Dispatches | August 27, 2008


First off, why the ?  It’s because as a literary editor I’m employed to ask questions.  This, after decades of spending hours upon hours tinkering with textual representations of other people’s imaginations, is how I’ve come to understand what I do.  Someday I’ll blog about it, but today I’m more concerned with the evil home inspector.


We have been trying to sell a house that belongs to an elderly relative.  It’s a sweet, small house, perfect for a family of one or two, and we were hopeful when we listed it and delighted when we had a contract within the first three weeks of its being on the market.


Then the evil home inspector came.  Our agent had not warned us, exactly, but she had looked sober when the prospect of inspections was mentioned.  It wasn’t “our” house she was worried about; it was houses, and sales, in general.  Like me, the home inspector is paid to ask questions.  Where I’m also employed to tinker and fix, though, the inspector gets paid only to locate problems or the spectre of problems.  The fixing part is up to the buyer, and if the buyer doesn’t want to do it or to negotiate with the seller, or in any other way balks, the contract is, of course, null and void.  One function of the home inspection is to unseal deals.  That’s what happened to ours.


We got a copy of the inspection report.  Nothing about it was so terrifying.  There were no structural threats of disaster. He’d found a lot of possible concerns, such as vegetation growing too close to the back of the house, and  a number of small inconsistencies with current local building code (the house was built twenty-two years ago).  The only big issue was an aging roof—we would have negotiated on that one, but the buyer was done with us and had moved on.


I tend to think it’s the buyer’s loss, and I find myself wondering if she or the home inspector asked all the right questions.  This is a values issue—or do I mean a philosophical one?  Is a house a material investment/physical container for people, or is it a place to be? 


In fact, the home inspector (who wasn’t really evil), did what he was supposed to do, and the buyer opted to be cautious.  You can’t argue with common sense.


But I keep envisioning another kind of home inspection, where the inspector is focused on invisible things:  Can you be happy here? All the sunlight in the kitchen and living room—will that lift your depression?  Do you see yourself growing nicer or meaner from having lived in this place?  Is it a problem that no one has ever had sex in this house?  That’s kind of weird.  There should have been sex or children. But when you walk in the front door, it really does feel like it’s its own house—it has integrity.  This would be a good house to invite people to because it’s easy to find.


Do you like this house?  Is it a satisfying place to be? I think so. Do you like it a lot?  Let’s walk through it again. What do you think?


By the way, those are the kinds of questions I ask myself these days about submissions to TMR.