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.