June, 2018
Discussion from Executive Director
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Perception Versus Fact

FRANK LESH

Two definitions from my online dictionary:

Perception: the ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses.

Fact: a thing that is indisputably the case.

The differences between these two words may be similar, but they are not always the same. 

For example, a seller’s or an agent’s perception of a home inspector may be negative if a house sale does not go through. That inspector may get the label of “deal killer.” After all, the seller has lived in the house for 40 years and never had a problem with the gas water heater sitting on the garage floor. And if the roof has not leaked since they moved in, why should it be replaced? Also, the furnace flue pipe never caused the wood framing to catch on fire just because it’s touching the wood paneling. Not to mention that the seller hasn’t seen any roof leaks or smelled any burning wood. And that water heater is as solid as a rock (just look at how many times it’s been bumped by the car). So, the seller’s perception may be that the inspector is just trying to make himself or herself look good to the purchaser.

Needless to say, we call out the deficiencies because we want our clients to know what they’re buying. So, we see those defects as facts. But convincing someone of his or her inability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses may be a very difficult task.

But how do we counter the perception? What can we say or do so that our reputations are not forever tarnished? In the case of a homeowner, there’s not a whole lot we can do other than showing articles about fires caused by combustibles that are placed too close to heat sources. I’ve tried explaining pyrolysis to people—it sometimes works and they get it, but oftentimes, my explanations fall on deaf ears. It is rewarding, however, when I get a booking from a homeowner to whom I explained things when that homeowner is ready to purchase a new home. So, maybe we just have to put in some extra effort to educate our clients and communicate clearly about the deficiencies we find.

With respect to an agent I know who used the “deal killer” label (on me, no less!), I want to share with you a solution I found that helped remove that moniker. I’d been getting a fair number of referrals from a particular office to do inspections on high-end homes. And because I based my inspection fee on the listing price of the house, I did not want to let my “deal killer” misnomer spread. The advantage to correlating my fee scale to the listing price was simple—it left no guessing on how many square feet the house had (for example, when a purchaser forgot to mention that there was a finished basement with three bedrooms and two baths). I’m sure that all of you have your own systems, but using the listing price worked for me and it was easy to verify the listing price on the MLS sheet.

So, when I noticed that I wasn’t getting as many referrals from that office anymore, I asked to speak at their weekly meeting. As I walked up to the podium, I noticed that most of the agents were rifling through listing sheets, doing their nails or reading the paper, so I started my talk by making this very simple statement, “Don’t use me if you want a home inspection for your client.”

After a pregnant pause* and noticing that all eyes were now fixed on me, I continued, “…unless the inspection is for your son, daughter, mother, father, friend or yourself.” When I saw inquisitive looks, I said, 

“I’m going to do a thorough inspection and sometimes I discover things that were not obvious. So, if there is someone you really care about, use me.”

My point to this story is that a person’s perception may be accurate, but sometimes we can be misled by our senses or by people who are trying to force their perception on us. Do the best job you can, defend your position and beliefs, and let the facts speak for you.

* BTW, the champion of “pregnant pauses” is former ASHI President Mark Cramer. He can turn a one-paragraph statement into a novella. I think we can all learn to use that technique occasionally. Thanks, Mark!