We Build To The Minimum Standard - Part 2

Why is there no time to do it right the first time, but enough to come back later and try to fix it? How profitable can that be? Why, on a final walk through, does a builder create a list, sometimes a huge list, of things they agree they will come back for later? Why not give it your best shot the first time?

Interestingly, when I do an inspection on a house that was built by a builder for himself, I usually say, “Why are you getting an inspection?” It is said only half tongue in cheek. Is it unfair to say that? Not in my experience… those houses are different!

Consider the blog title. How would you respond to these ads?

Sparkling Water Company, “Our Water Meets the Minimum Filtration Standards Required By Law.” How much of that would you store in the basement for emergencies?

Bob’s Bridge Builders, “Our Bridges Meet the Minimum Tolerances Required By Law.” What if this was the most-used bridge in the city?

R&R Cruises, “Our Boats Are Equipped With the Fewest Life Boats Required By Law.” Okay, we’ve heard that story… I missed the movie though.

Dudley Do Right’s Deli, “We Use the Lowest Grade Meats Money Can Buy.” Can I invite you out to lunch?

I can tell you, companies that consistently apply minimum standards do not stay in business long. We consumers drive them away. Why, then, do we accept what many builders are putting out? THAT is the question of the hour.

Why DO we accept the minimum in the houses we buy? Why should we have a need for home inspectors on a new house? When my clients ask me if this or that is a good builder, my answer always is, “It depends on the supervisor on site every day and the subs they use.” The same builder in two neighborhoods – the siding is great on one and lousy on another. Why is that? We all know.

But, WHY IS THAT? Because the Golden Rule in business is not consistently applied. I log into a number of home inspector message boards, nationwide. I can say unequivocally that all of us experience the same things. We all see the same things. We all wonder about the future of home building. When a doctor sees a runny nose he thinks a dozen things you and I do not. When home inspectors see certain practices, over and over, we think things that do not occur to buyers.


Here is something else I am reading. It goes like this – the builders have been losing money for a while.  When the market rebounds, imagine all the cuts they will be making to insure a profit! I think they, the collective of home inspectors, are right!

Centuries ago I spent a couple of years in South America as a missionary. I lived in a mud hut and slept on a grass mat. Took ICE cold showers and baths. Ate things you would never imagine. And had a wonderful, life-changing, life-molding experience. I learned two languages, Spanish and Quichua, an Andean Indian tongue, essentially Inca. It was VERY hard to learn. I taught them to read, do first aid, arithmetic, profit-making business practices and the Christian Gospel. The people were industrious and terrific. They came from a different background than I, and parables were the easiest way to communicate some principles.

This is one parable we came up with (remember, this is high in the mountains of South America):

The Master of the finest House advertised to build a new house. Many applied to build it. He selected his builder and began.

The Master’s plans were carefully drawn. He demanded that only the best materials be used. His House was to be the finest ever. The builder agreed and started out. He was to carefully select the finest stone, and wood, and clay for bricks. The thatch for the roof was to be thick and long.

Upon clearing the land the builder found that there was a large rock under one corner of the house. It would make the stone corner weak. The builder thought, “It is under the surface and no one will see it.”

Upon drying the bricks he discovered that the clay was a little loose and they might crack easily. “Well,” thought the builder, “perhaps only a few will crack. And they will be easily replaced.”

Upon stripping the bark, the logs he found were not the width the Master wanted, and not quite as straight and long. But they were almost so! “They will probably last, and the roof will probably be strong.” The builder wasn’t sure, but hoped so.

Upon weaving the thatch, it was not as thick as he knew the Master wanted, nor as long. But it seemed to weave okay. “Maybe it won’t leak. If it does, well, thatch is easy to get and it can be woven again.” He stepped back to look – you could hardly tell it wasn’t quite what the Master wanted. He probably wouldn’t notice. The builder was the only one to know the truth.

When he was done, the builder called the Master to come see His new House. The Master hardly looked at the House. He looked instead at the builder.

“Did you build it according to the plans I gave you?” “Yes.” “Did you use the finest materials, use your very best skills, and build a house you are proud of and could happily live in?” “Yes, you can see that I did Master. It is my best effort.”

“Very well. It is yours! I intended all along to give it to you! I wanted you to have the very best, and to do for me what you would have done for yourself. And you have done that!”

WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! In the end, we will get back what we have given. It will come back and be given to us. What is important is NOT about money.

My recommendation: That we demand more. That we don’t accept minimum standards. That it begins with us. We home inspectors really, really try to help our clients. We study, and learn, and apply, and continue in all that to be better and more able. Give us a shot! DO NOT assume that since it is new, it is okay. You know what happens when you assume?


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Jay performs inspections Monday through Saturday, throughout Northern Virginia, from his office in Bristow to Leesburg and Centreville, to Great Falls and Vienna and everywhere in between!