Home Inspection Surprises

Friends routinely ask me what odd or unusual things I have encountered during my home inspection career. Although I try to anticipate almost anything on a home inspection, I have definitely been surprised.

Surprises included water leaks in the crawl space, parts of the house without access (no hatch or entry to the attic or to the crawl space), and sub-flooring held up by bar stools. In several instances access to the crawl space was via floorboards that were not fastened down. I felt like Nancy Drew searching for mystery clues.

One winter I inspected a lovely 6,500 square foot manse on a hill in the woods. The home was vacant, and the seller had turned the water back on the day before the inspection. The real estate agent and I arrived in the morning and entered through the front door. We both heard water when we entered the foyer. We walked towards the sound and ended up at the top of the stairs to a very dark basement. I pulled out my flashlight. About halfway down the stairs, inky water lapped at the carpet. An outside faucet had burst, releasing thousands of gallons of water into the walls of the basement, creating an unintended swimming pool.

Crawl spaces are important inspection areas. You can find water leaks, missing ductwork, loose insulation, structural deficiencies, and plumbing problems. I always crawl to every corner to look at everything. One time I entered a 100 year old home’s crawl space that had about 24 inches of crawl clearance. I pointed my flashlight ahead of me as I pulled myself in over the damp dirt floor from the outside. Out of the corner of my eye I saw quick movement and reflections of multiple eyes. I stopped, frozen in my crawl, thinking I was coming up on a den of snakes. My heart raced. The movement ahead of me stopped. I trained my flashlight slowly back to the corner. At least 3 sets of big eyes and 4 sets of little eyes were looking at me, motionless. Raccoons! Whew, I took a breath. Then I noticed 4 scissors jacks to my right, holding up the floor of the old home. These jacks are the kind you keep in your car to change a flat, not to hold up a house. As I kept the light pointed toward the raccoon family, I noticed with another stab of fear that the jacks were rusted through and were probably on the verge of collapse. If you had been there, you would have seen me doing the strangest of backward wiggles to exit that particular crawl space.

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In another inspection of a vacant home, a full length “secret” cabinet door led to a large closet space with a door at the end. This door was locked but the key was in the knob. I turned the key in the lock, and rotated the knob. The door creaked open towards me and dust particles floated in the beam of my flashlight. Behind the door was… nothing. I played my flashlight into the void, discovering a 7 foot drop to a dirt floor with no stairs!

The moral of these stories is: Bring a good flashlight and a ladder with you to inspections, and know how to wiggle backwards.