Holmes Inspections: Don't Believe Everything You See On TV

There’s a show on HGTV called Holmes Inspection, which exposes problems with houses that were allegedly missed by other home inspectors.  Here’s the basic formula: Frank and Fran buy a house, have it inspected, no major problems.  Time passes, problems show up, Mike Holmes gets called in.  Mike inspects the house, agrees there’s a problem, tears everything open to show what was done wrong or could have been done better, and then says he’ll “make it right”.  In the end, the original home inspector gets blamed for missing defects with the house.

I’ve had countless clients ask me about the show, and I’ve heard a lot of discussion about the show from other home inspectors, so I finally took the time to watch an episode to see what all the talk was about.

Holmes Inspection makes for great TV.  I watched an episode titled Frigid Floor, wherein the homeowners complained about a cold floor at the addition of their house.  There were a couple of other miscellaneous issues, but the big one was the cold floor.  Mike Holmes doesn’t know exactly what the problem is, so he has his crew come in and cut out a huge section of the kitchen floor to get at the crawl space below.  There is no final diagnosis of what the problem is, but his crew spares no expense in making it right.

Kitchen Floor Cut Open

Kitchen Floor Cut Open

They tear out all of the cabinets, countertops, flooring, and subfloor to get at the crawl space.  They spend three days hand digging the crawl space to make it several feet deeper, install rigid foam on the floor, pour self-leveling concrete on the floor, then have the walls insulated with spray foam (I loved that part).  While they’re at it, they also beef up the floor structure.  They add access to the crawl space from inside the basement by cutting an opening through the foundation wall, and they add a heat register and a light.   They definitely ‘make it right’.

The original contractor who did the addition gets thrown under the bus; Mike says that this is how the job should have been done to start with.  While Mike’s work was far superior to that of the original contractor, I think it’s unfair to put down the original contractor.  The work was done for the previous owner, permits were pulled, and the work was inspected and approved.  We have no idea of what was agreed upon between the original contractor and the previous owners.  Maybe the original contractor gave the previous owners a bid to do exactly what Mike Holmes did, and the owners opted to save $10k by only doing the bare minimum.

If the previous owners got three different bids for the job, there’s a slim chance that the contractor who gave them a bid on a beautiful crawl space would actually get the job.

The original home inspector gets thrown under the bus as well.  Mike concludes the show by saying that if the original home inspector actually knew something about construction,  he would have warned the buyers that there was no crawl space.   That comment really bugged me.  The home did have a crawl space, it just didn’t have any access, and it was too small for most people to actually crawl in to; that doesn’t mean it’s not a crawl space.  I’d love to know what Mike would have said to the buyers if he had done the original home inspection.   Here are a few potential warnings:

  • This home has no accessible crawl space.  So what?
  • This home has no accessible crawl space, but it should.  I can’t inspect what I can’t see.  Before you buy this house, you should have the sellers make the crawl space accessible and have it inspected.  The home inspection was performed in warm weather, and there were no signs of any problems.  The work was done with permits and inspected, so what would actually happen if the buyers demanded the crawl space be made accessible for the inspection?  Do you think the sellers would agree to that?  My experience tells me absolutely not.
  • This home has no accessible crawl space.  I know that permits were pulled for the addition and inspected by the city, but I don’t care.  If I can’t see it, it’s probably not right.  Don’t buy this house.  Ha!  Now I’m just being silly… I think.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say the inspection was done during the winter, the floor was cold, and the crawl space was barely accessible.  What would the recommendation have been?  Gut the kitchen and make it right?  That suggestion would go over like a lead balloon.  Personally, I would have told the buyers that the floor was cold, and to fix it would probably be cost prohibitive.  This is what you’re getting, take it or leave it.

My conclusion

I’m not trying to be too critical of the show, but the repairs performed on this house were completely over-the-top and unrealistic.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very cool concept for a show – take a problem with a house that is cost prohibitive to repair and fix it any way you want with time and money being no object.   It would have been nice to do it this way from the start, sure… but I can’t imagine any sane person spending their own money gutting a kitchen just to make the floor warmer.  This is a fun show to watch as long as you remember that it’s just TV.  I think the main messages are good: hire an excellent home inspector and don’t skimp out on your remodel project.  You’ll save money in the long run by spending a little more up front.