Mutual Understanding

Remodelers encounter and collaborate with many people throughout each project: homeowners, subcontractors, their own employees, vendors and many more. Traditionally, one of the more tumultuous relationships in the process is with the building inspectors. One project generally undergoes multiple inspections and, because each jurisdiction typically has few building inspectors, it’s likely remodelers will encounter the same inspector time and time again. Therefore, it behooves both parties to develop a positive relationship.

Doug Traver, CR, CKBR, has been in the remodeling business for nearly 40 years, 20 of which he has spent as president of his company, Dallas-based Traver Construction Inc. Throughout that time, he has learned the best way to develop a good relationship with inspectors is to let them be a teacher. “Some inspectors definitely start out with an attitude but things can get antagonistic if a builder starts to get annoyed or irritated at the inspector,” Traver says. “You’re not going to make the situation any better by getting mad at him and being antagonistic. You might as well listen to what the inspector has to say.”

That’s not to say you should be submissive, however. “You don’t want to just sit there and take it,” Traver continues. “You’re a professional, too, and you know what you’re doing, but avoid the antagonism. Avoid the arguments. That gets you nowhere and then the inspector’s really going to scrutinize you to death if you constantly annoy him.”

To build a positive relationship with inspectors, Traver says appropriate subcontractors should meet the building inspector at the site. For example, if the inspector is going to be inspecting the HVAC system, the HVAC contractor should be present during the inspection. Likewise, if the inspector is inspecting plumbing, the plumber should be on site. Also, ensure the jobsite is clean for whatever inspection you are getting.

Codes also vary by jurisdiction, even in the same geographic areas. Traver works in Dallas, which has four jurisdictions, and all of them interpret the codes differently. He cautions against telling inspectors how you’re doing things in another jurisdiction. “That makes them indignant because now you’re in their area,” he says. “It may be the same code, but they interpret it differently; there’s not a lot of consistency.”

Beyond listening and learning, Traver recommends asking questions about what the inspector means by a certain comment or asking from what part of the code he is drawing his conclusions—all without being antagonistic. “Asking questions tends to break the ice,” Traver says. He adds you should ask about families and pets. “Be respectful. Don’t start off as a jerk,” Traver notes. “I have earned respect from inspectors and, consequently, they know I’m not trying to skirt anything. I’m just trying to build a project correctly. Once they know that, you will have an inspector friend as much as you can have one.”

Other phrases Traver has used with success include “I understood the code this way,” or, “I’m sorry this happened; it won’t happen again.” Taking responsibility for a project will go a long way, and learning from changes and the inspectors will help future projects progress more smoothly. “Some of these guys are really sharp, and even though you know the answer, let them show you where in the code it is anyway,” Traver says.

Because of the turnover in inspectors, Traver has encountered many throughout the years, some of whom have started out with an attitude. After Traver worked with them on several projects and treated the inspectors with respect and understanding, the relationships turned around.

“These guys are human, too. They might get up on the wrong side of the bed or have just had an argument, so you have to keep that in mind,” Traver notes. For example, a framer Traver uses frequently butted heads with inspectors. Traver pulled the framer aside and told him, “‘You have to stop butting heads. Let him be a teacher to you. I know you think you’re right, but let him guide you. It will change this whole scenario.’ And it did.”

Traver puts it simply: “It’s about communication and mutual respect. Treat them respectfully and you’ll get respect.”