Have you ever handed a stiff check to a service provider — “stiff” as in more in sum than any competitor would have charged — and thought, “Man, I’m getting a steal of a deal here.”
I did this week.
And that check went to a man named Gene South, a home inspector in the Dallas area, where I live and am currently looking for a new home.
Actually, to be proper, Gene is a professional property inspector. That’s what his business card says, anyway.
But I’ve seen Gene work. Calling him a “home inspector” doesn’t seem like enough. It’s accurate, but inadequate.
Gene South transcends his field. He turns home inspection into a medium for artistic expression.
And he’s a shining example of primility that we can all aspire to.
A selfless first impression
I called Gene one morning last week, looking to get a quote for an inspection. He could not answer the call, but I immediately received an auto-responder text message informing me that he was doing an inspection and would get back to me.
He did. But in the meantime, I had scheduled an inspection with the highest rated inspector I could find on Angie’s List. And I have no doubt this guy would have done an excellent job.
But what happened next floored me, in the best possible way, which is why my girlfriend and I ended up going with Gene.
Gene finally texted and said he was available to talk. I informed that we had already chosen the other inspector. Gene said he understood, but that he’d been doing some research on the house and just wanted to inform me of a few things.
What could it hurt? Gene called, and I decided to pull my car into a parking lot. Good thing I did, because we talked for over 45 minutes and I took a page of notes.
I won’t go into the details of the conversation. They would bore you — unless you find the impact of the Vietnam War on copper prices in the late 1960s to be titillating. But it was information I was completely in the dark about as a first-time home buyer and needed to be aware of with respect to this house. Gene knew that. And he was spending his valuable time teaching me, to help me, with not even an inclination that it could lead to future gain for himself. (I already had the other guy, remember? And besides, he was available Monday. Gene was booked until Wednesday. A big difference during a 10-day option period.)
I got off the phone with Gene and spent the next hour knowing I’d regret it if I didn’t cancel with the other guy and hire Gene — two-day wait and all. If he was that committed to being helpful and useful already knowing he wasn’t getting the sale, how meticulous and responsive of a job would he do upon actually being hired?
Turns out: better than I even expected.
What is an artist?
An artist is, by one definition, “a person skilled at a particular task or occupation.”
Art is, by one definition, “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Gene South doesn’t paint, nor does he sculpt. But he creates nonetheless.
Gene has a story for everything. And when you’re an unsophisticated home buyer like I am, and like Heather is, stories bring clarity to confusing topics. They show, rather than tell. They take ideas that would otherwise be jagged puzzle pieces scattered in our heads and arrange them into complete pictures.
And these are not half-baked, off-the-cuff stories — at least they didn’t seem like it to me. These are practiced stories. The ones that have won out over time, natural selection killing off those others that never resonated.
I’m guessing of course. I don’t know for sure. But I do know that Gene doesn’t want you to just know … he wants you to understand. He tells you stories so you will.
Storytelling is, undoubtedly, an expression of human creative skill … and Gene is a person skilled at that particular task.
What is his art?
Yes, I know: when we think of art, we think first of visually arresting imagery. A painting. A sculpture. We might then think of a piece of music. Then a comic book. A poem.
We don’t, however, think of a property inspection document. Yet this is the visual vestige of Gene’s time in a house that gets left behind. And it is art in its own right.
A thing need not be rich in color, striking in shape, or attractive to the masses to be art. Even in a plain-looking and text-dense inspection document (with photos included to show areas of note throughout the house), there is beauty and emotional power in the work, and imagination in the process.
No, there might not be much beauty or emotional power in it to you … but then again, you’re not looking to buy the house. You are not this artist’s audience.
Gene’s work and his inspection report are not meant for your eyes. They were meant for mine. And Heather’s. And we were moved by Gene’s detail, his photographs, his stories, and blown away by his commitment to meticulous* excellence.
* – It strikes me upon edit that this word doesn’t seem to do Gene justice.
Suspend your disbelief (because it’s wrong)
You may not believe me.
You may disregard this all as hyperbole.
But then you aren’t qualified to judge, now are you?
Meet Gene, and then we can talk. Assuming he’s done telling you about your prospective house …
Or see what other people say about him. (Yes, you’re reading that correctly. All 5-star reviews.)
When a profession becomes an art form
Most home inspectors spend a few hours at a house. Gene spends all day, usually until around 2:30 so that, as he explained to me, he can then have enough time in the evening to write his report.
On the day of our inspection, Gene arrived at 8:15 in the morning as per usual. I did not arrive until 1:00 that afternoon.
Gene was taller than I expected, with a slender and possibly sinewy build. And he is a sight to see when in full uniform: his tucked-in shirt and suspenders accented by rain boots (when checking the sprinklers) and the ubiquitous mirror sticking out the back of his jeans (to see into places the naked eye cannot), among other accoutrements.
In full work uniform, Gene might look out of place most everywhere else. But in the house, this unabashed artist fit in like the fireplace.
He fit in so well he didn’t leave until well after 5:30 p.m., staying far longer than expected (and seeming legitimately happy to do so) answering questions, telling stories, and showing us important nooks and crannies we needed to see and understand.
That night, Gene sent me a spectacular high-res version of the front of house. Said he thought we’d like to have it.
Before lunch the next day, Gene had our report to us. All 45 pages of it. (He’d been gone from the house for fewer than 17 hours.)
I had a few questions about the report. I emailed Gene. He called me with responses.
I had a few questions about the electrical and pest inspections we had scheduled. I emailed Gene. He called me with responses.
I should note: I’d already given Gene his check. His obligation was complete. But just as he was before we hired him, Gene was useful, helpful, and responsive. Apparently that’s not just how Gene does his job, it’s who he is.
In fact, he emailed me last night, nearly 72 hours after the inspection was complete, just to see how everything was going. Did we have questions? To wish us a good weekend. To tell Heather hello.
One characteristic of an artist — at least a mature artist who has reached a point of self-actualization — is that their work and their art are one. They are interchangeable. Or at least the shades of gray are not pixelated.
A writer is a writer.
A painter is a painter.
A home inspector is a home inspector. On the job and off. Day in and day out.
If Gene’s life were this blog post, my interaction with him would amount to the equivalent of half the first sentence. By that I mean: I don’t know the man any more than you would know the point of this post if you’d stopped reading after the word “stiff.”
Except that you can tell a lot about a man by his work (a woman too). And I respect Gene, and appreciate him, and feel like I know him, at least in part, because he treats his work like his art.
As a true artist should.
What’s it got to do with Primility?
Primility is a simple formula for achieving personal fulfillment: take pride in knowing that you are worthy and capable of producing great work … and have the humility to understand that producing your great work will require hard work, continuous learning, and probably relying on others in some capacity.
Balance these ideas. Treat them like an eternal cycle. Fulfillment will follow; always has for me.
Gene knows he is good at what he does. He told me as much the first time I spoke with him. But he said it with earned pride, not self-conscious conceit — and there’s a huge difference between the two.
But Gene also has the humility to understand that he’s only as good as his last inspection. And that every customer of his, no matter how inexperienced and unsophisticated as home buyers they may be, deserves his very best. Gene could have cut corners with us and we’d have never known.
Instead he went above and beyond for no tangible reward. The intangible reward was enough: personal pride in a job well done and the humility to treat our home-buying process with the same level of care and concern he’d treat his own.
Which is what compelled me to write this.
It’s not uncommon for me to write 1,600+ words about an artist who inspires me. I have say though, I never thought I’d write 1,600+ words about a home inspector.
Today I wrote about both. All in one post. All about the same man.
Gene South, Professional Property Inspector.
Thank you Gene.
Do you know any Gene Souths?
What about you?
Do you know any “Gene Souths” — people who take a traditionally non-artistic job and do it so well that they make it feel less like a trade and more like an art form?
Tell their story in the comment section.
Photo credit: Gene South; free “Sketch” filter applied at http://art.pho.to/