That lazy home inspector wouldn’t tighten my toilet!

Originally published in The Daily Courier

by Randy West

I have written in this column before that re-inspections are the least favorite part of a home inspectors job (attics in August rank up there). The first time we’re on site the sellers are very pleasant, and may even offer us iced tea or a cookie (which we don’t accept). But we’re not allowed to discuss our findings with anyone but our client, the buyer. So if we get asked to go back to a home, the sellers are sometimes not as pleasant. They may be upset that we found stuff wrong they didn’t know about, and/or that we could not tell them about it.

But I had a new twist on this recently when I returned to inspect some improvements made on a home. The home was vacant, but the seller insisted on being present for the re-inspection (a red flag, from my perspective). Instead of being upset about the items I found, he was upset because they were all incorrect. The thermostat was not defective. There were no tree limbs touching the home. The front door does latch normally, etc.

It was obvious that recent improvements had been made. I could see ‘fresh’ wood and paint where the front door and jamb had been repaired. There was a brand-new thermostat, and the outline of the old one was visible in the wall paint. But I did not argue with him. When we were outside, he “dared” me to find a tree limb touching the home, claiming he hadn’t trimmed any branches. I looked down and kicked some green freshly cut branches in his direction and said something about “guess these fell off by themselves…”.

I’m still trying to figure out this behavior. I can understand being upset because a home inspector found stuff wrong with your home that you didn’t know about. But I can’t understand repairing everything and then trying to tell the inspector that he/she was wrong, especially when some of the recent improvements are too obvious to hide.

Last time I wrote about home inspectors repairing items. That column was about inspectors operating or testing items they are required to, like GFCI outlets. I received a fan letter after that column. The writer understood that inspectors should not have to pay to replace items they are required to test. But he wanted to know why home inspectors don’t fix minor items that would not cost anything. “I mean, how long does it take to tighten a loose faucet handle or toilet? Or put in a working light bulb? Are you guys lazy or just trying to find stuff to write up?”

Actually, I’m asked that question regularly, although usually more nicely. A home inspection takes a few hours, more on larger or older homes. If we stopped to tighten every loose light fixture, toilet seat, doorknob, faucet handle, leaking drain pipe, etc. we could easily add an hour or more to the inspection.

But more important is the liability. I do try to fix minor items. I usually say if I can fix it with a screwdriver, I will. But I must be very careful. Once I was trying to pry out the plastic cover on a shower faucet handle to reach the screw to tighten the loose handle. The cover popped out and fell to the tile floor, where it broke into many unglue-able pieces. The faucet was old and I could not find a cover. Fortunately everyone understood and did not charge me. If the seller had insisted I repair it, I would have had to pay a plumber to install a new faucet in a tile shower wall.

I used to remove glass covers from light fixtures that weren’t working. I even carried a good bulb to test them. But glass and plastic gets very brittle with age and heat. I broke more than one cover without doing anything wrong — just loosening the screws that secure the cover. After spending hours the next day finding a similar cover, I vowed never to remove a cover. I will put in a working bulb if the bulb is exposed, but I will not remove any type of plastic or glass cover to reach a bulb. The expense of tracking down, buying, and returning to install a faucet handle or light fixture cover can be more than the profit on the inspection.

Non-working lights in some areas can be a significant safety concern. For example an exterior light by a door to see the coyotes in the back yard, or the light over the stairs to see the kids toys on the steps. So we have to report on non-working lights. My usual comment says “… likely the bulb needs replacing.”

I can’t believe that letter mentioned toilets! I tighten loose toilet seats occasionally. But there is no way any home inspector is going to try to tighten a loose toilet. Occasionally you can simply tighten the bolts that secure a toilet to the floor. But Murphy likes toilets, especially older toilets. So it’s common for the bolts or screws to be stripped, or they’re rusted through and break, or the wood floor under the toilet is moisture damaged, or you pull the flange off the pipe or wax seal and the toilet leaks onto the floor after you tighten it. I know professional plumbers that have cracked toilets when tightening them to the floor. There’s no way I’m doing that during a home inspection.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 7,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at randywest2@gmail.com or visit http://inspectprescott.com.

Date : 10/4/2017