The Home Inspections Plus Story

01 October 2014 Written by  Mark Beck
Published in October 2014 Articles

I am the sole proprietor of an East County business called Home Inspections Plus, which provides home inspection services.

My clients are usually home buyers, and we conduct home maintenance inspections to locate deferred maintenance issues including such things as termites, structural damage, and leaks in the foundation or roof. We also perform follow-up inspections for major repair or remodeling projects to ensure that the work has been completed according to contract specifications.

Some of my clients are homeowners who wish simply to ensure that their properties are up to code and safe to live in. Most of my clients, however, are homebuyers who have a genuine need for the services that my Home Inspections Plus provides and want to protect themselves against problems that might pop up only after they have set up housekeeping. I provide information so they know what they are getting into. My reports aren’t pass/fail; they contain the kind of information that I myself would want to know about a possible home purchase. If it is a fixer-upper, for example, clients need to know what actually needs fixing. In other cases, a property might be shown as a cream puff but with a lot of hidden problems.

Homeowners and buyers face a number of problems. For example, a house might have an outward appearance of perfection but, hidden from view, is the fact that the gutters are overflowing with debris that for months has been obstructing drainage resulting in structural damage to that part of the roof. In other cases, homeowners have made modifications to plumbing, heating & air, or electrical systems resulting in conditions that are possibly dangerous and certainly out-of-code. For example, I’ve seen numerous cases of jury rigged wiring that connected directly to service lines with no junction boxes. In other cases, circuits are overloaded far beyond their design parameters. Some homeowner modifications employ extension cords in the place of permanent wiring. Many times, for example, I’ve seen garage door openers that were connected by an extension cord to an AC outlet. All of these conditions are fire hazards. I’ve encountered a few situations that were potentially deadly such as cracked heat exchangers in a heating system nothing to prevent the release of deadly amounts of carbon monoxide directly into a home’s living spaces.

It’s difficult to peak behind a wall or beneath a floor or in a ceiling to detect any problems that may be lurking there out-of-sight, but it turns out that doing so is not impossible. I am a certified infrared thermographer and use a thermal imaging camera to take pictures that can detect such issues as moisture, electrical overheating, leaks in heating and air-ducts, and even evidence of wood destroying organism infestations (i.e., termites).

Following my inspection, I write a detailed report, itemizing the various parts of the house that I examined and providing a detailed itemization of whatever defects or issues I’ve found. In property transactions, significant issues usually become negotiating points between buyer and seller. In some cases, however, I’ve uncovered problems that turn out to be a deal breaker. Sometimes my reports raise the ire of the Realtors who are now having issues with a sale that would have gone through, if it hadn’t been for my report. But the fact is, I’ve been in homes that seem to becommitting the property version of suicide with so many problems that they will turn into a money pit for anyone who tries to bring it up to appropriate standards and codes.

Some people in the housing industry seem willing to operate on their version of a caveat emptor, “let-the-buyer-beware,” level of service. That’s appropriate perhaps when you are purchasing a used $100 game machine or a hair dryer, but it is simply not acceptable for the purchase of a half-million dollar home. Clients would tend to regard my services as worth the cost even if I didn’t uncover anything noteworthy. If nothing else should come of one of my inspections, they have bought some peace-of-mind in the form of reassurance that their property is safe and worth whatever price they are paying for it.

Buyers tend to love me for the very same reason that sellers tend to hate me. I have never had a serious complaint about my work except, very occasionally, from a seller who felt that my report was being unfairly harsh. In each of those few cases, however, my client the buyer had no complaints. Many of the sellers have a grudging respect for my thoroughness because when they are purchasing a home, a number of them subsequently become clients themselves and are filled with admiration for the same quality job on the home they are purchasing that had previously caused them bitter feelings and hostility on the home they had been selling. There’s no such thing as a licensed home inspector in California. If someone represents him/herself as one, run away. However, I hold a number of specialty certifications including infrared technology, pools & spas, HVAC, mold, and chimneys. Most of all, I am one of a select few inspectors in Northern California who is qualified as a certified master inspector by the industry’s Certified Master Inspector Board. The certification is the result of a rigorous process involving such things as background checks, random evaluation of client reports, and documentation that I’ve performed at least 1,000 inspections. I sailed through that requirement because at this time, we’re pushing 5,000 inspections pretty hard — and I might add, with zero lawsuits. Buyers should note that they have a choice in home inspectors and do not have to follow their Realtor’s recommendation. In some cases, the recommended inspector will issue a report that is several pages long, which will be far less problematic for Realtors than the report, often 75-pages long, that they know the client would get from me. You get what you pay for and this is not a good place to save a few bucks.

The business has provided some adventures along the way. One day I was down on my hands-and-knees in the crawl space beneath a house searching for evidence of structural damage, leaks, and animals. I struck gold with that last, I guess, because I suddenly came face-to-face with a skunk. Fortunately, it was his face I was looking at. I don’t know whether the animal or I was most surprised. However, he was obviously not as alarmed by the encounter as I was because it took me less time to exit from the crawl space than I would have thought possible.

Back Story — Getting Started In Love And In Business
I was born and raised in Palo Alto but became familiar with East County as a teenager when our family would go waterskiing and fishing on the Delta, and hanging out in Brentwood. This was when the town had a single traffic light. Following graduation from Mountain View High, I did a short college stint, essentially majoring in football as a defensive back on the Foothill College Owls football team. I turned down some scholarship offers to nice colleges, because I decided to drop out and work at Cupertino’s Sunshine Supermarket, which was owned by my family. I was familiar with the business because I had worked in the store since I was 13 years old and stocking shelves.

My career came to an end after only two years, when it became clear to me that the life of a grocer was not going to be my destiny. I discovered I had marketing gifts and launched into a series of sales positions with high-tech Silicon-Valleytype companies. In 1985, while returning from a business trip, I was in a boarding area at John Wayne Airport in Orange County and found myself sitting next to a strikingly attractive brunette. I was immediately impressed by her beauty and found myself drawn to her by a number of lovely features — especially by her fascinating green eyes that seemed both friendly and alluring.

Worldly wise and suave man-about-town that I am, I said, “Been a long day, eh?” I admit it wasn’t a great opening line, but it was effective because it turned out that she had been in Southern California on business and it had been a long day for her, as well. I learned her name, Cheryl. When we boarded, I found that the plane was half-full, so I invited Cheryl to take the unoccupied seat next to mine. Our ensuing conversation was warm and friendly and I was sorry when it came to an end at the San Jose Airport. It actually came to an end in the parking lot because I drew our time together out as long as possible, walked her to her car, and got her phone number. I called her two days later. When you actually do run into the proverbial “girl of your dreams,” there is no excuse for delay. I proposed to Cheryl ten days later. On December 14 we will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary.

Cheryl was from the Midwest so following marriage, in 1988, we moved to Cincinnati to be near her family. I started my own computer products distribution company. Technology was in a state of rapid advancement and left me behind, so I engaged in some contracting projects. I met a sales director from Pleasanton at a sales conference in St. Louis who offered me a position; I jumped at the opportunity to get back to California. Cheryl and I were tired of the Midwest weather and we both missed California’s sunshine and reduced humidity. I stayed in the industry for several years. Corporate politics became a mess, however, so I took off on my own.

During my contracting days I had done some home inspections and really enjoyed the work, so I decided to get into the business. I discovered that certification is not a requirement. You can just hang out a shingle and go to work. But I wanted to do this right, so I took a training course that started with foundations, ended in roofs, and covered everything in between. When I returned from the training, I began marketing my services to real estate companies with the results described above.

I truly love the business. It gives me the opportunity to do some stuff in the office and also to get my hands dirty. No two houses are really alike. After a few years, similar models diverge. You have to inspect everything because you can’t guess where problems might lie.

The mission of Home Inspections Plus is not to alarm people about conditions but to give them information that can serve as a basis for wise property-related decision making, exercising reasonable caution, and implementing appropriate remedies.

It still seems much more satisfying than selling groceries.

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