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An Afternoon With Susan

Road Reports is a forum to share amusing or enlightening stories collected over the years from our inspectors.  The names have been changed and some of the details have been altered, but these are based on true events.

My good friend and fellow manager (now retired) Dale Hruby, from Virginia, shared this story with me a few years ago:

As usual, I arrived early at the inspection site and began taking some preliminary notes. Soon the buyer's Realtor drove up, followed shortly by a mini van driven by my client, the buyer. The van was expertly wheeled around into position, backing part way up the shallow slope of the driveway. This was a custom outfitted van with wheelchair lift and all kinds of hi-tech gear to accommodate the fact that the buyer, a young lady in her late thirties, whom I will call Susan, had apparently been born with some significant physical disadvantages, including being completely without arms, all of which left her wheelchair bound.

Quickly, Susan maneuvered inside the van to the wheelchair lift and lowered herself to the driveway. As I started down to assist her, she rapidly came up the slight slope toward us using her slippered feet to propel the wheelchair almost effortlessly. Introductions were made, and we proceeded into the house, a brick rambler with a full basement. As the Realtor and I helped Susan roll the wheelchair up a couple of steps in the sidewalk, and then up onto the front porch, Susan remarked that she expected to get the bids the next day for ramp construction. From then on, the inspection followed our standard routine.

We went into the kitchen, I laid the Agreement on the kitchen table, and she leaned forward in her wheelchair and began to read it as I started the dishwasher and headed off into the house to turn on the washer and dryer. Returning to the kitchen, I asked, Susan if she had any questions. “No.” she said, “I’m ready to sign. Do you want a check now?” Whereupon with one smooth movement, she slipped out of her slippers, raised her right foot and pulled a pen from her purse, which was hanging on the wheelchair. Holding the pen with her toes, she deftly signed the Agreement where it was on the table, steadying the paper with her left foot. Her handwriting, or should I say “footwriting” was neat and noticeably feminine. With another very natural and comfortable gesture, she returned the pen to its pocket in her purse and slipped back into her slippers. I did my very best not to reveal my amazement.

Before we started going through room by room, I asked Susan if she had any special concerns about the house. She said that she would like my ideas on constructing a ramp between the main floor and the fully finished basement, plus any ideas I might have on the possible location of an elevator. Other than that, she said she just wanted to go through house with me and learn as much as possible.

Again, following our established procedure, we headed for the lower level of the house. The Realtor and I assisted Susan down the stairs into the basement and she effortlessly moved herself in the wheelchair following me into the furnace room where I began describing to her the various systems, making observations, suggestions, and comments -- all the usual stuff. Somewhere during my discussion, I became aware that she was taking careful notes in a small spiral notepad which she had extracted from her purse, along with the same ballpoint pen she had used earlier. As before, she held the notepad with her left foot and wrote fluidly using the toes of her right foot. Her questions throughout the inspection were intelligent and probing, revealing a sharp, inquiring, and well educated mind. She was totally tuned in to the process. When discussing the need to change the furnace filter monthly, she asked, “Will I need a screwdriver?” I told her no; but, there was no doubt in my mind she could use one if need be.

The progress of the inspection fell into the standard pattern of give and take, with light, friendly conversation which develops as the client's confidence in the inspector grows. Occasionally, she would maneuver the wheelchair to examine more closely or study some feature or aspect of the house. Often, she would back off a bit, slide her feet from the slippers, retrieve the notepad and pen and jot down a note or draw a sketch. She opened drawers and turned doorknobs with her feet, checked out the controls for the kitchen appliances and asked practical questions typical of any home buyer. She had a warm, quick sense of humor, a ready laugh, and an impish twinkle in her eye. Of course, she didn't accompany me up on the roof or into the attic, but for the rest of the process, she was right at my side, a most interested, active participant and well informed observer, who was clearly comfortable taking on the responsibility of homeownership – and clearly planning to discharge those responsibilities by herself. By this time, it came as no surprise when she told me she was a computer programmer for the Federal Government.

As I began going over the report with Susan and the Realtor, the Seller asked if we would like a soda, and all three of us said “Yes.” The fellow soon returned with three opened cans of cola which he set down on the table in front of us. I picked up my can and paused, as the Seller began to stammer that, he was sorry…, that he didn't know how to serve…, “What did she need?” Susan waved him off with a confident toss of her head; smoothly reached into her purse with her foot; fished around for a bit, the way I have seen thousands of women do in supermarket checkout lines, and produced a plastic straw which she popped deftly into the soda can and leaned forward for a sip and a satisfied smile.

It was an afternoon I'll never forget. One I began as teacher and ended as student. My typical role of educating the buyer about her new home was eclipsed by the example of her life with its lesson of how seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with determination, courage, confidence, a healthy dose of humor, and a burning desire for independence. Susan will be forever etched in my heart as a superlative example of the indomitable human spirit.