I'm not a fan of the current administration, much less the inappropriate behavior displayed by so many of our political leaders, on either side of the aisle, so imagine my surprise when the President's protestations of "fake news" actually hit home last week and I had an opportunity to experience the concept of 'false claims' up close and personally.
For the last month and a half, my COMPASS colleague, Sarah Abel, and I have been marketing a beautiful property here in Piedmont and we were thrilled when it went into contract on schedule with a professional young couple buying their first house together.
We were less thrilled when we received an email 10 days later from their Realtor, saying that the Buyers had decided to back out of the purchase based on an engineering report that recommended substantial improvements to the seismic and drainage systems of the house, adding up to a fair amount of additional costs. (Who wouldn't pause and take note?)
Because the engineering inspection the Buyers had ordered had begun by stating that the foundation was in good condition, the windows and doors were square, that no settlement had occurred to the structure, and that the site was in stable condition, Sarah and I wondered why such positive findings would require additional drainage at all? Under the heading of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it, what was really going on here? (We can all agree that nearly EVERY structure benefits from seismic upgrading here in California.)
Having accompanied Buyers and Sellers to many an engineering inspection (I am NOT an engineer, nor do I play one on TV), drainage improvements are typically suggested when water intrusion or soil erosion undermine a property's stability. Clearly, that wasn't the case here. NO evidence existed to support a degrading foundation or an eroding lot. In fact, by their own admissions, the Buyers' report stated just the opposite. Because of the confusion, we hired our own engineer to look over both the report, as well as the house, to clarify any discrepancies.
"Hmmm," our engineer said, "something's not right here; I don't see the initials following the signature that qualify this inspector as an engineer. Who is this guy and do we know if he's actually licensed?" (Good question.)
Alarmingly, when Sarah contacted the inspector who'd created the report in question and asked him point blank: "Are you an engineer?" he became very defensive when pressed further, "I'm not asking if you work with engineers, Sarah inquired, "I'm asking if you ARE an engineer?" Click!!!
I suppose, like any human being, he's entitled to an opinion, but without an engineering license, coupled with the fact that his company not only bids the work, but is also looking for work, it certainly makes his finding suspicious and what's more, a conflict of interest. Wouldn't you agree? (I thought so.)
To be clear, engineers are fully licensed with advanced degrees to give educated opinions as to the condition of a structure and to make calculated drawings, load recommendations and structural improvements where needed. Contractors and project managers may give bids with respect to the work recommended by a licensed engineer or architect, but are not, themselves, engineers or architects, and should not act as such.
Furthermore, the report submitted to us looked very official, had a letterhead that specified "seismic, engineering, drainage," as part of its title, and went on for several pages outlining the suggested recommendations and associated costs. No wonder, everyone assumed that the report had, in fact, been issued by a qualified engineer, including perhaps, the young couple, who can now no longer look forward to owning this fantastic home, having been scared off by a report that, as it turns out, has NO integrity AT ALL! ZERO!!!
The worst part of this story is that now saddled with this fraudulent information, the law requires the Listing Agents to add it to the disclosure package nonetheless. Happily, we have a REAL report by a LICENSED ENGINEER that renders it essentially moot. As anticipated, our LICENSED engineer also found the structure and the lot to be entirely sound, and recommended NO additional drainage as the current measures seem to be doing their job as designed. (He did suggest seismic upgrades as is appropriate).
Whether the parties who hired this firm were clear on the lack of qualifications their inspector possessed, whether they got cold feet and were looking for a way out by "trumping" up a bogus report, or whether there were more nefarious motives at play is all beside the point; the moral of the story is that just's because something's in print, it doesn't make it real. (i.e."fake news" that's actually fake.)
Due diligence? Absolutely.
Fake news? Not on our watch.
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.