The Inspector Calls

Our  prospective buyers came by this afternoon with the Home Inspector.  This is the guy who will look closely at the house and tell them everything that can possibly go wrong.  A bad report can queer the deal; a good one is the first hurdle cleared on the way to a closing.

When we bought the house, we had a friend who was reasonably handy and had rehabbed his own place take a look.  He pointed out a few minor fixes, and that was that.  There were things he definitely missed, as we learned in the next few years, but this was before the professional home inspection became a routine part of buying a house.

We’re attentive and responsible home-owners, but Mr. NYer and I have also been known to bury our heads in the sand rather than face an unpleasant situation.  (Standing beside each other, staring at an attic wall where something had gnawed at and removed 18 inches of insulation, we told ourselves we had mice.  Only when we saw them coming and going from a hold in the roof did we admit the mice were really squirrels.)  We believed the house would  pass with flying colors, but the small chance lingered that the Inspector would  find something we’d refused to face.  Perhaps he would report the sills were infested with Asian bark beetles, or announce that the minor sag in the roofline  was a sure sign of imminent total roof failure.   What if he declared that the drains were oozing malignant miasmas?

He came equipped with a very large flashlight, an electrical tester which he poked into every outlet, and, most alarmingly, a screwdriver that he wielded like an ice-pick on every wooden surface he could find.  I shuddered each time he drove the pick into a sill, and nearly fainted when he aimed it at the 10″ x 10″ wooden support beam that runs the length of the house and holds up the joists.  

As it turned out, none of the wood crumbled or turned to dust under the prodding of the pick.  The roof was good, the basement dry, the mechanical systems in good shape.  He did note that the bathtub taps needed new washers.

I guess he felt he owed the prospective homeowners something, and since he wasn’t going to be giving them a long list of things that needed fixing, or that they could use to lower the price, he decided to give them a long list of potential improvements.  So, over the course of two hours, he offered ideas to make the house more to his liking.  First we heard how easy it  would be to remove the plaster wall separating the front two bedrooms to create a huge master.  He didn’t care for the placement of the attic stairs, and suggested that moving them to a spot across the room would be a simple matter.   He seemed particularly keen on reconfiguring the arrangement of the heating pipes in the basement, which he apparently felt were too simply laid out.  He believed in creating zones, but only after extending the system up to the attic.  

We also learned about the improvements he had made over the years to his own house, a house “just like this one.”  Yep, you guessed it:  he moved the stairs and put in lots of heating zones.  Oddly, though, he hadn’t added a second bathroom.  There were six of ’em, with the wife and the kids, but they managed.  Now, though, the wife had bad knees and he was probably going to have to put in one downstairs even though it was just the two of them.

And so it went for nearly two hours.  Just as the end seemed in sight, the other half of the couple arrived, a firefighter who had just gotten off duty.  Now, for those readers who aren’t familiar with Staten Island, there are a few things you need to know:

1. A disproportionate number of firefighters, cops, teachers and nurses live here.  This is a great thing when you’re trying to sell a house during times like these, because they folks have steady jobs.

2. Despite having a population of nearly a half million,   the Island is a small place.

3. Once you’ve established that a) you’re a native (Islander, that is) or b) you work for the fire department, it is required that you find out who you and the next person know in common.

Now that you know the rules, you’ll understand what happened when the husband arrived.  He comes down to the basement, explaining that he just got off the job.  Mr. Home Inspector lets him know that his son is a firefighter and the social exploration begins. 

“Oh, yeah,” husband responds.  “Where’s he work?”

A station on Staten Island is named.  “I know some guys there.”

And now the serious dance begins.  First, the husband names some guys he knows.  Next, the Home Inspector begins the Inquistion.  Do you know … and the list of Staten Island Irish fire-family names begins.   A half-hour later, satisfied that he has identified every person they might possibly know in common, he let the husband descend the stairs and turned  his attention to the myriad improvements that would make our basement more like his.

I’m not sure how Mr.  NYer, who is both a native Islander AND the son of a retired battalion chief, managed to avoid a similar exchange.  Probably because he wasn’t the client, and he wasn’t the one with whom the Home Inspector planned to build a longterm relationship.  (Favorite Home Inspector statement to prospective buyers: “Once you’re in the house and you start some of this work, you call me.  I’m like your father.”)

It was a classic small-town-Staten Island encounter.  The wife, a teacher, works with the aunt of the woman who lives next door.  The husband knows a lot of the same people as the Inspector’s son.  The couple’s realtor is also a fireman.  If we had dug deeper, we’d have come up with at least a dozen connections.

Montgomery is smaller than Staten Island by half.  I guess it’s just a matter of time before we get to see it’s version of the Staten Island minuet.  Should be interesting.