick from the stuff are those that are already predisposed to getting sick from it, and I doubt that I am - hell, I haven't ever even had a cold. But that's not what this is about - it's about non-disclosure of known issues.

For the past 5-6 years the Seattle P.I. has been on a vendetta against W.R. Grace over Zonolite. The amount of media hype they've thrown at the whole asbestos thing has been huge. When they report about it they make is sound like everyone on Puget Sound is under a death sentence. But that's not the issue; as demonstrated, even an asbestos-smart guy might be willing to purchase a home that's got it, but nobody wants to purchase a home without first knowing it's there. Would you? It wasn't disclosed, remember? Yet, as you'll see below, there's no way they couldn't have known it was there.

Imagine, if he didn't know it was there, my client trying to sell that house years from now with an attic full of vermiculite when a conscientious inspector found it. Having a home with that much of a suspected carcinogen in it is like wearing an anchor around your neck.

My clients weren't smiling when we got done, but they weren't wigging out either. They knew what they had and they had to go home and think about it before deciding what to do. However, thanks to Mr. Lazy Inspector, his clients were all smiles as they walked away. you can bet that they have no idea what's in that attic and that's why their offer was so amazingly high. What do you suppose they're going to feel like when they realize what they've bought.

By the way, this stuff was disturbed. I forgot to mention that some genius had decided that it would be nice to add a skylight. In the process of doing so, they'd shoveled all that insulation out of the way, installed the skylight, built a chase, and then raked all of the insulation back around the chase, stirring up about 20% of what was there in the process. So, that the vermiculite was all interspersed within the insulation from the top two layers.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by hausdok

I recommended that he take a sample and get it tested and then, if it turned out to contain asbestos, to really, really, really think very hard about it before he made up his mind about whether or not to profer an offer on the house.

Mike,

Obviously, the presence of vermiculite needs to be reported but I was under the impression that current testing is unreliable. I try to give my clients the best link I can find. It used to be Puget Sound Clean Air agency but they seem to have removed a bunch of asbestos info from their site. The link I use now is http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/insula ... WhatShould .

It's an EPA page labeled "Current Best Practices for Vermiculite Attic Insulation - May 2003".

This extract talks about testing (or rather not testing).

"Currently, there are specific technical issues involving vermiculite sampling that can complicate testing for the presence of asbestos fibers and interpreting the risk from exposure. EPA and ATSDR are not recommending at this time that homeowners have vermiculite attic insulation tested for asbestos. As testing techniques are refined, EPA and ATSDR will provide information to the public on the benefits of testing that produce more definitive and accurate test results."

I can't find anything on the EPA site newer than that. For my education (and my clients) has something changed since then?

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No Richard,

Nothings changed, but why would that make any difference as regards disclosure and Mr. Lazy Inspector's conduct. If folks know about that stuff you can bet your bippy they won't offer $150K more for a home than the asking price. Owners are lucky when they can get just the asking price.

OT - OF!!!

M.

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Mike...

I'm not trying to minimize the possible dangers or precautions. In fact, when I talk to my clients about it I use a line from the EPA that they should assume it does contain asbestos. I was just wondering about testing.

BTW, I did find vermiculite about 12 days ago.

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But...it was a real POS fixer in Burien. I wouldn't have paid $150,000 total for the place, never mind an additional $150,000. So...I'm guessing I'm not that other guy! [:-paperba

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Many years ago I inspected a large old home for an attorney that's a partner for a well known NYC firm. The hydronic heat pipes had more asbestos hangin' off than on. The radiators were recessed into the walls and the enclosures were lined with asbestos. She wasn't concerned.

She's been the plaintiffs attorney on several asbestos injury cases against big name corporations. She's not at all concerned about asbestos in her home. She would only be concerned if she worked in a factory that manufactured ACMs.

PLEASE EXCUSE THE RANT DRIFT, but Richard brought it up.

I ranted about testing vermiculite in another recent topic: www.inspectorsjournal.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=5379

"I'm rather surprised to find out that inspectors (that I respect) are actually taking samples of vermiculite to be tested for asbestos fibers. I don't recommend anyone even consider having it tested. Read the public info brochures on this topic and you'll find that analyzing vermiculite for asbestos is inaccurate and negative lab results should be interpreted as inconclusive.

Are those that grab a sample and send it to lab:

-employed or subcontracted by the lab and covered by their insurance?

(I don't know of a reputable lab that would even accept unqualified samples)

-taking samples from 3 different locations and keeping the samples separate?

-taking samples from the bottom, not the top of the filled cavity?

-informing their clients that a negative lab result does not mean the samples sent do not contain asbestos fibers?

-informing their clients that a negative result certainly doesn't mean that the vermiculite in their attic does not contain asbestos fibers?

In my opinion, testing vermiculite for asbestos has the same value as mold tests from home inspectors".

As far as vermiculite, what should one do? If the test is so inconclusive, what's the best recommendation?

"Since 80% of all vermiculite (before 1990) came from the contaminated Montana mines , It's best to treat it the same as known asbestos containing materials".

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Hi,

Well, I suppose I should have titled this thread "Rat Crap" or "Lazy Inspectors" because whereas I'm trying to make a point about inspectors who're screwing their clients by being lazy asses, you guys insist on getting wrapped around the axle about the vermiculite, which is important, but was not the point of the post.

For the record, I always assume that this stuff, and all of the other stuff besides vermiculite that's supposed to have asbestos that I see and make clients aware, has asbestos and I tell them to assume the same. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop recommending that folks rely on a reputable IAQ lab to do they best they can to verify what the stuff is and help folks deal with it. I'd rather do that than leave them twisting in the wind trying to interpret a whole lot of crap on the internet or the sensationalized stuff that they're reading in the P.I.

I don't recommend folks to anyone who solicites my business through emails and who's allied with questionable public relations firms trying to pass themselves off as reputable organizations - I refer them to a pretty reputable lab that's been around about 20 years. Those people working in that lab are a whole lot more familiar than I am with asbestos, lead, and any other environmental mess. I know that they'll take care of them, including advising them that testing is or is not reliable - that's why I send my clients to them.

Think I'll change the title of the rant now. How's "Inspectors With Their Heads Up Their Butts" sound?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by hausdok

Hi,

Well, I suppose I should have titled this thread "Rat Crap" or "Lazy Inspectors" because whereas I'm trying to make a point about inspectors who're screwing their clients by being lazy asses, you guys insist on getting wrapped around the axle about the vermiculite, which is important, but was not the point of the post.

Mike

I got the point the first time Mike. He sounded like an inspector who had another two or three inspections that day and did not want to get dirty. Never could understand an inspector not going into a crawl space.

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Well, there is a point of view that goes like this: It's not what I'll miss that could get me in trouble; it's the stuff that somebody else can prove I missed.

In a profession that requires actions akin to dumpster diving, several Marine boot camp skills, the ability to withstand being henpecked by reeltors, customers who bring a carload of brats to the house on inspection day, etc., there will be many days in an HI's life when he'll just say to himself, "I'll risk the repercussions of not crawling through a quarter-acre of rat crap today."

Long story short: Only the best HIs catch other HIs being lazy. So, there's almost no risk -- but quite a lot of reward -- in taking shortcuts. All one has to do is be one click more conscientious than the bucketheads that the reeltors refer.

Ironic, ain't it? Bucketheads are free insurance.

WJ

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What a bonehead, what a missed opportunity for that guy. I am sure his report said that the attic and crawlspace were not readily accessible and included some verbiage like if the insulation is covering the ceiling joists or the access is less than 18"x24" blah blah blah.

Just like there will never be too many good people, there will never be too many good inspectors. Guys should take an opportunity to learn and better themselves. I always try and ask clients what they do. You run into some amazing people and I have learned alot about things that I would have otherwise never been able to learn.

Chris, Oregon

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

What a bonehead, what a missed opportunity for that guy. I am sure his report said that the attic and crawlspace were not readily accessible and included some verbiage like if the insulation is covering the ceiling joists or the access is less than 18"x24" blah blah blah.

I do feel bad about those folks spending that extra $150,000. The house was listed at $1.2M, so they obviously can probably afford the $150K, but it's only going to be one more blot on our profession when the cat gets out of the bag.
I always try and ask clients what they do. You run into some amazing people and I have learned alot about things that I would have otherwise never been able to learn.

Chris, Oregon

Yeah, I do that too and you can learn a lot. One client who is a patent/trademark attorney has clarified a lot of things for me where trademarks are concerned. Plus, it's a wonderful marketing opportunity. I ask virtually every client what they do; plus I also ask the spouse or partner if they're present. When they turn out to be employees of big companies like Microsoft, H-P, Safeco, Boeing, Paccar, etc., at the end of the inspection, I ask them, "Say, If you were happy with the inspection today; and tomorrow you find that you're just as happy with the report, could you do me a favor and post something about your experience on your company's intranet message board? I garner all of my business through word-of-mouth from satisfied past customers. It would sure help me out if you could tell your co-workers about me." Most are happy to do so.

Last month I tallied up all of the families with just Chinese surnames, where the work had come off of just one large company's Chinese language message board. Those jobs totaled 23% of the work year-to-date. Not bad for $0 spent on marketing.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Just ran into one of these situation last week. Mine was dealing with a furnace in a garage. The house was pre-inspected. I found a auxilary heat source in the detached garage. It was an old home furnace that had been stuffed in a closet with no ventilation. On top of that the cold air duct was cut into the cieling of this closet. My client gave me the pre-inspection report to read at the end of the walk through. It was a check list inspection report. The previous inspector had marked this item not inspected because the gas was turned off and made no mention of the visible defects that had nothing to do with the gas being on or off. I suppose disclosing that it was not inspected covers him but I think this is the same mentality as Mike ran into.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Although many of the better inspectors represent the interests of our clients correctly, we CAN NOT do not make up their minds for them, nor should we. All we can do is to represent the property in a perspective that is non-emotional, factual, and as comprehensive as time, education, and circumstances will allow. At some risky times, we probably might like to make those decisions for some buyers but in the end, it is the responsibility of the potential purchaser to make the final determinations.

In representing a problematic property and its troubled areas, the buyer might think that it is being represented as a money pit or disaster zone. The facts just represent themselves but people can react emotionally and without adequate regard to the truthfulness of factual representation. In building a working level of trust, it is important to be friendly yet stoic, pragmatic, and descriptive without adding to the emotional turmoil that some buyer’s fall prey. The wording of any item should be direct enough to make sure that the client knows the significance of any problem without trying to lead them to a position where critical decisions are made FOR them instead of BY them.

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I just finished up an inspection with a Realtor I have worked with for years. I have never received a complaint from him even when working on his listings that have sale failed. He even backed me up on one of his 1.5 million dollar new construction listings when a heated debate developed between the Realtors from both sides, the developer, sub contractors etc. during a meeting at the site.

Anyways, he just told me that on an inspection I performed this summer, the listing agent called him up and told him that Realtors should stick together to sell houses, and that he should quit using me. The reason.... I found too many issues with the home which caused problems. (I won't even go into the conversation I had with this listing agent right after that inspection).

My Realtor also told me that real estate offices have black lists for home inspectors. (I am guessing the other inspector at Mike's inspection was one of the preferred ones) What I was told was very interesting. He said he would start paying attention to find out how well I list on some of those lists.

They need to make a law preventing Realtors from recommending home inspectors. There are many good Realtors out there, and I work for them quite often. It is too bad there are so many bad apples out there. Oh well, I guess that goes for every profession.

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Some of our posters have met me. Some have not met me, and they still don't like me. I would like to remain friends with those few.

This is my opinion: There are more bad inspectors than real estate agents when expressed as a percentage. Real estate agents know what their task is and if they do not accomplish that task they leave the business. Inspectors do not even have to have a defined task. Inspectors can just make up the task they will accomplish. I guess they can say their task is to objectively observe the house and the conditions and report to their client. No party seems to care what the qualifications of the inspector are.

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Originally posted by Les

Some of our posters have met me. Some have not met me, and they still don't like me. I would like to remain friends with those few.

This is my opinion: There are more bad inspectors than real estate agents when expressed as a percentage. Real estate agents know what their task is and if they do not accomplish that task they leave the business. Inspectors do not even have to have a defined task. Inspectors can just make up the task they will accomplish. I guess they can say their task is to objectively observe the house and the conditions and report to their client. No party seems to care what the qualifications of the inspector are.

I concur. In the 20+ years I did HI work, I ran into a few asspain reeltors, but for the most part, the reeltors were polite, helpful and stayed out of my way.

I did have a mental profile of an asspain reeltor: They were, with few exceptions, older men who had "grandfathered" RE licenses. They tried to follow me around (I ditched 'em); they offered technical opinions to clients; and, they openly tried to convince clients that I was wrong.

There was another profile: The hillbilly RE guy who thought that all of us guys should stick together and get the deal done, even if the buyer was a struggling single mom with an armload of babies.

The real estate ladies were usually a dream to work with. They opened the house, went to get Starbucks for everybody, kept the customers entertained until I was done, and generally behaved themselves. Of course, there were a few trashy RE ladies who'd already spent their commission money on long red fingernails, Cadillacs and bad makeup, and who'd sell out any and all clients to get them to the closing table.

When I bitch about RE agents, I'm bitching about the crooked and insufferable ones, who, for me, were a small part of the reeltor population.

Now the HIs, that's a different story: No offense to anybody in particular, but with very few exceptions I found the local HIs to be hidebound, muleheaded, undereducated, misinformed, argumentative, and generally lacking in intelligence, candor and character. Many, if not most, are illiterate or borderline illiterate, and not even smart enough to know it. Everything they know, they learned from other undereducated HIs or hillbilly RE agents.

A few months ago, I testified against a local HI who was literally hauled into the courtroom in chains, straight from the drunk tank, where he'd been put the night before for a DUI offense. Further back in time, I testified against an HI who modified an old HI report to make the house look better than he said it was the first time.

Often, when lawyers send me HI reports to read, I can call them back in an hour and say something like, "Better settle. The guy's working for the RE agent. Just about everything he wrote is either just plain wrong or is designed to close the deal. Every sentence is written below 6th-grade level. The other side's lawyer will destroy him."

Of course, these and all other errant HIs I ran up against swore that they'd followed all SOPs, and they hadn't done anything wrong.

Having pretty much ranted out, I offer this in closing, from the old comic strip, Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

WJid="blue">

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Hi Brandon,

Agents can have all the blacklists they want, but if a buyer gets your name from a trusted friend or relative the buyer is probably going to call you first. You might not be able to do anything about a blacklist, but you can do something about agents who wrongfully defame you. If an agent is successful in steering away a potential client that's been referred to you by the potential client's friends or relatives, word is liable to get back to you, because the potential client is bound to pass the badmouthing back to those who referred you. If they believe in you, they'll probably call you and tell you about it.

What agents say about you or your business to steer buyers away from you may or may not be actionable. I've found that a very in-your-face phone call to agents who've badmouthed me can unnerve them pretty well. They might never refer you, but they're less likely to badmouth you if they think you're liable to try and haul them into court. There are a few agents here who just go sit in a corner and glower when I arrive, because they've had that conversation with me.

If you allow yourself to become dependent on the good will of real estate folks, a blacklist probably can hurt your business. Since I can't do anything about blacklists, I focus my "marketing" (if you can call it that) on the clients. Rather than try and impress the agents with how I can "help" them, I focus my efforts on doing every inspection the way I'd want an inspection done for me and I work hard at establishing rapport and trust with my clients. I think that they're less liable to be influenced by the agent, if they believe in their hearts, despite whatever the agent says or does in the way of damage control, that they should listen to me when it comes to understanding the condition of the house. If they believe in me, they'll refer me to co-workers, friends, and relatives and the cycle continues unaffected by zoidism.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by Les

Some of our posters have met me. Some have not met me, and they still don't like me. I would like to remain friends with those few.

This is my opinion: There are more bad inspectors than real estate agents when expressed as a percentage. Real estate agents know what their task is and if they do not accomplish that task they leave the business. Inspectors do not even have to have a defined task. Inspectors can just make up the task they will accomplish. I guess they can say their task is to objectively observe the house and the conditions and report to their client. No party seems to care what the qualifications of the inspector are.

Yep, I have known and worked with Les for several years. I concur with his analysis of the profession and of himself! And I still like the little guy! [^]

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Mike,

I agree with all comments listed up to now, but Realtors do seem to have a heavy influence on the home inspector used. I have heard of many instances where buyers were swayed into using a specific inspector.

For example: I inspected a house that a seller had purchased 2 years prior. I found appx. 20- 30k worth of damage not called out during the sellers purchase (previous inspection). The seller was none too happy of course and swore he would use me in the future.

A month later the seller, who had a different Realtor than the last time made an offer on a home. The seller said he already had a good inspector to use, but the Realtor insisted that he should use this other inspector who was "really good". Seller purchases and moves into the home to discover many issues that had not been found during the inspection. Seller ends up being ticked off that he did not use me.

No need to go into detail on how I found out about this. Let's just say it ends up being a very small world.

Question for you all who have had your own business for over 5 years: What percentage of your home inspections are from Realtor referrals vs. other means?

I have only had my own business for 1.5 years, and I would say I get 90 percent of my inspections from Realtors.

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Brandon,

That is not even a good question. Here is why. What is it going to tell you? My company likely did 15 inspections during the last week that were directly from real estate salespeople. I actually told one of those real estate sales people to go sit in the car. Never met my client before that day. Will she refer me again? Sure - we had a meeting of the minds! By the way, it was a real estate salesperson, not a reeeeeltor.

You don't hear me bitch about real estate salespeople, because I don't have many problems with them. Are some of them #^@#heads? Sure. I ain't no prize myself. I learned abt twenty years ago to get along with them and not let them affect my business and the way I do it.

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Originally posted by Les

Some of our posters have met me. Some have not met me, and they still don't like me. I would like to remain friends with those few.

[snip] No party seems to care what the qualifications of the inspector are.

Les,

I like you even though you are a better flirt with the ladies than I am.

Seriously though, there are a lot of folks who care about establishing true qualifications and consistent standards for this thing we do. Heck, lately I've even had some real estate folks express concern to me that they're seeing inspectors who are, more and more, slavishly pandering to them but can't seem to find their way around a home's systems. Can there be any doubt that 'qualifications' are not the priority when even a few of the real estate folks are complaining?

Sadly, the number of folks in this profession, and in the real estate profession, who want to keep things the way they are - with most inspectors dependent on real estate folks for referrals, and many being reel-tours' little helpers - greatly outnumbers inspectors and real estate folks who care.

Heck, only a small percentage of the total number of real estate folks in this country easily outnumbers the combined total of all home inspectors. We've got no clout at all, and I don't think we're every liable to have any clout, until/unless consumers ever figure out the present paradigm, and begin to aggressively resist doing business with inspector/reel-tour trysts, demand real verification of qualifications (training and experience), and insist that all inspectors prove that they can do what it is they claim to be able to do.

I don't think we're going to get that until the number of inspectors in this business who really care greatly outnumbers those who don't want to rock the boat and prefer to see things remain the same. Given the current growth spurt and the number of new folks that seem to be leaning toward the get it done fast, write as little as possible, and keep the reel-tours happy way of doing things, I don't see see reinforcements on the horizon anytime soon.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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