Friday, November 28, 2014

On Cost

The old classical Latin lexicon by E. A Andrews defines the adjective commodus in part as something/someone/conditions that are suitable, fit, convenient, opportune, complete, pleasing, agreeable, favorable, an advantage, or profitable. As a noun it also meant a reward, pay, a loan, or a profit. [E.A. Andrews, A Copious and Critical Latin – English Lexicon (1854)] As a verb, in general to “commodo” something or someone meant to make things equitable or right.
As an aside, there was a Roman Emperor named Commodus. [Full name, Commodus Lucius Aurelius] In the 2000 movie The Gladiator, Commodus the villain was played by J. Phoenix. Commodus was born in AD 161 and given the title Caesar in 166 when only five, co-reigning with his father Marcus Aurelius until the latter’s death in 180. Gradually getting more insane, he reigned as the sole emperor for twelve more years until strangled in a plot in 192.
In later church Latin, the word commodum added blessing to the old classical meanings. [L.F. Stelten, Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (1995)].

All of this has reference to our English language to the present day. In slightly older English, a commode was a cabinet in a room containing a washbowl or a low chair containing a chamber pot (to relieve oneself). Think of how the term commode as a portable chamber pot would be related to convenience (or even blessing!) in previous eras of distant exterior outhouses. . . The English word commodity is also a direct descendant. A commodity is simply something useful. In economics, a commodity is an article of trade or commerce. The commodity is assumed to be of equivalent value regardless of where it was obtained. A gallon of gas at Fred Meyer will be of equivalent quality as that purchased at the 76 station in town or from Costco, etc.

One tendency of people is to treat service providers as commodities – one service provider is essentially as good as the next. However, this is a mistake. Any adult over thirty knows that service providers of whatever specialty can differ wildly in terms of customer service, competence, communication, and support. That restaurant has great food but get ready to wait forever and be abused by the staff in the process of getting this food (e.g. the Soup Nazi episode on Seinfeld!). Or that place does great work but you can’t get in for three months, and they offer no warranties whatever. Etc.

Home inspections and inspectors are no different. Not all humans are created equal in terms of physical and mental abilities. Perhaps more importantly, not all are equal in terms of work ethic or habits. Not all are the same regarding communication abilities. Or desire to grow in their abilities through study and personal enrichment.

One old time inspector of over thirty years said, “In a home inspector, people are not purchasing a commodity. They are purchasing competence and experience.” He later added, “Home inspectors are too concerned with CYA [covering their posteriors]. It is really quite simple. Cover your clients’ posteriors. Protect what they are concerned with by doing a solid job of looking at property with their best interests as your main concern. This is how you too will succeed.”

One common question is how much an inspection costs. Some few realtors ask this question as a shibboleth (filter) of whom they will use (refer to their clients) from those they will not. Some clients ask this question and compare quotes from differing inspectors. I have done the same in the past. On one instance, we chose the inspector who quoted the lowest cost. We then moved into a property that had serious, unseen, unreported problems that took years and significant expense to resolve. Would that we had spent the extra fifty or ninety dollars for a competent inspection and avoided, or at least been aware of, the problems that lurked in this structure.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Color is Your Parachute?

My old man back in 1981 sent me a book to read about finding your ideal job or purpose in life or the like. It had in its title parachutes and colors and at the time made little sense. 

Yesterday an examination of a house built in 1890 Astoria. The center of town, which I am told by the local historians was multi-ethnic. People in this part of town wanted to Americanize, not retain their old world identities and language and customs the way people a mile to the West wanted to do and be. Funny, the ethnic struggles of over a century ago are mirrored today. Only the names have changed.

Wandering through this generally well-maintained and period-specific structure that had its original windows and siding and most of its structural components, I wondered as I always do who had lived here through the years and what events had occurred within its walls. What was the neighborhood like? 

Wandering through the attic and basement and looking at the original old school lumber. . . Wow! History combined with architecture combined with detective work combined with carpentry and other trades -- oh man! And later in the day, the writing and literary craftmanship begins with the report writing. No less satisfying than the inspection process.

A fire had occurred here at some point in the past. Not to worry, the beams and components were damaged only in a superficial way. 

Over here, a huge 10X10 beam crossed the basement. It looked whole but when I beat on it with my "coon-buster," it rained sawdust through miniscule holes -- evidence of a wood destroying pest infestation.

Over here, a miswired outlet and over there, funky plumbing. The raw excitement of hanging on a long ladder in the windy rain juggling the pick and camera and trying to do justice to seeing what needs to be seen.

Now after decades, the intent of the parachute book finally emerges.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Referrals and Referring

This realtor had not used me before. She insisted on being present for the entire inspection. She was professionally dressed, all business, and was visibly disappointed (bordering on disdainful) when learning that I did not come from a formal contracting background. 

And so it must be with some persons. . .

After introductions, I got to work and the agent sat in the living room and texted or did realtor business on her smartphone. The structure looked high-end swanky and immaculately clean. It was well maintained, and furnished with expensive furniture. The owners lived there, but had left for the inspection.

Soon thereafter the septic technician arrived. He began to drain and service the septic system – a process that would take a little over an hour. When finished, he entered uninvited and began to speak familiarly to the real estate agent. He had taken off his rain gear, but remained in the clothing and shoes that he had worn outside. It turns out that the realtor and septic specialist, both locals to our small community environment, knew one another well and had a long history dating back to their high school years. The septic man sat down deeply and comfortably in one of the plush chairs, and he and the realtor spoke jocularly for the next ninety minutes. I inspected around them in relative “fly-on-the-wall” invisibility. Their laughs and gossip permeated the large structure, speaking positively and negatively about things, people.

I wondered if the owners would have been angered that the realtor let persons inside who had no business being there. Would have been angry that the shoes-off-in-the-house rule was violated. Would have been angry that a person in potentially very foul clothing was sitting on the furniture.

The realtor was coldly professional to me, but was “good old boy” familiar to the septic person. Professional behavior varied depending on where one stood in a hierarchy.

This septic specialist is competent in the technicalities of his profession. The same for the realtor, who has sold hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars of property in the area. But these persons were not competent concerning propriety. They did not honor the homeowners by respecting the property boundaries to which they were entrusted.

One person’s positive referral is another person’s curse. Referral is a matter of perspective. It is subjective based on the familiarity and not necessarily the competence or propriety of the object of the recommendation. Of the giver also. It may poison the well of professional objectivity for a third person to preferentially refer one person over another. This is why I do not refer.

Rather, I offer a comprehensive list of several, many, or all contractors and expect the client to make the decision of whom to hire based on factors important to him/her/them. Clients must be proactive in this process, and ask relevant questions besides just how much a person charges.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Disclosure and the Love of Money

An idyllic country setting. Like Saturn, the ring of cloud hung halfway down the beautiful coast-range mountain along the back of the property.

The landlord/owner was present. I very much like to inspect when owners are present; usually profitable information about the state of the property comes out when asking about this or that. This owner was different. Very tightlipped, this one. I asked three times in different ways in the first few minutes of the inspection if there was anything that he wanted to share with me about the property. Positives? Negatives? Things that don’t work so well or that he has had to fix in the past? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Then I began to inspect. Much of the south roof had been partially blown off in the past and topically replaced-patched. The siding on the south side was hanging on with a thread. Bouncy, wavy, weak. No plywood sheathing underneath the siding. Just siding over studs. . . A large water leak in the attic space on the south side, expected if the roof had been blown off. Evidence of leaks in the bedroom ceilings along the south side. The awning and sun roof along one whole side of the property had been constructed in a homespun manner. It had leaked massively along the junction with the house. The leakage was not evident with the recent drywall and paint that had been applied. And so on. And on. The big-budget items wrong with the property just piled on and on. Maybe forty to fifty and more -thousand dollars to properly get this property in shape.

When asking the owner about obvious things as he followed me, he had nothing to say. No, there were no problems that he knew of. He also told the buyers-to-be that he would fix nothing as part of the transaction. The price was set and that was that. The owner even had the cheek an hour and a half in to try to pressure me to finish the inspection sooner than normal!

I don’t do valuation but have come to sense what prices are reasonable from not. The price for this property was too high. It would have been borderline high had the property been in stout shape.

I found out later that the owner had purchased this property before these problems with the house. He knew about all these things that I was finding. Maybe even more things.

Meanwhile, the rot grows and the black mold creeps and the bad water seeps. . . Both in the structure and in the soul. Of the seller, of course. But also the buyers, who would have crushingly found out about these things after purchase. And found out the character and deceit of the brutish man who would have had stolen their financial livelihood through not speaking the truth.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Our Winter Storms

Here in our north coastal clime, the winters are an especial favorite time of the year. The glut of doofus-driving tourists is gone. The weather turns and the rains and storms begin. Even the locals largely go inside. This is the time of year that I enjoy going outdoors. The jetty is an especial favorite – the six mile long rock projection into the ocean that makes navigation more manageable. Or the beach in the remote spots that can only be approached by hiking where there is nobody present for miles on either side. The conditions are always different. Wind. Height of the swells in the ocean. The frequency of the swells. I have stood on the car sized rocks of the jetty when the winds were sixty mph or more but the waves were not that intense. But I have also stood forty meters behind these rocks – by necessity – when the thirty+ foot high ocean swells and infrequency of the wave sets (less frequent usually means more intensity) made the ocean slam over this rock wall like it was scarcely present.

One time I walked several hundred yards of the jetty when the winds were calm but the waves were terrible. You heard them coming well in advance that day; the sound reminded of when me and my grade school buddies lay next to railroad tracks when trains were passing. The deep roar increasing in intensity. Then the slam and roar of the impact. I have read many ancient writings about hiding in clefts of rocks for various reasons. But that day I learned what value a cleft has: protection against raw force. Sometimes the water would erupt on top of you; sometimes not. But the clefts gave protection.

Recently, I inspected a tidy beach house that had been built in the 1990s. It was in a chessboard row of mostly rental houses along the seawall in a tourist town along our coast. There was the ocean, the beach, the twelve foot high seawall made of fairly big rocks, forty meters of flat dune grass, and then the house. As I inspected in a rainy day, the tide came in and the beach disappeared. The ocean was right up to the base of the seawall, only forty-fifty meters from me. Some would have looked out the huge picture windows and thought about beauty and peace and tranquility. Knowing how high and hard the waves get, I didn’t at all feel these things. In a storm, fifty meters is no distance at all. Unease crept in quickly. I thought about all of the news reports I have heard about global warming and more intense storms and water levels rising. Katrina. Sandy. Etc. In a very high tide, high swells, and a storm, the water has certainly reached that house in the past. I did see evidence of this in the inspection, but it was not obvious.

The client looking at the house who had purchased my services asked me if I would buy the house. I am asked this question frequently, and cannot answer it. I can only relay what the current physical state of the property is at the time of the inspection. Clients need to make up their own minds on such matters.

I did tell the client, “if the ocean even hiccups, it is going to reach this structure.” Weird visions of the gray-black ocean swelling to halfway or higher up the picture windows were running through my head. Windows shattering; doors crunching inward from the force of the water. The agent quickly ameliorated, “well now the structure has been here for over twenty years; it has stood the test of time.”

I shake my head in amazement. The placement of this structure is a ticking time bomb. (Placement is a very different thing than quality of the structure, mind you!) Fairweather developers and fuzzy-minded local code municipalities who allowed building to occur here. Who will be holding this bomb when it detonates?  

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the waters rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the waters rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. – c. 30 AD.

The reader is invited to “google” the following phrase: [build a house on the sand] – and view the images that this search generates. And to know visually the fears of which I relate.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Inspector Blog?!

What kind of inspector blog is this supposed to be?, I have been asked. You don’t have the typical things common to other inspector sites and blogs.

If a person wants information on your heater longevity or roofing material, etc., there are many other sources for that type of information.  

I do enjoy inspecting and all it involves. But inspecting is a means to an end. It as my occupation is not the great ambition; it is temporal and shall end. There are things much more lasting than this or any occupation. 

A good occupation to me is something that one enjoys doing that pays the bills so that more enduring aspects of reality can be recognized to exist, and for this recognition to develop. To live. To think. To walk quietly heart in hand with the One. To philosophize. To marvel at personal insignificance in the scapes of human and divine history, of reality. To commune with the one, only God in silence, ~without sight while leaning on my staff in the desert.

Ach the superficial social settings where the second question out of a person’s mouth is, “what do you do?” What do I do? Really do? This: think about things present, past, and what may be.

The CR-EATONS Among Us

You who have been in an occupation for some time, in the early days of your occupation or in anything else of which you are a specialist or specially knowledgeable, did anyone ever help you and give you honest, helpful assessment? 
I remember a graduate student mathematics instructor who assisted in this way when we freshmen were overwhelmed with the complexities of learning calculus. Empathetic. Young yet wise. In stark contrast to an older, much more experienced senior mathematics instructor who treated students as distractions and inconveniences. In these two persons I learned that wisdom, occupational competence, and basic human courtesy are not at all proportional with age.

We often associate age with wisdom. And perhaps this is how it should be in the normal course of things. But how frequent the instances of age being inversely proportional with what wisdom can teach. Busyness. Dismissiveness. Greed. Bitterness. Anger. Selfishness. Regarding other persons as little more than commodities to advance the self.

The Cretans, the Cretans, they are among us. But oh, alas! – they are us. What gods, the gods of these Cretans? Appetite. Image. Occupational advancement. The pocketbook. And finally, the great Zeus of all the lesser gods -- the Supreme: the sacrosanct bank account, in Which we trust. The delusional key to my successful future.
Fellow human, I will fight you. I will lie to you. I will step on you. Or, I may support and and even seem to love you. 
I will do whatever needed to glorify and advance This My Precious god.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ancient Building Code

Iraq and Iran have of course been in the American news for the last decades and for evident reasons. These troubled nations’ stories and histories hardly begin in the modern era. Like many of the extant countries in the Middle East and quite a few of those that have faded from sight and been destroyed or assimilated into other people groups and nations, these regions of ancient Syria, Elam, Assyria, and Babylonia have a deep, storied past.

In December of 1901 and January 1902, three large fragments of a block of black diorite stone were discovered by J. de Morgan at the ancient Acropolis of Susa, the ancient Persepolis, the one-time capital of an independent kingdom (of the Elamites – approximately SW Iran where it butts up to modern SE Iraq). When fitted together, these formed a stele 2.25 meters high and approximately 1.75 meters in breadth. (A high dive is three meters off of the water!) The cuneiform writing on the stele dates to approximately (disputed) the late third millennium BC. The relief on the top of the stele indicates that the sun god Shamash revealed a set of laws to the King of Mesopotamia (Babylonia) by the name of Hammurabi.  

Put simply: the stones discovered in 1901-02 date to about the BC 2200 period and contain a set of laws similar to the Old Testament Pentateuch collection of laws (which are about a thousand years younger than Hammurabi’s laws) or even of laws seen today in modern municipalities.

OK, so what?!

Building codes are rules established to ensure competent, safe, minimum construction practices and products. Perhaps you have built something under a permit-to-build, and have dealt with the conditions that guided your construction product. Perhaps you have built something (or "inherited" something at your home that was built in slipshod manner without a permit!) yourself without a permit that is of questionable integrity. Perhaps also you have dealt with a code inspector – the person designated in any given municipality to ensure compliance with code rules. (And of course these persons come in various types from the redneck small town power junkies to those more balanced, objective, and professional. . .) Thousands of years ago, part of the Code of Hammurabi contains material that deals with ancient building code. Consider:

228. If a builder has built a house for a man and has completed it, [the recipient] shall give [the builder] as his fee two shekels of silver per [building unit] of house [constructed].
229. If a builder has built a house for a man and has not made strong his work and the house he built has fallen and he has caused the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death. (Ancient "eye for eye" legislation!)
230. If [the builder] has caused the son of the owner of the house to die, the son of that builder shall be put to death.
231. If [the builder] has caused the slave of the owner of the house to die, [the builder] shall give slave for slave to the owner of the house.
232. If a builder has built a house for a man and has not jointed his work and the wall has fallen, that builder at his own cost shall make good that wall.
[The legislation then moves on to similar rules for boatbuilders and the integrity of their work.]

The theme of this article is inspired by the sui homo Gloriosus of greater Clatsop County, Clatsop's community college, this state, country, and of international repute – that incessant iactator (perhaps this word as the origin of the name “Jack”?), the eminently qualified and certified balatus balatro Mr. Apfelgrate.
The article specifics from C. H. W. Johns, “Code of Hammurabi,” A Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 5, Supplement; ed. J. Hastings; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1898; [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson], 1988 repr., 584-612).

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Reason to Like Spideys

I did an inspection in Knappa. The house had bugs that are bad. (carpenter ants). I did not see these bugs. This fact was difficult to hear. Without possessing the qualities of omniscience or omnipresence, gotta still strive to see all that can be seen.

Did another inspection in Knappa.  This house also had carpenter ants. (What is it with Knappa and bugs?) I found them this time. They were very sly, these ants. But the way I found them? Cause every vent hole in the foundation had spiders who had made their webs across the vent apertures. Probing, prying, searching. I never did find where these things had any nesting or even where they had done damage. But they were everywhere. Cause the spideys had nailed them. Including one particularly juicy looking black widow sitting there staring at me with its 30 eyes or whatever they stare with. 

I like them spideys cause they help to find the bad bugs. Just stay at arms length, little spideys. . .

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Academicians v. Coons: The Pretense Factor

While low crawling under this pretty ugly single wide in a local trailer park the other day, wondering what lurked in the pile of pulled-down insulation in the far corner that I had to go to to get the total picture, it struck me what it is that makes this occupation much different and even more appealing from those known in the past. The occasional raw, adrenaline pumping excitement. The wonder at what would be seen next, from cool (or appalling!) plumbing or construction or electrical or architecture or whatever. (Some homeowners are creative in what they build and how they do it.) The utter lack of political nonsense and incessant posturing for self recognition and advancement (at least when on site focusing on power outlets and rot and roofs, etc.) that is prevalent in many jobs and environments. And most of all. . . the utter lack of pretense. For pretense -- pretending or faking -- is a quality that I have come to despise very deeply. Pretense is intimately rooted and intertwined with the concept of ego, self. Put on the makeup or embellish the image and present oneself to others in the best possible light. Or, even in unrealistic, false light if the embellishment is thick enough. How many times have you seen a perfect picture on a business card and then see the real person and go, "whaaat?!"

As with many aging and aged persons, I am a bit of an early bird. Early to bed early to rise. I love getting on site with a vacant property soon after first light and quietly beginning the roof and exterior inspections. The other early morning an hour.5 after light I was under a deck looking at the structure when HUGE Mr. or Mrs. Coon came in to go to bed after a long night foraging.  The Cooninator did not see me until he was deep under the deck. I saw Mr. Coon and immediately did not like what I saw. (How many of you have been intimidated by coons? The deep, dark, murderous/hateful stare? The hissing. The charging? If so, then you know what real fear is!) Mr. Coon did not want to back off when I began shouting and beating the deck post with my "death pick bug & rot finder." In fact, Mr. Coon not only didn't want to leave but Mr. Coon was coming closer and "squaring up." (One litigant in a Judge Judy episode used the term squared up. Judge Judy did not know what it meant and needed Byrd to define it.) Squaring up: Mr. Coon obviously wanted to fight. After all, I was in Mr. Coon's home and he was tired and grumpy to see me in his hallway! 

The Death Pick Bug & Rot Finder (courtesy of L. Colvin of Chinook, WA!)

Now, even though the 'death pick bug/rot finder' is a tough tool that I suppose could be dangerous if used a certain way, I did not feel confident with it at all when Mr. Coon squared up. But YES! -- there was a better equalizer. I reached into my goody bag, unlatched the latch, and let Mr. Coon have a faceful of mace. Mr. Coon freaked out, and luckily ran the other way and out. I'll leave the bare-handed coon hunting antics in the hands of someone much more qualified and willing -- Kentucky's own Ernie Brown Jr. ( // If you haven't seen Ernie catch a snapping turtle or possum or coon or skunk (yes!) bare handed then you really haven't lived! Check the Animal Planet listings

I do not like coons. But there is one thing about a fat angry coon that I like infinitely more than the religious academics in a past life. Coons show no pretense. They do not fake. They are not out for self-advancement or promotion or showing themselves the smartest or most accomplished or most experienced or whatever the way preening humans often do. No, coons only want to live and to be left alone. If you encounter one, you will likely know right away exactly what it is thinking without any fakiness or such nonsense. Is this enviable? When found among humans? Yes, I suppose if the trait is mixed with kindness, compassion, and empathy.

Pretentious veneers are an inevitable part of the human condition. Maybe a product of the fall when sin entered the world. Is that not when A&E saw themselves as naked and felt a need to put on the coverings? But enough is enough. And enough was enough.

Truth. Honesty. Reality. Mixed with humility.