Reuben's Home Inspection Blog


"You just cost me a lot of money!"

Do you remember the telephone game? You'd get a bunch of kids in a circle, and the first kid would whisper a phrase in the next kids ear, and then that kid would whisper it to the next, and so on. Once the last person heard the message, they'd say aloud what they heard, and everyone would have a great laugh because the message was never even close to what the first person said.

While this is all great fun for kids, it's frustrating when it happens in the real estate world... especially when it happens on purpose. If you read my blogs with any regularity, you already know that I'm passionate about my work and I stand behind my inspection reports. I welcome challenges to my calls, and I stand behind them... but sometimes I don't get the chance.

Some time ago, I inspected a home with a 23 year old Trane furnace where I was able to remove the back panel to get a clear look at the heat exchanger. Many older Trane and GE furnaces have these removable panels which makes inspecting the heat exchanger a piece of cake. I found obvious cracks in every single port of the heat exchanger, so I told my client to replace the furnace, and I even included photos of the cracked heat exchanger in my report. This should have been a no-brainer furnace replacement, but it didn't work out that way.

Back of GE Furnace Cracked Heat Exchanger

Two days later I received this voicemail - the choppy parts are where I removed the agent's name, house address, and the name of the HVAC contractor:

Click here to hear the voicemail - You just cost me a lot of money

TroyI think I had steam coming out of my ears after I listened to that message. Who told the owner to hire a heating contractor to "inspect my comments"? Certainly not me. Weren't my photos of the cracked heat exchanger good enough? Above all, why would a contractor say the furnace was perfectly fine? I don't know of any contractor that would use language like that about a 23 year old furnace. The best thing I've ever heard a heating contractor say about a 23 year old furnace is "I can't find any problems with it." This didn't make any sense.

I had to get to the bottom of this, so I waited several hours until I was calm enough to speak in a civil manner, and I finally called the listing agent back. I got the name of the heating contractor and called him to chat about the furnace. The contractor sheepishly admitted that he wasn't aware that this furnace had a removable back panel, so he never found the cracks.

I asked the contractor why he would have said that there were "no cracks at all" and that there was "nothing wrong with the furnace, at all". Can you guess what he told me? He said he never said that. The contractor told the homeowner that the furnace was heavily rusted, 23 years old, and most likely did have a cracked heat exchanger, but he couldn't find any cracks.

I called the listing agent back and told him what the contractor told me. The listing agent apologized and said he wasn't even the person that talked to the contractor in the first place; he was just repeating what the owner told him. Huh. There's the telephone game. I told the agent that I didn't envy his job.

If you want the full story, sometimes you have to just go to the source. To this day, I'd still love to know exactly what that homeowner told his agent.

ps - I blogged about this phone call here on AR right after it happened in a members-only post back in '09.  I decided to make a public post about this call after sharing inspection stories with another home inspector last week.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Comment balloon 13 commentsReuben Saltzman • April 26 2011 06:17AM


I don't blame you for being upset. It's hard to be criticized when you have done a good job and the criticism is unfounded. 

Posted by Retired Notworking about 8 years ago

Hi Reuben, You just never know what you are getting into with the "combustion appliances". I had a 1910 coal fired unit that was converted to gas in 1918. I ran the tests and it was running at 85% eff. Wow. No cracks and nothing wrong. I thought for sure it was a bad unit when I first saw it.


Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) about 8 years ago

Colleen - isn't it?

Clint - it's funny, but it seems that the older and more basic a furnace is, the less wrong you'll find with it.  85% efficiency is a huge surprise though... are you sure your equipment was calibrated? ;)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 8 years ago

Reubs - this is so very, very common!  Good job on the post and your position as a professional.  I send you an holy kiss.

Wow, this is the kind of post that should be featured.

And the "contractor" didn't know the back panels are removable...  classic!!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 8 years ago

Hi Reuben - This just goes to show that it's easy to get the opinion you want, if you go to the right wrong person. The contractor didn't know the panels could be taken off?!? Yikes!

As always, this is a very informative post. I hit Suggest.

Posted by Judy Klem, Home Staging, Senior Move Management, Fairfield/New Haven counties (Transition Stage LLC) about 8 years ago

It's a classic 'last man in' story. The last opinion given is the 'valid' one so when the answer they want is heard, they stop asking.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) about 8 years ago

Ah, the Ol' dealbreaker call, had that happen 3 months ago when I inspected for a 203k loan. I don't do the careful inspections you do but instead note obvious repair items like missing screens, rotten wood, rusty furnaces ect. I always check the mechanicals.

If I encounter a 20 plus year furnace that is 80% efficient I will suggest replacement, if its rusty or shows signs of deterioration I include a contingency for replacement. I don't test.

I meet people who have Uncle Bob's in their family who tell them I am wrong in my assessment, here's the truth, my reports are to ensure a homeowner moves into a safe and healthy home.

So what's wrong with that?

Posted by Paul Lesieur (203kloanmn) about 8 years ago


Good post. I have not got the "you killed the deal call" yet, but I have got something similar call on a Mfg Home Roof when I called for replacement and stated they can not add a second layer of shingles. The agent said I can not say that. I said "yes I can because the home is not designed for a second layer" and sent the state code for it.

 I wish they would ban the multi-layer roofing practice out right.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) about 8 years ago

Jay - thanks for the holy kiss :), and thanks fo rthe suggestion.

Judy - yeah, I think that contractor may have just had a bad day.

Robert - and they sure twisted around the words of that contractor to suit themselves.

Paul - there's nothing wrong with wanting your clients to have a safe home!

Donald - thanks.  I'm happy to say that here in Minnesota, two layers of shingles aren't allowed on roofs  any more :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 8 years ago

Missed this one. It's pretty clear the homeowner was trying his best to get out buying a new furnace. Great story.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 8 years ago

I completely agree with you.  To top it off, I think the homeowner kind of made up their own story about the HVAC contractor said as well.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 8 years ago

I love it!!!

Kinda reminds me of the last time I was challenged. Older home on piles, with a large 2 story addition (with foundation). The house was built in a fishbowl (all 4 sides pitched to the house), the entire neighborhood sloped to this yard. The agent and owner got really pissed, and called their own "engineer". At first I was nervous, cuz I didn't pull any punches. After thinking about it, I knew I was 100% accurate, and told them I stood behind my report (as I always do). The agent tells me the engineer told her to just "throw down a little dirt."

Anyway, I met with all parties when the engineer showed up to inspect the house. At first he tried to sugar coat the house, but as I was feeling my testosterone, I held him to everything he said. When he recommended "add a few swales, and when questioned as to where to direct the water, he stated to the neighbors property... I started laughing, and requested he look over the fence (to see just how the entire pitch was to the house. I then left him on his own.

Shortly he requested I join him under the house, where he confided that evething I said was true, and that the house was a real pig (no offense to pigs).


Posted by Steven Turetsky, Building Moisture Analyst (Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants) almost 8 years ago

Hi Steven, 

Thanks, and that's a great story that you have!  "Throw down a little dirt..."   harumph.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago