Everyone makes mistakes, including home inspectors. In this episode, we share some of our worst home inspection mistakes. We’re also joined by Structure Tech home inspector Jim Tobias. Reuben has already blogged about several of these mistakes recently, which you can find here: Wrong house, Bathtub flood, Trampled insulation, ruined ceiling.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
This is Structure Talk, a podcast from Minnesota’s most highly rated home inspection company, Structure Tech. We’re the people who do home forensics and deliver the unbiased truth about your property. Structure Talk is hosted by our home inspection specialists Reuben Saltzman, Tessa Murry, and Bill Oelrich.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everybody. Bill Oelrich here, as always, with my co-hosts Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, and today we have another guest in the studio with us, Jim Tobias. He’s one of the team over here at Structure Tech, and thank you for tuning in to Structure Talk. Today we’re gonna be talking about some home inspection horrors. We do make mistakes, it’s hard to admit that. But occasionally, we run into problems. So today we’re gonna dive into some of the horror stories, some of those calls we never wanna make, but actually do. So I’m gonna throw it out. Let’s start with you, Reuben. Tell me your best story, your best inspection story, mistake.
Reuben Saltzman: Oh man, I have got so many. And I’ll tell you, I’m one of the few people who may have made some of these mistakes twice. I don’t know, I guess I joke that I’ve got a high pain threshold for self-inflicted pain, somehow. And whatever the mistake is, I’ve made it at least once. I keep making more and more, I swear. Definitely one of the most embarrassing, and I shared this on my blog. I’ll share a link to the blog post about it. It was when I was training George in, and he and I went upstairs, we’re filling up the bathtub like we do to get the bathtub all the way to the overflow to make sure the overflow is not leaking. And this was a huge tub, and it’s taking forever, and we got the whole upper level inspected before it’s done filling. And we’re like, oh, well, we’ll just get started on the first floor and we’ll come back and check it in a minute or two. And smash cut to like 45 minutes later…
Tessa Murry: Oh no.
Reuben: We’re done inspecting the first floor, we’re done inspecting the… Well, we’re inspecting the basement, we’re walking around, and one of our clients is like, “There’s water coming out of the ceiling, is that supposed to happen?”
Bill: Oh no. That’s nuts.
Reuben: And all of the sudden my face just… I felt my face just turn beet red. I realized instantly what it was.
Tessa: Worst nightmare.
Reuben: I’m like, “No,” and I run upstairs, and George was already up there. I guess George figured it out before the client was there, and he’s just mopping stuff up as fast as he can.
Tessa: Oh, no.
Reuben: He’s like, “Ew, we got a little mess.” And we cleaned it all up as best we could, but it was a mess. We needed a water recovery team to come in. I can’t remember who came in and did it, but it was nasty.
Bill: Do you think every home inspector has a water story that they’re just wishing they could forget, right? Like…
Reuben: You really haven’t lived until you’ve flooded a house. Yeah, absolutely. No, but here’s something I didn’t say on the blog or on the video that I did. Now, this is the worst part. This is one I only usually talk about at the bar or something. But it’s intimate here.
Tessa: After a few drinks.
Reuben: Nobody listens to this podcast, right? So here’s the part I would do differently. When I was all done, the homeowners ended up coming home, and they’re disgusted. “You are an idiot,” and it was just one of the most embarrassing things ever, they’re like, “Does this happen all the time?”
Reuben: So I went home, and then later that night, I realized I had left my sunglasses there.
Tessa: Leave them, yeah, leave them there.
Reuben: Yeah, yeah.
Tessa: You didn’t go back and get them, did you?
Bill: But that’s back when they were expensive and…
Reuben: I should have just left them. I did go back the same day or the next day. Then the neighbor was there and helping them dry stuff out, and the neighbor’s a contractor, and the neighbor gave me the what-for, and I could have died. That was one of the dumbest things I’ve done to follow up with stupid thing.
Tessa: I can’t believe you went back.
Reuben: I just… No. The glasses are gone. Don’t even mess with this. But I did.
Tessa: It’s terrible.
Reuben: I feel my face turning red just talking about it.
Tessa: Were they prescription?
Reuben: No, no, they weren’t, they weren’t. They were just new, that was all. I wanted them back.
Bill: How long were you in the business before you ran into this?
Reuben: I had been doing inspections for about seven, eight years until the flood that happened.
Bill: Oh, well, that’s a pretty good run without a major problem.
Reuben: Yeah, it took a while before I flooded a tub, but yeah, I flooded a tub. How about you, Tess?
Tessa: Me too. I’ve flooded a tub too. This was… I think I had just gotten released from the training process, and I had a new trainee with me, I won’t mention names. But we were both inspecting this house and we’re filling up the tub, obviously, common theme here. We walk away, I’m down in the kitchen talking to the buyer, and water starts dripping out of the recessed can light in the soffit right above us onto the counter. And right away I’m like, “Oh no!” I know what was happening, I run upstairs, the tub is overflowing, the whole bathroom floor is wet. And that was, again, that was a very angry, not only buyer, buyer’s father, but seller as well.
Bill: Yeah, I remember that one.
Tessa: Bill had to deal with the aftermath on that one.
Reuben: I came out too.
Bill: Yeah. Well…
Tessa: You did too?
Tessa: I apologize.
Reuben: No, no, that’s quite all right.
Bill: But there’s always a… There’s a positive spin to everything, right? So that lady whose house we overflowed the tub on just happened to be my neighbor across the street, her next-door best friend growing up. So as soon as we walked in the house…
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Bill: I’m like, “Karen?” “Bill?”
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Bill: And I happened to sell this lady my pontoon boat like a year earlier. So it was interesting. But you know.
Tessa: Yeah, that was a mess. I actually had another water incident. Reuben, you were a part of this one too. I was doing inspection for one of our recommended contractors.
Reuben: Oh my goodness. Yeah.
Tessa: Actually, his personal house he was buying and he wanted you there but I was like the second choice. So you stopped by for a little bit just to make an appearance, I think. And I was removing an access cover for a tub drain. And when I had taken it off, I wasn’t really paying that close attention, but I noticed there was just… It was one screw and it was a long screw, and it was holding this access panel cover on. And it was kinda sticking out of the wall a little bit. Well, checked the tub drain make sure nothing was leaking, go to put this access cover back on, and I’m drilling the screw back into the same hole it was originally in, just one screw, into the sheetrock. And it was like maybe 6 inches to a foot up above the actual hole. So I was just putting the screw back in the same hole, put it in and I feel like I hit something when the screw goes in. Next thing I know…
Reuben: And so everybody is aware, we don’t use screwdrivers. We don’t mess around with that. We use drills or impact drivers. Yeah.
Tessa: We use drills. I was using my drill. We don’t have time to unscrew everything by hand. So yeah, I’m using my drill putting the screw back in the same hole. Hit something, next thing you know water is spraying out of the wall. Just everywhere, just spraying and I had hit a water supply pipe. And that’s why the pointed screw that was 3 inches long was sticking out of the wall. And then when I took the panel cover off initially and it was sheer panic, and I think I yelled out at the buyer, the guy that we recommend for business I said, “Please turn off the water.” He ran down the basement, shut off the water. It was too late, there was water dripping on the ceiling in the living room below. It was just, it was a mess and you were just leaving, Reuben. Weren’t you just leaving?
Reuben: Yeah. You come running out or something and you are like, “Don’t leave! Don’t leave!”
Tessa: I flagged you down. And you were amazing. You ended up driving to Home Depot…
Reuben: That’s right.
Tessa: 10 minutes away and you bought a little SharkBite thing…
Tessa: To cut off.
Reuben: Just a SharkBite fitting. And a cutter.
Tessa: So Reuben went back in there, cut off the damaged piece of pipe, put in a fitter and fixed the pipe.
Reuben: And then just to make sure that we were all good, this was before we had hired Joe.
Reuben: Now Joe, one of our inspectors is also a licensed plumber.
Reuben: And it was right when we were skirting with hiring him. And I said, “Hey Joe. By the way, we haven’t hired you yet. But can I hire you as a plumber to go out and bless my work? ‘Cause I did this temporarily, but I’m not a plumber, I shouldn’t be fixing stuff. Can you go out either fix it or do whatever you do? Bless it.” And he did that for 75 bucks or something.
Tessa: Yeah, that was terrible.
Reuben: And then we had painting defects too ’cause we wrecked the ceiling too.
Bill: All right, I’m gonna cut you off on this. It’s starting to hurt.
Bill: When we come back we’re gonna let Jim talk. We feel a little bad. He’s been sitting over here watching us for the last 10 minutes. So Jim, tell me about your worst experience.
Jim Tobias: Well, I don’t like saying this out loud because it’s going to probably jinx myself. But I don’t have a overflowing bathtub story or horrible water incident. But…
Reuben: Something much worse probably, right?
Jim: Now, I can expect in the next week, I’m sure I’ll find one. I had an inspection setup in a committee out in Stillwater on a private road. And while driving out to the inspection, I knew the size of the home and style of the home. And it was a very, very large home, not a lot of homes that size, that, not that I inspect anyways. And as I was coming down the street, my Google Maps alerted me that I was approaching. So I stopped and I pulled out and I walked on the property, and I took a bunch of pictures and because of the size of the property, that was 15 or 20 minutes of my time to take a lot of good establishing outdoor photos. And I go to the front door and I thought it was supposed to be a keypad, it was electronic lock-box, which should have been my giveaway, but I went ahead and unlocked the front door and…
Tessa: The code worked?
Jim: The code worked. I went inside and started to look around, and turn things on and take pictures as I went through the interior of the home. And I remember the conversation I had with the buyer’s agent that said the home was vacant and that the listing agent had confirmed that it was vacant. And that might make things go faster, and I thought it always does. But here was clothing and furniture and other belongings and I thought maybe they miscommunicated.
Tessa: Yeah. [chuckle]
Jim: Then I started to kinda get more and more nervous that too many things weren’t adding up and I was in the wrong home.
Jim: So I had let myself into someone else’s home for sale on the same block and I left. I went outside and looked at the number on the sign and I called the listing agent and I told her what had happened. And I called the office and told them what had happened. And it was kind of a chuckle but it makes me look like kind of foolish and…
Bill: So in the inspection world, if there’s a walk of shame, you certainly had one going down that [12:13] ____.
Jim: And then I had to drive two more houses down and park there and kind of in the background look at this house that I had, partially inspected only a few minutes earlier.
Reuben: Wouldn’t you like to be the person across the street watching this whole thing transpire.
Jim: Yeah. They said that’s the quickest home inspection I’ve ever seen.
Reuben: Yeah. Exactly.
Jim: But everybody was polite about it and nobody got upset. But if somebody had been home that could have been much more awkward or intense.
Jim: And maybe a lot more apologies, other than I let myself in your house and took some pictures in your house and then left.
Tessa: Speaking of that, Reuben didn’t you just write a blog about that very issue?
Reuben: Yes. Yes.
Tessa: And you actually ran into people that lived at the house?
Reuben: Oh, this was much worse. This was a truth in housing evaluation, and it was back in like 2005. And we had this one agent, this girl was selling a house a week. She was on fire. And all of her clients were Spanish-speaking clients, and so she would refer us to do a lot of home inspections and a lot of TISH evaluations, pre-sale inspection. They take 45 minutes to an hour. We’re licensed by the… The city licenses us to do these inspections, and for the most part, I’d kinda point and I’d do thumbs-down to the people, there’d be a language barrier, “No, no es bueno.” I’d do my broken Spanish to try to tell them when things aren’t good. And I was supposed to be doing an inspection on, I think it was Chicago, 4516 Chicago, and I went to 4516 Columbus, or whatever’s the street right after Chicago that also starts with a C. I just had it mixed up in my head. Showed up, Spanish-speaking clients, I’m 10 minutes early, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m here to do the TISH evaluation.” They’re like, “No, qué?” “No, what?” and they’re confused. I’m like, “Yeah, it’s okay,” I show them my badge, and I just kind of barge in and… They’re like “It’s okay” and they’re looking at me sideways, and I did half the inspection. I was there for about 25 minutes, and there’s people sleeping in all the bedrooms, four adults in every bedroom, there was a lot of people there. And they’re just like, “What is this guy doing?” But…
Bill: You had a badge. You looked official.
Reuben: Yeah, I barged through. And they all seemed very nervous too.
Bill: Maybe they will pay you half price though.
Reuben: Well, the agent called me about halfway in, she’s like, “Where are you? You’re always on time.” I’m like, “I’m here, I’m in the basement.” She’s like, “No you’re not, ’cause I’m here.” I was like, “Okay, all right, we’re all done, all right, bye, guys!” And they’re just like, “Yeah, go, get out.”
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Reuben: They were very glad to see me leave.
Bill: So what did you do? Did you go back with some gift of “sorry,” put your head down and say…
Jim: You brought them your sunglasses.
Reuben: Yeah, I brought them the sunglasses from that other house. No, I just said, “Sorry, sorry, I’m all done, wrong house,” that was it. I didn’t know what else to do.
Bill: Yeah, I guess. All you can do is apologize, move forward. All right. So we’ve spilled a lot of water, we’ve gone into the wrong property addresses, did some inspections that weren’t paid for as a result. Anything else, Reuben, that comes to mind when you…
Reuben: Well, yeah, yesterday we started a house on fire.
Bill: Wait, what?
Reuben: It really wasn’t our fault, but I did get a call yesterday saying, “Reuben, I don’t know what to do,” it was all very panicky…
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Reuben: From one of our inspectors, and he said, “The bathroom exhaust fan just started on fire.”
Bill: Call the fire department.
Reuben: He came upstairs… Oh, he had already called the fire department.
Bill: Oh, okay.
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Reuben: He called me next.
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Reuben: The fire department was the first call. And there’s flames coming out, licking the ceiling. It wasn’t a little smoke, it was like a straight-up fire.
Tessa: Oh… Oh my gosh.
Reuben: And you guys, we haven’t even shared this with the team yet internally, but the fire department came, police, medical responders, everybody.
Reuben: Yeah. It was something else, and I’m like, “Are you okay? Is there anything you can do to put it out?” He’s like, “I’m not going back in.” I said, “All right, sounds good, I’ll trust your judgment.”
Tessa: Oh, no.
Reuben: When he says the bath fan started on fire, I’m thinking a little smouldering or something. He’s like, “No, there was a straight-up flame.”
Reuben: We haven’t seen the pictures of this. That’s the first thing I said, “Did you get pictures?”
Reuben: He’s like, “I got the hell out. I did not take any pictures.” So no, we don’t have any pictures to see, but we’ll see pictures of the outside.
Bill: Okay, so Joe had a similar… It wasn’t a bath fan that started on fire, but there was natural gas fireplace that the birds had this beautiful nest built in it and it was running for five minutes and he had actually gone on the roof, and all of a sudden he was smelling smoke and he saw smoke coming up off the ground and he’s like, “What in the world?” And he ran, and…
Reuben: He got the garden hose from outside and he shot it at it…
Tessa: Did he? He put the fire out?
Reuben: And he called me next. He said, “What should I do? I think it’s all out.” I said, “I’d call 911 anyways. Call the fire department.”
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Reuben: And they came and they confirmed there’s nothing going on, and then they left, but that was just dot your I’s, cross your T’s.
Tessa: Did that melt siding? Was it a vinyl house, or…
Bill: No, no, I think there was James Hardie or something more durable than plastic, but…
Tessa: Oh my gosh.
Bill: There was no consequence in the end, and that was just bad luck, right?
Reuben: That was his bath fan too.
Tessa: What happened? Do you know why it started?
Reuben: We have no idea. We’re gonna get the report when it comes out, but we hadn’t even been in the attic. The attic seal was still unbroken when this happened…
Tessa: Oh my gosh. Wow.
Reuben: So nobody can possibly say it’s anything that we could have possibly done.
Tessa: Good. Yeah.
Jim: What year was the house?
Reuben: What I suspect is that it was a dirty bath fan grill. We put a link in our home inspection report saying it’s important to clean your bath fan exhaust grill because those fans cool themselves by air flowing through it. And if you can’t have air flowing through, it can overheat. We actually have documented cases of fires starting in those from other fire departments. There’s a fire department outside of Minnesota where they had issued a warning to their citizens saying, “Clean your bathroom exhaust grills.” So I think that’s what happened.
Tessa: Did he take the 360 pictures so we could see that bath fan?
Reuben: I didn’t find that out yet. Yeah.
Bill: So internal company stuff. For every house that we go into, we take these 360 degree photos at the beginning of the inspection and it just… It’s a good reference point for any questions that come up later about this was moved or that or whatnot, but… So these things are really useful sometimes, and they can kinda give you a tip. The bottom line on all of this stuff is we have to make it right, okay? I mean if you gotta call the Disaster Recovery Team to come out and dry out a house, or if you have to call the fire department, we’ll get to the bottom of it. A reputable company will and it’s just part of the cost of doing business, right?
Reuben: Yeah. When we were on the break, you were saying something about that, Jim, about you had a…
Jim: Yeah, when I was…
Reuben: [20:09] ____ Leak, right?
Jim: When I was still doing my training, I was following one of the other inspectors named Dustin, and luckily Dustin being a very capable contracting background had to clean up one of my mistakes. [chuckle] It wasn’t even a mistake, it was a faulty faucet handle that when I went to turn it, it just snapped right off. And we didn’t have a tool in our bag or anything in our bag that would stop it from running. So you do it, you know, what we know to do and that’s turn the water off to the house but no homeowner wants to come home and find that their water is off.
Jim: And when it’s late afternoon, if you wanna call a plumber out, that’s gonna cost somebody something. And Dustin took it upon himself to go to the hardware store, get the necessary pieces, do what he could do, which he was able to do, and that’s fix that faucet handle. And to this day, I don’t think I ever asked him who paid for that faucet handle. It should have been me, but I’m pretty sure…
Reuben: Should have been me?
Jim: I wouldn’t be surprised that that came out of Dustin’s pocket book and he… Me being the trainee, he didn’t make me stick around. In fact, he told me it’d just be easier for him if he could just get it fixed up and I could go ahead and get to my daycare and call it a day but he took care of it.
Reuben: I’m thinking about everybody on our team. I mean, kudos to Dustin.
Reuben: But that really could have been anybody on our team. It could have been…
Bill: It could have been the homeowner that night and they could have… They might have… Now, they would have been the ones fixing it and…
Reuben: Well, no. What I’m saying is, I mean, just paying for it out of your own pocket.
Reuben: Not telling me about it. That’s just everybody at Structure Tech. That’s how everybody operates. And I just… I love everybody on our team so much just for that kind of thing. It’s team-oriented. What do I need to do to fix this and move on?
BIll: That’s how we roll. So we’re gonna wrap it up for today. If you’ve heard anything here that you find super interesting, you can always read more about it on our website at structuretech1.com. And Reuben’s only got 350 blogs there from everything you could possibly wanna know about a house. In fact, you can learn to become a home inspector. Just read Reuben’s blog. Until we see you next time, thanks.
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