Jump to content

Oops, An Inspector's Prediction Might Cost Him


hausdok
 Share

Recommended Posts

The meaning of the age will vary. Around here 15 - 20 years is normal for a water heater, and 25 or more is not unheard of. I know it's far less in other places.

But the rusty bottom....he should have seen that. If the plumber could look at it and know it was shot, the inspector should have known it too.

Predictions aren't really what we do, outside of limited remaining life; we do "condition as it stands today". Still, it's virtually impossible to keep predictions totally out of it, whether implied or plainly stated. This seems almost as much about how badly worded and plainly stated the prediction was, as it is about how far off the prediction was.

Brian G.

If He's Smart, He'll Pay the Bill With a Smile and an Apology [:-wiltel][8]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lets say that the water heater was at the end of its life but still operational. Lets say the home inspector reported it. The water heater did not fail at time of inspection and unlikely the buyer was going to get the seller to replace it (since nobody knows when a water heater is actually going to fail). The water heater failed the day they moved in. The same result would have happened if the home inspector reported the water heater is near the end of its life. Saying that it will last a long time just means that they should not use him in the future.

In my contract (I think it’s in most contracts) it's written that we do not guarantee or provide a warranty on anything. Did he think it was going to last much longer, lets say he did. Did he provide a guarantee or a warranty, it doesn’t sound like it.

It would be interesting to hear how much the sellers paid to repair the items the home inspector discovered and the buyer requested to be fixed. In many cases, it's more then the home inspection price.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by qhinspect

Lets say that the water heater was at the end of its life but still operational. Lets say the home inspector reported it. The water heater did not fail at time of inspection and unlikely the buyer was going to get the seller to replace it (since nobody knows when a water heater is actually going to fail). The water heater failed the day they moved in. The same result would have happened if the home inspector reported the water heater is near the end of its life. Saying that it will last a long time just means that they should not use him in the future.

In my contract (I think it’s in most contracts) it's written that we do not guarantee or provide a warranty on anything. Did he think it was going to last much longer, lets say he did. Did he provide a guarantee or a warranty, it doesn’t sound like it.

It would be interesting to hear how much the sellers paid to repair the items the home inspector discovered and the buyer requested to be fixed. In many cases, it's more then the home inspection price.

I have to disagree. Telling his client that the WH would last many more years is pretty much an implied warranty. There is a standard of care involved. The HI is the expert; his client relied on his opinion.

You can disclaim anything you want; a judge could care less. A judge could also care less about a HI limiting his liability to the amount of the inspection fee, or how much the HI saved the buyer on other issues.

The issue is the WH and the damage caused by the WH. If the bottom of the tank was in fact rusty, and if the HI did in fact erroneously tell his client that the WH would last for 'many more years' (which would be black hole stupid), the HI is going to pay for the water heater, the installation, and the damages caused by the water. He should just pony up and save himself the legal fees and court costs. He blew it and should pay for his mistake(s).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd be willing to bet that the HI in this case relied on pre-written boilergook and/or hand-scribbled margin notes. He likely could've avoided the whole mess if he'd written something like, "I don't know how old the water heater is, and I don't know how long it'll last."

If the inspector actually said that the water heater would likely last many more years then he was blowing sunshine up the agent's ass. There's no other reason to do it.

I report on stuff that's bad. I comment on stuff that's OK. "the water is gas fired and according to the serial number it's 4 years old." That proves I looked at it. The house is supposed to have a water heater and it's supposed to work. A properly functioning water heater isn't noteworthy. The inspector shouldn't try to make it (or anything else) into a 'positive attribute' or selling point.

Crap like that is embarrassing to the profession.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by SonOfSwamp

Well, the ASHI SOP, which is the template for TN and other states' SOPs, says, in part, the following (red text is mine):

Report:

those systems and components inspected that, in the professional judgment of the inspector, are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives.

WJ

So it looks like ASHI should eliminate the words "professional judgment".

When do those words apply to our profession when it comes to what is written above. Do we get to use our "professional judgement" when the item we have inspected is not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives? Because a home inspector used their professional judgement and likely doesn't offer a warranty or guarantee, he has to pay because a water heater failed?

It would be interesting to see if the plumber actually said that and if he would put it in writing. I have found that in many causes what was told to me is not what that other person told my client. I have also found that in many cases what they did say, they will not put it in writing. That tells me a lot.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I once refunded a lady her fee because of a water heater.

It was the first or second year I was in business. The home was a 15-year old condominium and the water heater was one of those squat types that fits under a countertop. The cabinet has been literally built around it with no way to get to it to flush it, reset it, change the stat or even turn off the water to it; no removable panel, no screws - literally built in.

I told the lady that there was no way to get to it, that water heaters around here generally last about 10 to 15 years and, that one was obviously original to the house. I then recommended that she replace it as soon as possible. I also told her that when she did replace it she'd need to have that kitchen counter altered so that one could access the damned thing. That's exactly what was written in the report as well.

Weeks later she called me up and told me I owed her, if memory serves, $575. I asked why and she answered that the water heater had failed two weeks after she'd moved in. I pointed out that I had warned her that could happen and I even pulled the report and read it back to her over the phone. She acknowledged that but complained that I hadn't told her it was going to cost her nearly $600 to have her kitchen counter rebuilt.

At that point I asked her to look at the contract and see if there was anything in there that required me to give her cost quotes on anything. The phone got quiet for a minute or two and then she came back on the line and acknowledged that there wasn't. I then told her I'd be over in an hour with a check for $175, which was my cost for a small condo inspection at that time. I told her I was bringing a hold harmless agreement and that I was going to refund her fee, but only on the condition that she sign the hold harmless agreement.

She groused that I should pay for it all because I hadn't told her that the water heater would fail within two weeks of her moving in and wanted to know why she had to sign the hold harmless. I told her that it was clear to me that, despite a very careful explanation of the terms to her before the inspection, her having signed the contract agreeing to the terms, and then a careful explanation of the water heater issue to her, she'd still had unreasonable expectations of me and that I didn't intend to be her warranty provider and have to deal with her every time something wore out due to old age on her home.

She continued to argue that I should pay for the carpentry work but I told her to take it or leave it; I'd refund only her fee and I was only doing that because I felt bad that she was an unhappy customer. I told her that if she didn't want that deal I'd be happy to see her in small claims court and let a judge decide what was fair. An hour later, she got her refund and I got my signed hold harmless.

I'm not so convinced that the guy was a suckup artist; he might have simply been clueless. In my opinion, a properly trained and competent inspector would have been able to ascertain that the water heater was 10 years old and that's what should have been reported. If he were competent, and in that region they really do only last a maximum of about 10 years from installation, that's what he should have told the client and he should have recommended it be replaced as soon as possible and warned them the client that, if the client didn't replace it, the client might end up paying for all sorts of unexpected damages. If what's been said about the plumber's observations is true - the inspector was probably just speaking from inexperience and that's what will probably cost him.

Over the last 12 years I've seen a marked decrease in the abilities of newer inspectors. It seems like years ago, when one talked to other inspectors about what they'd done before they got into this gig, that most of them came from careers that dovetailed with this profession, and they had a general understanding of homes in general. That's not so anymore; today, I think the number of inspectors that don't come from related professions is far higher and I think that's what's getting inspectors in trouble. One simply can't learn this business in a classroom and then expect to go out there cold, hang out a shingle, and continue to learn the business without getting into trouble while experimenting on other peoples' homes. I think that's the hard lesson that this inspector has learned.

One more good reason for why this gig should be taught in a two year college curriculum with construction labs, work-study programs in the profession, and a 1-year internship upon completion of training before sitting down to a tough half day exam in order to earn a credential that certifies one as truly competent.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It sounded like she took advantage of you. She was clearly wrong from what you told us. It's also likely that she will not use you in the future and not recommend you to anyone.

My wife was in the legal field and I heard a lot of stories. More times that not there are people that want more then what is deserved. If a mistake was made or not.

Story:

Realtor was showing a empty house to her buyers when she slipped on the steps leading to the basement. She walked out of the house with the client. The same Realtor went back to that house hours later (without permission) to take pictures of the steps. She then went to her doctor and sued the owner of the house for getting hurt and things related. The Realtor didn't win the case and there was a chance that she was going to get in trouble for going into a house without permission.

I have a feeling that if she posted her version of what happened, she would write it so it sounded like she should have won the case.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi,

Sure, there's no question that she took advantage of me. Was she entitled to the refund because I failed to perform my job? No she wasn't. She got her fee back because she expessed dissatisfaction with the process based on an unrealistic expectation that I should have told her what it would cost to rebuild those counters, even though she'd never even asked me what it would cost. The second it became apparent to me that I was either dealing with a looney or a crook, I decided to cut my losses and told her that I'd refund her fee, based on my refund policy.

I made it absolutely clear to her that signing the hold harmless in order to get her refund was a take it or leave it proposition. She knew she wasn't going to win in small claims court so she took it and I avoided having to spend an afternoon wasting my time. So, yeah I lost the fee but I lived up to my pledge and I made darned sure that she couldn't attempt it in the future over something else. From my point of view, she really lost 'cuz after all of that she still ended up shelling out more than she'd gotten back from the refund. Me, I lost the few hours it took to do the inspection and report.

It comes with the territory. When you have your own business you need to expect that there's always going to be some people who're going to try and take advantage of you and to try and get something for nothing. She won't hire me again or refer me? Oh, well, thank goodness for small favors.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by hausdok

Me, I lost the few hours it took to do the inspection and report.

I would say you lost $175[;)].

This whole thing sounds a bit weird to me. I really don't see how Barry can make any judgment if he doesn't know any more than he presents in the column. Sometimes I think he makes up these questions.

First, I would assume it must be a gas water heater if the inspector "should have been able" to see the bottom of the tank. I don't know of any electric water heaters where you can see any part of the tank.

For what its worth, almost every gas water heater has rust on the bottom of the tank from condensation, seeing rust doesn't tell you a thing.

I don't know how it is in other parts of the country, but gas water heaters routinely last 20 years here, and the water is very hard.

I agree, it was stupid to give them any idea of expected life, but not negligent. Any thoughts that maybe the water heater was fine but leaking at a fitting and really didn't need to be replaced?

IMO, there is not enough info to make any call about liability.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by homnspector

Originally posted by hausdok

Me, I lost the few hours it took to do the inspection and report.

I would say you lost $175[;)].

This whole thing sounds a bit weird to me. I really don't see how Barry can make any judgment if he doesn't know any more than he presents in the column. Sometimes I think he makes up these questions.

First, I would assume it must be a gas water heater if the inspector "should have been able" to see the bottom of the tank. I don't know of any electric water heaters where you can see any part of the tank.

For what its worth, almost every gas water heater has rust on the bottom of the tank from condensation, seeing rust doesn't tell you a thing.

I don't know how it is in other parts of the country, but gas water heaters routinely last 20 years here, and the water is very hard.

I agree, it was stupid to give them any idea of expected life, but not negligent. Any thoughts that maybe the water heater was fine but leaking at a fitting and really didn't need to be replaced?

IMO, there is not enough info to make any call about liability.

From my point of view, when I refund a client's fee because they are unhappy, for whatever reason, I'm not losing anything except my time because it's only my fee when they are a a happy customer. If they are unhappy, I'm not entitled to it so I'm just giving them back their own money.

I could have takena more stubborn stance, told her that she wasn't entitled to a refund of her fee because I didn't do anything wrong, and that would have been the real truth. However, why go through that over a measly $175 dollars and end up wasting an afternoon in small claims court when I could nip it in the bud? This way, I was only out my time, she got her money back, and I got my hold harmless agreement and will never have to deal with that nutcase.

I don't know about you, but avoiding nutcases is priceless in my book.

I think Barry, and anyone else, can judge it any way they want to. In my opinion, the bottom line is that, if the person writing Barry is being entirely truthful, the inspector screwed up 'cuz he never should have made such a boneheaded statement. That's the sure sign of a rookie or a suckup artist.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by hausdok

I'm not so convinced that the guy was a suckup artist; he might have simply been clueless. In my opinion, a properly trained and competent inspector would have been able to ascertain that the water heater was 10 years old and that's what should have been reported. If what's been said about the plumber's observations is true - the inspector was probably just speaking from inexperience and that's what will probably cost him.

Over the last 12 years I've seen a marked decrease in the abilities of newer inspectors. It seems like years ago, when one talked to other inspectors about what they'd done before they got into this gig, that most of them came from careers that dovetailed with this profession, and they had a general understanding of homes in general. That's not so anymore; today, I think the number of inspectors that don't come from related professions is far higher and I think that's what's getting inspectors in trouble. One simply can't learn this business in a classroom and then expect to go out there cold, hang out a shingle, and continue to learn the business without getting into trouble while experimenting on other peoples' homes. I think that's the hard lesson that this inspector has learned.

One more good reason for why this gig should be taught in a two year college curriculum with construction labs, work-study programs in the profession, and a 1-year internship upon completion of training before sitting down to a tough half day exam in order to earn a credential that certifies one as truly competent.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Amen to that brother.

But every time I come down on a newbie with stupid remarks or simple questions that the inspector should know or get his own answer to, I get my ass kicked by others who tell me to give the kid a break. Right.

It is this type of incompetence that keeps notching our profession downward. No wonder that basic inspection fees are lower now than they were in the early 90's.

Remember, "Vote early, Vote often."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John,

You and I have seen lots of change in the home inspection profession. Most of the change I have seen is in the client's expectations. We have been pretty much stayed out of trouble because we spend a bit of time on management of expectations; "I don't care if you buy this house", "I ain't a fortune teller", "This defies common sense", etc.

Newer inspectors were schooled in the savior mode. They have limited knowledge of methods and materials, believe a poorly framed house will kill the kids, and must always cover their ass with boilerplate.

Back on topic. I do not hesitate to refund a fee if it avoids a lawsuit. I know I have made mistakes and am willing to pay for them. Very few complaints have ever resulted in anything other than a very happy client. 99.9% of complaints turn into a benefit for us. We immediately respond to 100% of any complaint - before another inspection is ever done. My clients like me and I make sure I like them, or I don't work for them. The inspector, noted above, was wrong. Pay and get on with it.

I have responded to dozens of inspectors that ask my opinion about their reports and all exhibit the same behavior - upset, angry, feelings hurt, then begin to understand "their" way usually is silly and dangerous. I never understood why a person thinks they can get laid off from Seven-Eleven, pay $2,000 and compete with a seasoned veteran.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I disagree with the two year course. This profession is different than many others because many of us were in the trades before becoming home inspectors. I personally think the requirement should be like getting your drivers license. Take a test and then prove yourself in the field. If the driving license test is satisfactory (especially when the results can lead to injury or death to oneself or others) then this test should be fine for somebody that is looking at becoming a home inspector.

This is for home inspectors in licensed states of course.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Woof......no, no, no........

This isn't the trades. I came out of the trades, and I lean on them heavily for educating my clients. But, inasmuch as I have a job because of the dearth of skills in the trades, counting the trades as a building block is pretty sketchy. Similarly, classwork only curriculums aren't going to provide much either. There has to be a balanced approach to training.

The idea that trade experience and a "drivers license" test provides proof of competency is a messed up idea.

Yep, a lot of us were able to grow as the profession grows, but now isn't then. At this point in my career, I can only dream that I might have been able to take a (minimum) 2 year course to do this thing that we do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Problem with a would-be HI relying on a trades background: Who's going to set the bar for what an HI needs to know? For instance, will a would-be HI straight from the trades be able to find and cite reputable sources to back up his opinions? Will he be able to write adequate reports? Just sayin'...

As fractious as the HI "profession" is, some HIs have learned to rely on building codes, manufacturer's specifications, etc. to back up their calls. Some have also learned how to do their own advertising, marketing and such. I don't see a whole lot of carryover from trades work to HI work.

Maybe it's just me, but I see a huge difference between working on houses, as opposed to assessing and describing house parts, then making useful, defensible recommendations regarding those house parts. The jobs require entirely different skillsets.

To break it down real simple: Tradesfolk work on things; they need a truckload of tools. HIs report on things; they need a flashlight, a screwdriver and something to write with.

WJ

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by SonOfSwamp

Maybe it's just me, but I used to tell customers that anything in or on the house could fail before I got out of the driveway. I buttressed this warning with a anecdote about poor old Jim Fixx.

WJ

Walter, I'm going to steal this from you.

You'll likely get no credit at all. (Insert applicable emoticon)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I actually read his book, way back when.

Fixx/heart attack seemed oxymoronic. I remember thinking, this guy assumes room temperature doing everything right, while I'm drinking beer, eating pizza, and smoking the occasional cigarette. I figured I had no shot to make it past 40.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by qhinspect

I disagree with the two year course. This profession is different than many others because many of us were in the trades before becoming home inspectors. I personally think the requirement should be like getting your drivers license. Take a test and then prove yourself in the field. If the driving license test is satisfactory (especially when the results can lead to injury or death to oneself or others) then this test should be fine for somebody that is looking at becoming a home inspector.

This is for home inspectors in licensed states of course.

Maybe I should have started a new paragraph since I didn't mean to combine the two thoughts.

I disagree with the two year course. This profession is different than many others because many of us were in the trades before becoming home inspectors.

I personally think the requirement should be like getting your drivers license. Take a test and then prove yourself in the field. If the driving license test is satisfactory (especially when the results can lead to injury or death to oneself or others) then this test should be fine for somebody that is looking at becoming a home inspector.

This is for home inspectors in licensed states of course.

I agree that being in the trades does not automatically qualify you to be a home inspector. I was taking heating and cooling classes at a local trade school when I started with a heating & cooling company. What I learned in class would not have made me qualified as a heating technician or installer. That's why I feel a two your course is not required and might even hurt this profession in the long run (It's hard to hire somebody now).

When it comes to the drivers license comment. I was trying to say that if somebody takes the test and can pass it plus go to a house designed for a home inspector to show his ability to discover problems; that should be sufficient to determine if that person has enough knowledge to do an acceptable inspection.

That or have them take a test so it shows they know the basics of home inspection than be an apprentice for 2 years then take a harder test to get your license. If I remember, something like that was already tried and there were problems with that.

Just my opinion.

By the way, when I was taking the HVAC class and out in the field working for a company, I learned a lot. I really enjoyed going to class and learning out in the field plus being able to ask a lot more questions than anyone else in that class.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by qhinspect

I disagree with the two year course. This profession is different than many others because many of us were in the trades before becoming home inspectors. I personally think the requirement should be like getting your drivers license. Take a test and then prove yourself in the field. If the driving license test is satisfactory (especially when the results can lead to injury or death to oneself or others) then this test should be fine for somebody that is looking at becoming a home inspector.

This is for home inspectors in licensed states of course.

Phew,

I couldn't disagree with you more. I actually think that being in "the trades" really doesn't prepare you for this gig at all. Hell, years after I started this gig my old man still didn't "get it."

If anyone should have been the perfect former trades guy to enter this profession effortlessly, I should have been. I grew up the son of a custom builder. I began working for my father at the age of 11 (not my choice) and spent every afternoon, weekend, holiday, and summer vacation working for him until I'd graduated high school. By the time I'd graduated high school I'd learned construction so well that I could do any job on a residential construction project as well as an adult.

On top of that, my last two years of high school, I attended a trade school course in auto mechanics. After I'd graduated high school and turned 18 I got my freedom back. After that, I bounced in and out of auto-mechanics and construction jobs until I was 24 when I went into the military. I joined the military to be a cop and eventually became an MPI investigator - a detective - and spent 10 years of the nearly 21 I spent in the military doing investigations - basically doing what we do, observing critically and then writing reports about what I'd observed.

Along with that, I attended schools that taught me how to train, lead, write and speak a foreign language. At one point I got a burr under my butt and wanted to be all that I could be so I attended the Special Forced Q course for 18C (Engineer/Demolition) Sergeants where I learned all over again how to build wood frame structures along with building bridges, roads and airfields, and learned masonry, electrical systems, heating systems, plumbing and sanitation systems. Then, on top of all of that, I learned how to blow all of that stuff up.

So you see, by the time I 'd retired from the military I'd had a long and solid background in construction, investigations, crime scene processing, crime scene photography, interpersonal communications and had been extensively trained in a lot of the stuff that we look at. Using your logic, I shouldn't have required any training and should have known how to do this job from day/minute/hour 1. Well, I didn't and neither did you.

I certainly thought that it would be an effortless transition but I soon learned differently. There's more to this than just looking at stuff and ticking off check boxes; one has to know a lot of building science to do this job right and then you've got to be able to look at just about any system anywhere and immediately understand it. After nearly 13 years in the gig I still don't know it all and I'm sure that I never will - so I simply don't understand, or agree, with anyone that thinks that this gig is just a minor transition from working in the construction trades.

Maybe that's what's been holding this gig back from becoming a true profession all these years; the idea in the minds of so many that it's a simple trade and doesn't require any more skill than knowing how to knock nails and saw wood.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Personally, I think an inspector who states that a system (with a generally short life span, like a water heater) will provide many more years of satisfactory service when its already 10 years old is just asking for trouble. I provide the approx. age of the system and what the typical life expectancy of that system is and whether it is functional at this time.

We are there to determine the approx. age of the water heater (normally printed right in the serial number), look for leaks, rust, presence of a T&P valve and appropriate overflow pipe, etc. and note that the general life expectancy of a water heater is normally 8~12 years (that is the range I use). We are doing the inspection on a specific date at a specific time. Our findings are based upon that time/date. We are not fortune tellers and should not tell people that most of these systems will last for years and years, without asking for it to come back and bite us.

Telling a client that a 5 year old roof (assuming no other issues) with 25 year shingles should last approx. 25 years assuming regular maintenance is one thing. Telling a client that a 10 year old water heater will last many more years is just plain careless.

The contract verbiage about 'not a warranty or guarantee' is wise and should be in every home inspector's inspection agreement to protect the inspector AND the client.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...