August, 2004
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Dem Old Bones


This tale is a war story, but I swear to you that every word is true and that the events described happened exactly as told.

The home was a 100-year-old, two-story colonial with a three-season front porch. Everything was proceeding smoothly during the home inspection. My clients were a nice young couple, and the two male real estate brokers were professionals. They stayed out of the way. I inspected the exterior, roof and then all the mechanical systems in the basement. Along the way, I gained the respect of my clients, taught them everything they needed to know about their prospective new home, and answered all of their questions to allay their fears. Even the brokers asked a few construction questions, which I graciously answered.

Having completed everything in the basement, the parade and I headed upstairs to inspect the first floor. I moved through each room, inspecting for the typical heat source, outlets, etc. My clients hungrily followed in my wake, eagerly digesting my every word. As first-time buyers, of course they were very nervous. Meanwhile, the two brokers had settled down to talk at the kitchen table, much to my pleasure.

Once the primary rooms were inspected on the first floor, my plan was to inspect the three-season front porch and then continue up the staircase to the second floor. I walked out into the porch, and noticed the nice, new replacement windows, clean walls and ceiling surfaces, and an old sofa at the far end. Reaching into my bag of tricks, I took out my outlet analyzer and did my thing with the nearest outlet, then continued clockwise around the porch. As I got to the sofa, I noticed an accessible space between the end of the sofa and the wall and decided to investigate to see if there was an outlet I could reach. This is where the title of this tale, “Dem Old Bones,” comes into play.

As I looked between the sofa and the wall, my heart literally stopped! There, on the floor, was a complete human skeleton! Let me tell you, we hear all kinds of war stories as home inspectors, but this was the most unnerving thing I had ever encountered. I just kind of stopped dead in my tracks and stared. The skeleton appeared to be that of an adult, and it was lying in a fetal position as if it was just dumped in the corner. Goose bumps are a good way of describing my feelings as I saw the empty eye sockets, spine, white ribs, hips, arms and leg bones. The way it was laying on its left side was unnerving, as the withered finger bones appeared to be beckoning.

Finally I found my voice and said to my young clients: “You had better come over here and tell me that we both are seeing the same thing.” They stood beside me and the wife gasped. I don’t know how much time went by, but I know we were thinking the same things. “How did it get here?” “I wonder if someone dug up a grave?” “Who could have done such a thing?” “What should we do?”

Once I regained my composure, I started to look a little closer. Maybe it was instinct, I don’t know, but something did not look quite right. Being suspicious, I decided to investigate by reaching down and touching it. As I did so, the whole skeleton kind of jiggled. I laughed out loud and shouted “rubber!” The skeleton must have been a prop discarded in the corner after Halloween. Now, I have seen plenty of Halloween skeletons, but this was the most realistic one I have ever encountered and it certainly had us fooled. I told my clients that I just had to take a picture of the skeleton and share the story with my colleagues. The three of us had a good laugh and continued up the staircase to inspect the second floor. Meanwhile, the two brokers were still in the kitchen and had no idea what had transpired.

Fortunately, the second floor inspection went along without anymore surprises, but the experience was ever-present in my mind. As I set up my step ladder in the hallway, preparing to open the attic hatch, we heard the two brokers at the foot of the stairs. I said to my clients; “Lets have some fun and play a little joke on them.”

When the brokers arrived at the top of the staircase, I put on my serious face and said, “Did you two see the human skeleton on the front porch?” They looked at me dead-panned, so I continued, “Yes, we found a human skeleton in the front porch, and it was quite shocking. I think as brokers you have a responsibility to notify the authorities! You had better go down and take a look.”

The brokers saw the serious expression on our three faces and just had to investigate. They walked down the stairs and toward the porch with uncertainty, while we three mischief-makers stood at the top of the stairs waiting for a reaction. We heard them grumble, “What skeleton, I don’t see any …..(long, pregnant pause)” Finally, I shouted down the stairs:  “Did you find it?” The answer came back in an unsettled voice, “We found it!” A few silent seconds went by and I knew from experience what they were thinking.

I could not let them suffer forever, so I shouted, “Did you touch it?” The answer came back quicker this time, “I’m not touching it!” I shouted back, “Go ahead and touch it!” That pregnant pause was back and then, finally, we heard them laughing. As they came back upstairs, I could not resist saying, “Got you good, didn’t I?”