From backyard toilets to shoddy renovations, East Bay home inspectors have seen it all

Behind the attractive façade of this storied home in Berkeley, which went up for sale in 2017, inspectors found some surprises, including a 96-year-old dishwasher. Photo: MLS

A 96-year-old dishwasher, a fully functional toilet in a back yard, bright orange 1970s shag carpeting and a huge cookbook opened to a Tuscan Chicken recipe, hiding a gaping hole in the wall — East Bay home inspectors have seen it all.

Shoddy renovations, antique fixtures, decades-long secrets and, sometimes, deceptive practices are revealed when a house goes up for sale and home inspectors peer into basements, attics and electrical panels and find a home’s shortcomings.

The inspectors, who are hired by buyers and some sellers to give the unvarnished, expert lowdown on a house, are often the ones who must explain to an eager wannabe buyer that the entire heating system was installed improperly, or a home right on the Hayward Fault isn’t properly bolted to its foundation.

The inspector’s job is to help make sure the buyer doesn’t end up with a pig in a poke — or the home in the Berkeley hills whose owner cut two-inch deep notches in every beam in the garage ceiling in order to install a track for an automatic garage door.


“The garage door fit, but the garage collapsed,” said Ian Westmoreland, aka “Inspector Ian,” the Berkeley-based home inspector who witnessed the aftermath.

Another local inspector, Jay Marlette, inspected a home that was advertised as having “all new anchor bolts.” An anchor bolt is a fastener that attaches objects or structures to concrete, and the bolts were advertised as a safety feature.

Unfortunately, Marlette discovered that each and every one of the bolts was connected to exactly nothing. (Watch the video below for the evidence!)

Along those lines, Matt Cantor of Berkeley-based Cantor Inspections once discovered a phantom bathroom.

“The house was staged with a toilet and a sink that weren’t connected to anything,” Cantor said. “There was a little paper sign that said, ‘Potential bathroom,’ on the door, but if you didn’t see it, you would walk in and say, ‘Oh, there’s a bathroom, honey.'”

The oft-hidden eccentricities of the human race are on display for home inspectors on a near-daily basis.

Westmoreland was inspecting a home in Oakland when he discovered a urinal installed on the outside wall.

“They also had a pool, so I assumed they just didn’t want to go inside,” the inspector said. There were no fences or trees shielding the toilet, so it was fully visible from the house next door, he said.

The oft-hidden eccentricities of the human race are on display for home inspectors on a near-daily basis.

Perhaps his most intriguing discovery was a cellar dug below the basement of a house and used during Prohibition as a speakeasy.

“They had a concrete ramp for rolling barrels down into the basement, and a bar,” Westmoreland said.

Home inspecting can be hazardous, especially for a newcomer.

Around the beginning of his career, John Brogan of Brogan Home Inspection was inspecting an Oakland home in the company of two clients. He fired up the furnace, then gave it time to cool down … he thought.

“I stuck my head in the furnace to check it out, then finished the inspection,” Brogan said. “I couldn’t understand why the clients were staring at me. When I got home, I discovered my hair was singed.”

Some of the experiences fall more in the “fascinating” category than the “oopsie” or “oh no” classification.

“I inspected three houses on a lot right by the university, across from the football stadium,” said Brian Cogley of Cogley Inspections. “They were designed by Julia Morgan’s engineer in 1922. They had all this wild stuff that was cutting-edge at the time.”

Inspecting some East Bay properties is like walking into a bygone world, inspectors said. A compound of homes featured what appears to be one of the first dishwashers ever made, an open-domed metal enclosure that spun around to run the dishes through the water. The three homes were featured in Berkeleyside when the property went up for sale in June 2017.

“Often I walk into houses and feel like I have gone back in time,” Westmoreland said.

1970s relics like avocado-colored sinks and refrigerators and, quelle horreur, shag carpeting that’s always thick and dirty and some horrific color like orange, plus wallpaper “that shouldn’t have ever been put up in the first place,” haunt the inspector’s dreams.

Though the inspectors enjoyed sharing horror stories with this reporter, it was apparent that they all enjoy their jobs. Westmoreland said his favorite city for doing inspections is Berkeley.

“The thing that makes it interesting for me is the old houses, all so different. Every day is something new,” he said. His own Berkeley home was built in 1890, he said. Inspecting tract homes lacks variety, the inspector said.

“Developments, they’re all the same, it’s boring. It’s a great reason to concentrate on Berkeley,” Westmoreland said.