Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The House of Tears

We all love a good story. This one is true and occurred long enough ago that I finally feel comfortable sharing. Nothing is more unsettling for me than having a female of any age cry because of something I did. Unfortunately with women, sometimes this is simply impossible to prevent. Such was the case at the house of tears.

Anytime I book an inspection on a very old house I never know what to expect. On arriving at this home I was advised by their agent that the young couple intending to purchase this home were excited because it was their dream to have a small cottage on a track of land with room for their horses. This site came with a large barn making it even more appealing. They had found their dream and were in love with everything. The Realtor made it crystal clear that “they” were hoping for the best from my inspection. I knew with the age of this home I was on the hot seat and it didn’t take long for the temperature to rise.

As usual, I started my inspection on the first floor. This home was a story and a half over a center dug out cellar open to crawl space surrounding it with exception of a stair down from the rear exterior. The second floor had a small finished area but for the most part was unfinished attic. As we were working our way through the first floor with the clients and Realtor following along Bob, the pest control inspector, arrived. We exchanged greetings and as usually I said “if you find anything of interest let me know and please clean the spider webs from the crawl space.”

Bob headed for the cellar but shortly came back through the door asking us to go into the first floor bedroom. Bob said “Chris, press your thumb on the floor right here on the right side of the bed” I knew I was in trouble when my thumb went through the wood floor up to the last knuckle. I overheard my clients take a deep breath as they looked at me with a wide eyed glare. The agent was not amused at Bob’s escapade or my participation. “Follow me to the cellar.” This was an unusual request. Bob usually simply explained what he had found. We didn’t go on a tour.

As we entered the exterior cellar stair Bob turned and said “don’t be alarmed at the snake skins.” The female client and her agent stopped in their tracks as Bob said “I have only found five little black snakes so far.” They decided the cellar was not of interest to them as they backed up into the yard. Bob, the male client and I continued down the stair observing numerous shed snake skins hanging along the side of the stair and others as we entered the cellar. I also observed major termite damage and old rags stuffed in holes in areas of the floor system everywhere I looked.

Bob walked forward to the edge of the cellar dirt wall facing the front area of the crawl space saying “I saw the five small black snakes over there in the front right corner but I think, based on the size and number of skins, there are several large ones somewhere I haven’t seen. Now the male client had heard enough and headed up the stair to join the ladies in the yard as Bob stated “you know that’s not my concern, take a look at all this termite damage”. Knowing that snakes move away from people Bob and I looked closer at the extensive structural termite damage and then joined the others in the yard.

As inspectors, we are limited to stating the facts of our observations and are never supposed to express our opinion of whether a client should purchase a home. As I explained in detail the extent of the damage we observed the lady began to cry. The more I talked the more she sobbed. Then as I finished she looked into my eyes through her tears and asked “should we purchase this home?” As I began explaining that the decision was between her and her husband, Bob and I both took great care not to verbally express our opinion as in unison we clearly shook our heads to the right and left expressing our real opinion. She began uncontrollable sobs. We were both destroyed and at a loss of how to proceed. I immediately offered to stop the inspection and write a letter addressing the extensive termite damage which would give them an out from their contract and reduce the charge for my time.

Gaining control of herself the lady inquired “what about the snakes?” I said that I would mention the snakes as well but thinking about all of the rags I observed stuffed in holes in the floor system I suggested that we look in the attic before leaving the property. Surprisingly, she not only agreed but followed. Opening the door between the finished and unfinished attic space we observed a very large baited wire cage in the center of the floor. What is that for she inquired? “You don’t want to know” was my reply. Any guess at what they were trying to catch?

That night my phone rings and it’s the occupant/owner of the home who inherited it from her grandmother. “I heard what you found here today, what should I do?” Before I caught myself I said “a bulldozer might be in order.” She was not amused as I could then tell she was in tears as well. I explained that the damage was so extensive that repair cost would probably exceed the value of the home. I then said “I bet you don’t have mice”. “How did you know that?” Next day the home was taken off the market.

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