Structure Tech is reaching its 25-year milestone! Today we’re joined by Neil Saltzman and reminisce about great stories and learning experiences from Home inspection flubs.
Neil shares about inspecting bad electric panels and furnaces. He talks about a poor judgment call in entering a house with a gas leak and leaving running water. Neil and Tessa also talk about inspecting a roof, getting stuck, and challenges in coming back down. They also chat stories about losing keys during an inspection.
Reuben fondly shares how Neil started home inspections, crawling in the attic, looking professional, and wearing a suit and tie. He also talks about an embarrassing practice and learning to find cracks in heat exchangers by dismantling the furnace. He also shares about calling a colleague for rescue to fix a leaking radiator handle. They share about losing their cell phones and tools in the attic.
They exchange thoughts about the hardest part of being a home inspector.
More stories to tell in the next podcast! Send your reactions and suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, your Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three legged stool coming to you from the Northland talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our brain. Well, welcome to today’s episode. For those who don’t know, Structure Tech is approaching a milestone anniversary. And Reuben, you wanna talk about this milestone that’s coming up?
Reuben Saltzman: Yeah, that’ll be the 25-year anniversary of Structure Tech. And I guess technically, we’ve probably already hit it because my dad purchased this company in June of 1997. So actually, we hit it already. We’re just… We’re gonna be celebrating during our annual Christmas party or holiday party or whatever. We’re calling it our 25-year anniversary party, something like that.
BO: Yes. Yes. So we thought it would be fun to reminisce about some of the more memorable mistakes that have occurred over the years. And to help us with this project today, we’ve invited none other than Neil himself to come on and go back through the years and try to talk about maybe one or two things that he remembers as being… Well, let’s just call ’em what they are, flubs. Home inspection flubs.
RS: I asked him to come up with a list, and he came up with a very short list compared to my list. He’s been doing it a lot longer, so he’s clearly got a much higher batting average than I do when it comes to not making mistakes, but I’ve got a gigantic list and we’ve got so much to talk about. This might be a two-parter podcast. We might have to come back to cover the rest of these next week, but let’s see how it goes. And I thought we could definitely start with my pops.
BO: It’s not two hours of negativity, is it?
RS: No, it’s two hours of wonderful stories and great lessons for other home inspectors to learn. Whenever I’m teaching other home inspectors how to inspect a house, so often I say, “Always do this and ask me how I know,” and I’ve always got a quick little anecdote or a story to go along with it about some mistake that I made that either cost me time or money or pain. Probably one of those three.
BO: Or a combination of.
RS: Yes, yes. Very often, it was a combination of those. Good point, Bill.
BO: Yeah. Well, Neil, you’ve said a few words here in the background, so why don’t you go ahead and how are you doing? It’s been a while since we’ve had you on the pod.
Neil Saltzman: I’m doing great, Bill. Thanks for asking.
NS: Reuben hit me up this morning with questions to try and jog this memory about mistakes I’ve made, and so I got a list going. You ready for it?
BO: Well, are you gonna just name them one at a time or do you… Or do we wanna dissect each of these?
NS: No, I’m gonna tell the story associated with it.
BO: Okay, perfect. Well, let’s start at the top.
NS: First one that comes to my mind is about electric panels and I was doing an inspection with a friend of mine and I was so concentrated on talking to him, I kind of forgot to look behind where the screws were as I was putting the panel back on. And of course, we always talk about, make sure you look because there could be main wires there and the screw might hit that main wire. And sure enough, it did and it threw me on my butt in a minute. I didn’t know what hit me. I was on my back and the panel was smoking, and that was a memorable number one with electric panels. Always look where you’re putting that screw back in. So number two, I was training in Milind and we were really trying to be precise in looking at the furnaces using a mirror, sticking it in there, looking where you got these ceramic igniters and Milind has got the mirror going in there and he touches the igniter, and of course now we tell people, “Never do that,” touched the igniter, the igniter disintegrated. Okay, so now what are we gonna do? Furnace won’t ignite. He gets on the phone, finds one, is about 45 minutes away, he drives, gets it, it’s like $60 for the igniter. Comes back, he’s putting it in, and that one breaks. Okay, back on the road, Milind goes, buys another igniter, comes back, puts it in, and then we’re safe. So lesson learned, don’t stick your mirror into the furnace to look at those igniters and don’t get it near the igniter, ’cause those ceramic igniters are very fragile.
BO: Okay. Well, before you move on to number three, we have to slow down and enjoy these a little bit more.
NS: Okay. Okay, sure.
BO: Give me an approximate year when the screw went through the wire?
NS: Probably 15 years ago.
BO: Okay. All right, and…
Tessa Murry: Did you get shocked, Neil?
NS: Thankfully, it just threw me on my back. I didn’t even get a shock. I’ve had worse shocks electrically, yeah, but not from inspecting, just from doing dumb things. Yeah.
BO: Okay. Were you alone when that happened?
NS: No, I was with this guy that I went to high school… I was inspecting the house for him and he and I were just talking and enjoying the conversation. So obviously, I wasn’t paying attention.
BO: Okay. Which of you had to change your underwear or did both of you have to?
NS: No, he was there for me, so…
BO: Wow. That’s incredible.
NS: It was a little scary but I lived through it.
BO: Okay. How many more panels did you open after that until you felt comfortable just doing what you normally did?
NS: The next one.
BO: Oh, come on.
NS: You learn… You learn your lesson pretty quick.
BO: Well, I know, it’s… You learn your lesson, but I would’ve had a tingle in my spine on every single last turn of every screw until I was walking away and it was safely in place.
NS: You just look.
RS: I gotta jump in. To your point, Bill, there was one time where I was putting the dead front back on a fuse panel, and some of those old fuse panels, they’ve got it where the fuse socket sticks out, and if you’re not careful when you’re putting that cover back on, you will short out the cover with that fuse socket and you’ll get a big explosion. And I did that once. And ever since then, every time I’m putting the dead front back on a fuse panel, I would think back about it and I’d just get a little bit nervous exactly like you’re describing, Bill. I would always get worried about that.
TM: Neil, I remember you telling me that story when I was in training about you getting thrown on your butt across the room, and so I was always super cautious when I was putting the panel cover back on to look for wires, but I had a panel cover at a new construction house where just removing the screw to get the panel cover off, it came in contact with a wire and I had an arc and there was this huge flash in my face and this loud pop, and my heart stopped and I thought that I was gonna die, and the client was standing right behind me. And he had been following me the whole time. And he was a pretty quiet, reserved dude. And I just remember all these curse words flying off his mouth [laughter] when that happened, he thought I was getting electrocuted and I freaked out. I didn’t finish removing the panel cover. I left it hanging with two screws and I said, “You need to call an electrician to come out and deal with this.” And after that, I was just a little bit traumatized and was nervous taking off panel covers for a long time.
NS: Totally understand.
RS: And how do you avoid that, Tess?
NS: There’s no way to avoid that.
TM: You can’t. Yeah, you can’t.
NS: You can’t. There’s no lesson to learn there.
TM: It’s the risk we take being home inspectors.
BO: Well, and for everybody who probably gets a sense of Neil’s personality, you can see that not much fazes him, so…
BO: If you could see his face right now, it has barely moved an eyebrow.
BO: Now he laughs. There we go. Alright, moving on.
NS: So this next one, Tessa’s involved with.
NS: Well, I don’t know if it’s so much a matter of a mistake, but just using bad judgment. Remember that two story?
TM: Woods was being… Using bad judgment? [chuckle]
NS: I used bad judgment when I was training you in and we put that ladder up on that two-story roof and we that roof.
TM: Oh, I remember that.
NS: And we always know how easy it is going up the roof, but coming back down is always the sketchy part. And that was sketchy, right, Tess?
TM: Ooh, my gosh. I remember that, Neil. Yeah. My hands are sweaty just thinking about it. We were a good two stories up, and it was a hip roof and it was an old three tab, and the granules were just rolling off of it.
NS: Sliding under our feet as we went down.
TM: Yeah, yeah. Coming back down with all fours and we sliding off the roof…
NS: Get after it. Of course I had to show you how it was done, right?
TM: [laughter] Yeah. Oh man. Yeah, that was a good lesson for me though too, because it’s like, yeah, you can walk up the roof, but can you come back down it? And I’m lucky we got back off that roof.
BO: Do you guys have a safety test for testing if the granules are loose before you put a foot up there?
NS: Not really. Just observation, I guess and make a judgment, but it wasn’t a good judgment call on my part, but we lived through it, right Tess?
TM: We did. We sure did.
BO: Follow up question. Have you ever been stuck on a roof because your ladder slipped off or something… Like the granules are so loose, you physically had to wait for somebody to put pressure against the ladder so you could slide to it?
NS: No, I got one that the ladder blew off in the wind. I didn’t have it tied to the gutter and I was up there and the wind took it down.
TM: How long did you have to wait?
NS: Thankfully, the buyer was there and he put the ladder back up.
TM: You’re not the only inspector on our team that that’s happened to. I know for a fact, Neil.
0:10:01.3 NS: Yeah, yep.
NS: So now I’ve got another bad judgment one. I was doing a time of sale inspection in Minneapolis. And I walk into this house and it was a very strong smell of gas leak. I should have walked away, but no, I got my double respirator on. I put the mask on, and I thought, “I’m not gonna waste time driving all the way up here and not get paid for it.” The house could have blown up on me, right? But I got through it, and then I called after I was done, and… But it was a bad gas leak in the house that I did. So I should have walked away.
BO: You didn’t do any testing to see where it was leaking from, right?
NS: No. Not on the truth and housing piece. No. So that was just another bad judgment call.
BO: Do you have a good nose? Does… I mean, some people have really good sniffers and you can get in a situation and you’re like, “Yeah, this is bad.”
NS: Well, it was good enough when I opened the door, I knew it was bad.
NS: Yeah, I should have walked away.
TM: Yikes. Neil, does Patty know all of these stories?
NS: She’ll hear ’em.
RS: Oh, my mom is not gonna be happy with you Pops.
NS: So now we go on to the water leak issues, which we all have experienced. So I was training in Milind and… Trying to remember. I don’t think we used the shower dam at the time, but we were… Turned on the water at the upstairs shower, let it run, figured we’d give it a good chance, and then we decided to go outside and inspect it while the shower was running. Bad, bad judgment. We came back in, water was running from the upstairs all the way down the wall on the outside, all the way to the basement. And let me tell you, the buyers were not happy with us.
BO: What about the sellers? [laughter]
NS: I never found out about the seller. I think it was a vacant house.
BO: Okay. So what was the problem? What caused the back up?
NS: The drain in that shower wasn’t working properly and it clogged up and water just ran over, unbeknownst to us, that’s why you never walk away from running water. So that was a very bad experience.
BO: Good life lesson. Good advice for… You know.
TM: Those are the things that you…
NS: To never walk away from running water. Yeah.
TM: You never walk away from running water.
NS: And then how about this one, Reuben? You’ll remember you and I did a new construction house, where we ran the water in the shower and then we go downstairs in the basement, water’s dripping out of the ceiling in their finished brand new construction family room and they’re getting mad at us, right, Rubs?
RS: I remember that one. I was thinking about it as you were telling the story. Yeah, they were frustrated with us. However, this was not a shower that overflowed, this was a defect. I will not say that we made any mistake here.
NS: No we did not.
RS: All we were doing was running water in the shower and the builder had not connected the drain properly. There was no way for us to have known that this was happening.
NS: Now, I remember that the plumber cut open and found that the valve was a defect. That’s my memory of it.
RS: Was that it? Okay. Maybe it was a bad valve. Okay, I might have it wrong, but bottom line was, this was a plumbing error that they made.
RS: It wasn’t anything we did wrong. The only way we could have known that this was going to happen, is if we had x-ray vision and we could see through the walls and know exactly what was happening when we ran the faucet. There’s no tool that could have alerted you to this. I mean, there is nothing. So the buyers really should have been thanking us for discovering this before they moved in.
NS: Well, and they would have discovered it once they moved in.
BO: They would have. Yes, they would have.
NS: Exactly, yeah.
BO: So who do you think they would have called at that point? [chuckle]
RS: Both the home inspector and the realtor and the builder, everybody, it’s everybody’s fault.
NS: Yeah. So the last one related to water that I have is, you should always look underneath the dishwasher before you turn it on to where it hooks into the kitchen sink, ’cause this one wasn’t hooked up, and of course, I ran the dishwasher and it ran all over the floor and all over the basement ceiling. It got all cleaned up, but of course, the lesson learned is always look before you turn it on.
TM: Did you say that was… Was that a new construction house, Neil?
NS: Not on the dishwasher, this was an old one.
NS: Probably a flip that they just forgot to hook up.
TM: I think it’s pretty rare in an existing house where someone has a dishwasher but the drain isn’t hooked up. I mean, what are the chances, right?
NS: I know.
TM: But it happens. It’s like, are people trying to booby trap us? [laughter]
RS: It feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?
NS: It did, yeah.
RS: Yeah. Or where you grab a doorknob and it just comes off in your hand.
RS: And then they’re like, “What did you do?” It’s that scene in Tommy Boy where he opens the door and the door falls off, it’s like…
RS: “I did nothing.”
TM: Yeah. Or you touch the blinds and then they just disintegrate or fall off into your hands.
RS: Oh yeah. “Now, you broke my blind, I want you to pay for it.”
TM: [laughter] Yeah, it’s like they haven’t been operated in 40 years. [laughter]
RS: Right. Come on. You knew it was broken.
BO: Do you guys avoid operating blinds for that specific reason?
TM: If they’re closed and you have to test the window, you have to open them. I just have gotten really good about just being really gentle with the ones that are kind of an orangey-yellow color, that look like they haven’t been touched in decades. [laughter]
RS: And always use two hands, one hand on the string, another hand on the bottom rail to help lift it so the string isn’t doing all the work.
BO: Question for you, Neil. Have you ever put your foot through the ceiling while walking through an attic?
NS: No. Thankfully, that’s Reuben’s story.
RS: I didn’t put my foot through. It was a different body part. And I’ll share that when it’s my turn to share my list of my top 20 mistakes. I’ve got so many more, yeah.
RS: Although, you know what?
NS: Did you ever put your foot through, Bill?
BO: I did not, but I accidentally set my foot on top of a recessed light, and I levered it just enough that there was some damage around the ceiling and a painter had to come in and do some touch up. Didn’t physically tear it out or anything like that, but it was just, you know how it goes. It was one of those days, so…
RS: You know, we’re talking about attics and there’s one, pops, I remember you used to share this story related to attics. I remember when you first started getting into home inspections, the home inspection industry was fairly new and there wasn’t a lot of clarity about what a home inspector was supposed to look like. And the idea was, you are a professional and you’re gonna dress as a professional. I remember you did your inspections out of a Lincoln Town Car, and you would wear a suit and tie to your home inspections. You’d bring your briefcase that would contain your tools, I think. [chuckle] It was supposed to be a different image. And I remember you telling the story about how you had been walking around in an attic with your tie on and you put your hand down on the tie as you’re crawling. And then you couldn’t go forward and you just about did a face plant or fell out of the attic scuttle hole, ’cause you put your hand on your tie. [laughter] So that was a good lesson, not that I was ever going to, but if you’re a home inspector, don’t wear a tie to your home inspections.
NS: Yep, the image has changed.
BO: How about a bow tie? That would solve that problem and you could still cast the same professional image.
RS: Let’s do it. [chuckle] Let’s go baby, bow ties for home inspectors. It’s the new Structure Tech required attire.
NS: Oh my god.
TM: Oh, I love that story.
NS: That’s good.
RS: Yeah, I’d pay money to see a video of someone doing that.
NS: How about… Tess, while you’re up in the attic, testing the bath fan exhaust, because it’s got a big loop in it just to see if what we say is true, that moisture accumulates in it. So of course, I disconnected one just to see. Yeah, water ran all the way down into the bathroom ceiling.
TM: Oh no.
NS: Another mistake, another mistake, thanks for reminding me on that one, Reuben. Don’t ever disconnect the loop.
RS: Oh Pops, you don’t even need to disconnect the loop, ’cause I did the same thing once. I remember… Oh, Milind would remember this house so well, it was a cockroach infested house. There was cockroaches everywhere. This is when he was in training and he had to just walk outside. He was getting like nauseous and uncomfortable and he had to spend the rest of the day outside but I remember us going in that attic and it was just gross. And they had one of those bath fans and it looked like there was water in the duct. And I went to kind of lift it and it caused all the water in the duct to just dump out out of the ceiling fan, all over the bathroom floor.
NS: Exactly. Yeah.
RS: Yeah, yep. I’ve done that too. Don’t ever do that.
NS: Yep. No.
TM: I just kinda give them a little poke. You can tell if there’s water in there.
RS: That’s enough. I like your approach, Tess. You’re much smarter.
RS: Yep, much smarter than either of us.
BO: Neil, what were you doing in the furnace with a mirror? What were you looking for with a cosmetic mirror? What kind of mirror were you…
NS: A cracked heat exchanger.
BO: And you can see a cracked heat exchanger with a mirror?
NS: We could in previous days. Not so much today, because the furnaces are more sealed combustion, but back in the day when they were older, and they hadn’t been replaced yet, you could put mirrors in there, and you could easily see cracks in the heat exchanger and the metal portion of the furnace, yes.
RS: Yeah. We used to find cracked heat exchangers all the time.
RS: We just don’t find a lot of them anymore ’cause of the design of furnaces. It makes it really tough to see ’em, yep. I got a good story about that when I get to my turn.
BO: You’re teasing everybody. Why don’t you just go.
RS: Okay. Alright. I’ll just share this one. We’ll go out of order here. We attended the seminar by heat exchanger experts, and they were teaching… It was really a seminar for HVAC contractors, not really so much for home inspectors, but he’s teaching us all these advanced techniques on finding cracks in heat exchangers, and the big way they advocate is, you pull the blower motor out of there. There’s nothing to it. It’s like you disconnect two screws basically, and a couple of wires, and you just slide the whole blower out. It’s not that big of a deal. So I went through the seminar, and I thought, “Hey, I’m gonna do this. Let’s go baby.” And I would pull the blowers on just about every furnace at every home inspection, and I would crawl up inside there, and I’d be looking underneath it with a flashlight and a mirror, and I’d spend a few minutes, and if there was a crack, I’m probably gonna find it using this technique, and I found quite a few of them until one day, I pull the blower out, not knowing that there’s a high-limit switch connected to the back side of the blower, and the wires just pulled right out when I pulled the blower out, I didn’t know it. So I get everything put back together, and the furnace won’t turn on. [chuckle]
RS: But it had been on before I did this, so we knew it was me who caused the problem, and I probably spent about an hour troubleshooting this, finally figuring out that there’s wires that I should have connected, and I was able to get ’em reconnected eventually but what a colossal waste of time. So the big lesson there for home inspectors is, don’t dismantle the equipment. Leave the furnace alone. You’re there to do a visual inspection of it. Maybe take the covers off, take the upper and lower cabinet covers off. Definitely do that, and if you’re doing combustion testing, go ahead and use a combustion analyzer to test the flue gas. That’s all fine and good, but don’t be taking stuff apart. That’s just going way above and beyond. We don’t have repair parts with us. That’s just crazy town. So, that was a very long time ago. I have never done anything like that since.
BO: Did you share that story at some of the industry events? And did anybody say, “Yeah, I used to do that too.”
RS: No, no, it’s far too embarrassing to share that story publicly. And it’s a good thing nobody listens to this podcast either.
RS: ‘Cause I wouldn’t want anybody to know that I’m this foolish.
TM: Speaking of furnaces and not carrying parts, speaking of Milind again, too, Milind has made his way into a lot of our stories. I was at an inspection one time where there was a fuse that blew on the furnace, and I didn’t know why it wouldn’t start back up again. I tried everything, the normal things you try like checking a thermostat and getting the cover back on perfectly and still wouldn’t start, and Milind is like, “Oh yeah, I think there was a fuse that blew.” He was out there for some other reason, and he actually had the right fuse with him, and he’s like, “Yeah, I just carry these with me. They’re little car fuses.”
TM: And popped it in there. Furnace kicked back on, problem solved. But I was so great… He was like my little fairy godfather that showed up that day with a little part that I needed.
RS: What a hero?
TM: I know.
RS: That’s fantastic. I love it. Alright. I’ll go out of order. I’ll share another one because it involves Milind swooping in as the savior, along with that theme, and this lesson is, never test radiator handles. If the radiator is turned off, just mark in your report that there was no heat to the radiator. Don’t go messing with handles to try to get it to turn back on. And I surely heard that in training, but I hadn’t learned my lesson the hard way, and I have a tendency of learning lessons the hard way, and so I would go around, and I would do it with impunity. I would just turn ’em on, I’d document that it works, see okay it works, and then I’d turn it back off, until one day I turn the handle on a radiator and it started leaking, and the homeowner was home, and I told him, I said “You got a leaking radiator handle. I went to turn it, it’s leaking.” And he’s like… He just kinda shrugged, he’s like, “Well, that’s your problem.”
RS: I’m like, “Okay, alright, sounds good.” So I went back up there, and I tried everything. I got my wrenches out, I tightened the packing nut, and I could not get this to stop leaking, so I just had to take towels out of my truck and put one towel on there, and it would soak up the water, and I’d inspect for five minutes, and then I’d go back, put another towel on, bring out the other towel, inspect for five minutes. I might be exaggerating, it might not have been that bad, but it was leaking, it would not stop. And I ended up calling Milind, and he was out in the field doing something. I said, “Dude, you gotta save me. I need everything they got at the store. I need Magic Putty. I need Magic Tape. I need a flex seal. Anything they sell on TV to stop a leak, please buy it and bring it to me.” [laughter] And he did, it ended up being this magic plumbing tape that is supposed to stretch and wrap around stuff, and I used the entire roll, and I got it to stop leaking. So… But it was like an extra two hours that I was at the house. I mean, I’m there way past dinner time. I’m just sitting there hanging out, soaking up water, waiting for Milind to show up, and he saved the day there and…
BO: Did the owner offer you a beer at least for your…
RS: Nothing man, nothing.
RS: He was not interested in anything I was doing.
NS: You left it like that?
RS: I left it like that. Yeah.
TM: But you didn’t… They didn’t make you call a plumber?
RS: I told the owner, I said, “Look, you got this leak. I got it all wrapped up. Don’t touch it again, and you’re gonna want a plumber to fix it.” And he was like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll get it fixed.”
RS: I mean, the radiator wasn’t working before I did this. I mean, it was a bad handle. It was not functional. And now I got it all wrapped up, we are exactly in the same position it was before I got there, as far as I’m concerned. If he had pushed and he was like, “Well, I want you to hire someone to fix it.” I suppose we would have. But I think he kind of understood that, look, this was defective before I touched it too.
NS: And I bet this was before IR cameras as well.
RS: It surely was. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitely.
NS: ‘Cause now we would not do that. We just use our IR camera…
NS: During these.
BO: Which probably tells you more than turning that handle anyway, right? I mean, tells you if there’s sort of stratification or something in terms of heat on…
RS: Yeah. Well, you know what, this could have been after infrared cameras because I mean, I determined that there was no heat. And so to figure out if it was just a valve turned on or off, I used to operate valves and then I go and see if it heated up. So yeah, I guess it wouldn’t matter if we were using IR cameras. I was being dumb.
NS: You would’ve gone beyond anyway.
RS: I would have. I would have at the time. Never again.
BO: No doubt that house was 100 years old at the time too and those pipes were probably… You start chopping on that tree, it can get in a bad way real quick.
RS: It can get expensive. Yep, definitely.
TM: Well, I can’t believe… Neil, you don’t have any more stories? Did we cover all of your lessons learned?
NS: Well, I’m sure if I listen to Reuben, I could chime in and go, “Yeah. Oh yeah. That one and that one.” But that’s what I came up with in about 10 minutes, so…
NS: So thanks for having me on.
BO: Yeah. Well, you’re… Thanks for joining. We always appreciate the historical insight. And tell me more about the Lincoln. Did you have a ladder rack on top of it, or no?
NS: Yeah. No, never had a ladder. We didn’t go there back then.
RS: I remember part of the reason you had that vehicle was because it had a gigantic trunk and you could fit your entire little giant ladder in the trunk sideways. It was so big.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: So that was the reason you chose that vehicle.
BO: Okay. Was it white at least? I mean, I know your preference for color.
RS: No. What was it? It was Navy?
NS: Yeah, it was Navy.
BO: I thought vehicles could only be white or black, and there’s…
NS: It was one of my favorite vehicles ever to drive. It was just, you know, so cushy.
BO: You could do 120 too, and…
NS: You just slowed it down the road. You didn’t even feel the road in that thing.
TM: I drove my grandpa’s Buick LeSabre at the end of high school into college. And I remember you’d hit a bump and you’d just kind of just bounce, gently bounce.
NS: Over the day.
TM: How long did you wear a suit to inspections, Neil?
NS: It was a few years, then I finally gave in.
BO: What kinda shoes did you wear?
NS: It was however shirt and tie. I never had a… I don’t think I had a real coat. It was shirt and tie. Yeah.
TM: Yeah. Wow.
BO: Did you wear like work boots with your suit pants or did you…
NS: Boy, I can’t remember. No.
RS: Penny loafers.
NS: Yeah, probably.
NS: Probably, Reuben.
BO: Okay. So tell us more stories. What was it like back in the day when you’re going out on your first home inspection? Were you guys making it up as you were going or was there a process in place?
NS: Oh, I made it up as I went for years, Bill.
NS: My saying is, fake it till you make it. And it… I think I finally got there after about 25 years.
BO: Wow. Were you on your own at that point? The entrepreneurial spirit sometimes just simply amazes me, that fake it till you make it sort of attitude. Maybe I had initial experiences in industry that that was just not something you could do but…
BO: Anyway, it’s…
NS: Yeah. Not with replacement parts, right?
TM: Medical devices.
TM: Not so much.
BO: Medical device had to be very specific. Let’s just put it that way.
BO: The guy who hired me, Ray Hinch, I love Ray, he pulled me aside one day and he said, “By God, you never answer a question you don’t have the answer to.” And he says, “So long as you work for me, you will answer only questions you know the answer to, and you will get the answer to those you don’t.” And I love that. I mean it was good. I mean…
NS: Good wisdom.
BO: Well, yeah. And every industry has its sort of wild west, so to speak. And for guys like Ray who was in it early, I’m not saying they were making things up as they were going, but they were seeing a lot of innovation. They had to answer a lot of questions they probably had to do some research for before they could give the right answer, so…
TM: Hey, Neil, do you have any lockout stories or lost key stories?
NS: Well, I think just one, Tess. Yeah. One…
TM: Oh, you do?
NS: I was doing an inspection and came back and the key was gone and I left it in the front door. So I think some kids that were driving by probably took the key. And so I had to pay for a replacement key, but I knew… I know that I left it in the front door. And that’s my only one.
BO: Did they re-key the locks so it was…
TM: Yeah, I was just gonna ask.
NS: Yeah, they had to get the keys or the locks re keyed. Yes.
NS: And I had to pay for it.
TM: Oh, that’s crazy.
NS: So since then I’ve told all the inspectors, “Don’t leave the keys in the door, take and put it in your pocket.”
NS: Definitely. Yep.
TM: And that doesn’t work out all the time either. [laughter]
NS: Because? What happened to you?
NS: Yeah. So I had a key. We might have even talked about this on a podcast one time. Reuben knows this story because, well, he got a complaint directly from the seller who called him after this inspection where I had put a key in my pocket. And at some point during the inspection, it came out and I retraced my steps everywhere. I even went back in the attic. My worst fear is that it came out while I was in the attic ’cause I was climbing over some trusses and in some weird angles. And I thought, “Oh man.” And after searching for like an hour, I finally gave up and I felt so bad, I called the listing agent, just communicated with everyone involved in the transaction, let ’em know what happened. And sure enough, the sellers pull up after I’ve left and they find the key in the front yard on their way into the house. [laughter]
TM: And it had fallen out in the grass in the front yard. And then Reuben, you can tell the rest of the story.
RS: Oh, they read me the Riot Act about how incompetent we were and what kind of inconsiderate person does this. And she has no business being in this. I mean, just the Riot Act. I was like, “Look she lost it. She made a mistake. Anybody could have done this.”
RS: I didn’t defend you like that. I just kind of listened, but I thought…
TM: Yeah, you have to. Yeah.
RS: I could have done it too. What am I supposed to say? “We’re very sorry. How can I make this right?”
TM: Yeah. Tried leaving keys in the locks, but then feeling unsafe, having the key in the lock while you’re in a house and then… Or someone could take it and then putting in your pocket and losing it. So… Yeah.
RS: Yeah, I’d say put it in a deep pocket, that’s my best advice there. And that’s another one that I was gonna share is whatever you’re doing as a home inspector, use deep pockets. I have had my… I once had my cell phone fall out underneath a deck while I was climbing around in there, ’cause I had put it in my sweatshirt pocket.
RS: Eventually found it. I had my cell phone fall out while I was in an attic. Didn’t realize it was missing until I was done in the attic and had it all closed up and then my phone’s gone and I had the buyer’s agent or the buyers call my phone and I could hear it in the attic when I went up there. So they had to call it over and over again, ’cause it had fallen down to the bottom of that loose fill insulation.
RS: So, just had to listen for it.
TM: At least you had your ringer on.
RS: At least the ringer was on and it wasn’t on silent. If it was on silent, my phone would’ve just been gone forever.
RS: There would be no finding that. I’ve lost flashlights in attics where it’s fallen out of my tool pouch, lost a flashlight in deep snow, jumping over a fence or something and then it bounces out of my tool pouch in the deep fluffy snow. And then the search is on for the next 20 minutes. Just use deep pockets for anything you don’t wanna lose ’cause you’re gonna be bouncing around and leaning as a home inspector.
TM: Yeah, good point.
BO: How often do your tools just fall all over the floor when you’re trying to crawl in an attic? I mean, a lot of times, you’re going sideways or pulling yourself or… I’m surprised you guys don’t leave more debris along the ceilings of buildings.
RS: Yeah. It hasn’t happened to me too much. I’ve been pretty lucky where I’ve been using the right tool pouch and stuff just doesn’t fall out.
NS: I think you learned your lesson.
TM: Yeah, you learn how to navigate… If you are wearing a tool belt, you learn how to navigate through the trusses with one on. And eventually, I just preferred not wearing my tool belt in the attic and stuffing my pockets. Another reason to have a lot of good pockets [laughter] so you can stuff flashlights and other things in ’em when you’re in an attic.
RS: Yeah. And it’s so nice to have those tools in an attic ’cause you get in an attic and it’s like… You think, “Okay, I’m just gonna bring my camera and a headlamp.” But then, you’re gonna want your infrared camera at some point. And then you’re gonna see some sign of moisture and you’re gonna want your moisture meter and then you’re gonna see some old wires and you’re gonna want your voltage sniffer to see if they’re energized. And it’s just so many other things. And if you don’t have your tools on you, there’s this tendency to be lazy and you just say, “Ah, I’ll take a picture of it. There’s some wires, don’t know if they’re energized or not.” It just… You have this tendency to be a lot lazier. So I got to a point where I just said, I’m bringing my tools in the attic.
BO: Okay. So as we begin to bring this to a close, I do want to ask one other question. It’s not related necessarily to big oops or snafus, but, and I’ll start with you Neil, what was the hardest part of this job for you?
NS: I think initially being confident enough and knowing enough of what I was looking at to be able to communicate consistent fact. ‘Cause like I said, it was… I felt like for years it was fake it till I make it kind of thing. So initially, I probably didn’t know as much as I felt I should have. Where I think now when we send people out that we’ve been training, they’re equipped.
RS: Yeah, night and day.
NS: I didn’t have anybody to train me in. I was just out there learning as much as I could while I was doing it, so…
BO: More mental than physical.
BO: Okay. Reuben, what about for you?
RS: Oh, I’d say truly the same thing. Getting up to that confidence level and knowing what I’m talking about, that was probably one of the most challenging things is…
RS: Is kinda rounding a corner and feeling like I have business being here doing this. Yeah.
BO: That old thing that like NFL quarterbacks talk about where when they first start playing, it’s just, there’s so much information coming at them, it’s, they’re surviving, but then they get to the point where the game slows down and they thrive.
RS: Yeah. Good analogy.
BO: Tessa, what about you?
TM: Yeah, I was just thinking, I think it was along the same lines of just kind of like the anxiety I would get before an inspection, driving out there, like, you don’t know what you’re walking into, you don’t know what you’re gonna find. Are you gonna be able to handle the house or the situation? What are the clients gonna be like? And until you do a lot of inspections, there’s just, at least for me, there was this anxiety which came with… It got easier the more confident you get and the more experience you have, so…
BO: Good answers. I would think somebody would say heights at some level, [laughter], like, I don’t want to go on that. It’s too steep and it’s too tall. But…
TM: I think… Well, yeah, there are people… Yeah, there are inspectors who definitely are afraid of heights and this is a hard job if you are afraid of heights because, you gotta get on the roof and climb up in attics and stuff. And actually, that’s the part I like, [chuckle] that’s the part I miss.
BO: It’s just the physical nature of it, just crawling around and getting out there?
TM: Yeah. Yeah.
TM: I don’t know. Do you miss it Reuben? Climbing on roofs and…
RS: I do. I’ll be honest, I do. I enjoyed all of that. Whenever I go along on an inspection with somebody else on the team, I’m definitely up there on the roof with them…
TM: Get on the roof.
RS: I’m in the attic with them. I enjoy all that part, all that part of it. For sure.
TM: I don’t miss crawlspaces though. [laughter]
NS: I don’t miss crawlspaces and I don’t miss attics.
BO: All right, well there it is. And Neil, I’m sure you miss the people most of all, right? All the great conversations you had.
NS: Oh, for sure. Those are… Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
BO: Well, 25 years is a long time. I don’t know what the average life of a business is, but 25 years is certainly a good run. And all eight cylinders are still firing, so it’s not like this is a wind down session or anything. It’s just a notch, a mile marker along the way, right?
RS: That’s right.
BO: Well cool, cool. Neil, thanks for giving us some time today, it’s always fun to hear the old battle stories and who did what first and how bad it maybe hurt. Thank you. We appreciate seeing you. And it’s always fun to watch your mannerisms. They’re some of the best ever, so…
NS: Thanks, Bill.
RS: Amens, daddy.
TM: Thanks, Neil.
BO: And for everybody else, thanks for listening. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman. We’ll catch you next time.
BO: Hi everybody. Bill here again with Structure Talk. We really wanna thank you for listening to this podcast. It’s been a ton of fun for us to put this presentation together. And if you could, we would love it if you would go to any of the podcast platforms where you find Structure Talk and leave us a rating and subscribe to the show. You can also subscribe to our blog at structuretech.com. And of course, you can listen to this show on the internet at structuretalk.com. Thanks again for listening, we appreciate the support. And if you have any suggestions for show topics, please email them to email@example.com. Thanks for listening.