The other day I got a call from a home inspector who was pretty upset with himself for having done “something really stupid.” What he had done was absent-mindedly turn on the air conditioning unit of a house he was inspecting on a day when the outside temperature was forty degrees.

It was the first time that the unit had been activated since the last warm day of the previous year and it had only been on a few seconds when the inspector realized his mistake and turned it off. However, when the inspector subsequently went outside to check the compressor, it was not functioning.

Now, the compressor was twenty-five years old which is about ten years beyond their normal life expectancy. So there’s no telling whether his mistake had anything to do with the compressor’s death.

He wanted to know what he should do. I asked him who it was that wanted him to do something.

His own client knew that the ancient system needed replacing so he had no beef with the inspector but the homeowner and the homeowner’s real estate agent wanted him to “do something.” By that they meant that he should spring for a new compressor or at least throw some money into the pot.

For the inspector, it was not about the money. The event had really shaken his confidence. I told him that everybody makes mistakes, that he corrected this mistake almost immediately and that it was highly unlikely that activating the system for a few seconds would cause an otherwise robust compressor to fail. And that, therefore, he should resist all efforts to make him the bogeyman.

A day or two later, he called me back to tell me that the homeowner was bringing in his own HVAC guy to check the system and the real estate agent wanted the inspector to pay the HVAC guy’s $85 charge for checking the system.

I told him “Absolutely not! That guy is going to throw you under the bus. The compressor is ten years beyond its life expectancy. Even if your activating it for a few seconds on a cold day had caused its failure, the homeowner would not be entitled to a new compressor. The most he would be entitled to is the cost of a new compressor depreciated by the twenty-five year age of the old one. In other words, nothing.”

There is no upside to indulging these ludicrous requests for money. The minute you pay for a diagnosis, you’ll be expected to pay for the cure, as well.

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