May 20, 2019 Supporting Manhattan-area entrepreneurs, businesses, events

Tallgrass Home Inspectors

On a cold, gray March morning, Patrick Butler stalked across the wooded lawn in front of a large ranch home on a four-acre lot east of Wamego. Patches of snow remained on the sodden grass, and the soft earth sank beneath his tall frame as he circled the yard. Overhead, a flock of geese flew north, indicative of a spring that wasn’t apparent on the ground.

Butler pointed to the downspouts. “That’s a problem, but an easy fix,” he said. The underside of the deck? “That’s old-school, nailed into the house like that. I’ll have to include it.”

Butler, a master certified inspector with more than a dozen certifications, was in his element. Becoming a home inspector and business owner, was never Butler’s life-long goal, instead, it was a career born of two decades in the Army, an innate drive to help others and his own experience as a homeowner.

Butler was raised in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he played football and took industrial arts classes. He expected to find work as a welder after high school, but since the positions he was interested in had an age requirement of 21, he joined the military instead. “I figured I’d join the Army for a couple years, get some on-the-job experience and come back and work in a factory.”

A few years turned into decades. By the time he was in his early thirties, Butler was on his second tour of Iraq. His two-part job assignment entailed up-armoring military vehicles and coordinating the movement of soldiers. It was a world away from the future he’d imagined back in Reading. “I’d work for a couple weeks doing welding and machining. [A]t that time they didn’t have a lot of ballistic armor, so a lot of us welders had to go and make [it]. Then they would send me to run force protection, so all the guards that were around there were under my responsibility.”

After a short stint stateside from 2004 to 2005, Butler wanted to give his family a home they could call their own. They’d spent a decade navigating multiple deployments and new cities. But just as he was preparing to leave the country, their housing plans fell through.

In just 30 days, they found a house that Butler’s wife, Sabine, and their children could finally call their own. And then, while Butler was stationed in Germany, their rocky home-buying experience escalated into a nightmare of complicated repairs. His assignment required him to travel constantly. “One day I’m in the east part of the country, the next day I’m in Italy.” At night, he would get calls from Sabine. “She’s dealing with the roof, a toilet that won’t stop leaking,” Butler said. “She’s tearing apart the bathroom floor herself and uncovers three layers of flooring… [T]hat toilet wasn’t ever going to work right.” He shook his head in disgust.

It was one of two final experiences that set the stage for Butler’s life as a civilian. The second was his last military assignment, a stint at Training and Doctrine Command (TraDoC) in Aberdeen, Md. “[TraDoC creates] all the training guidelines and training policies in how to take a high school kid like I was and indoctrinate them into the Army.” It is also where young recruits master the job to which they’re initially assigned and where Butler’s welding experience came full-circle: he became the Army’s chief welding instructor. The role drew on both his own technical expertise and his desire to teach and help his soldiers. “Teaching, training people, that’s in my DNA,” Butler said emphatically. “If there was one thing that got me up in the morning when the rest of the world seemed like it was going south, it was the fact that I had people counting on me to help them navigate the Army, and help their families navigate the Army. That’s what kept it fun.”

But in 2009, he received two phone calls a couple of weeks apart. “Dad, when you coming home? To stay this time?” Marqueeze, his then-nine-year-old son, said. The next week, it was his seven-year-old daughter, Marielle. “Daddy, when are you coming home? Really, really coming home? We miss you.”

He knew his family’s long-term home would be in Manhattan. “It was a no-brainer to stay,” Butler laughed. “We wanted the kids to have a hometown.” The Pennsylvania region in which he grew up has a strong agricultural identity, as does Sabine’s hometown in Germany, so it felt very familiar to them both.

“I remember, one day I’m watching the news here in Kansas, and all of a sudden it dawns on me that it’s 20 minutes in, and they’ve talked about the weather three different times. Back in D.C., the first 20 minutes of every newscast seemed like, crime, crime, murder. Plus the education system is great in Kansas. Staying was easy.” The complicated part: finding his next career.

Initially, Butler thought he would pursue a welding inspector certification or teach at a vocational school. Then he learned about a pilot program helping veterans transition into civilian life. “They hand me the big stack of paperwork. “The cover sheet listed examples of fields you could get trained in. I see certified property inspector and thought, I could do that until my 70s.” He raised his eyebrows emphatically: “It was like divine intervention.” Butler immediately saw how his life experiences had prepared him for this job: mastering welding, a building trade; helping soldiers and military families; working through his own family’s struggle to find a safe, comfortable home.

The military sent Butler to the American Home Inspectors Training Institute, and he worked with a home inspector in the Washington, D.C., area before finally moving home to Manhattan.

Getting the business off the ground proved challenging. He laughed, reciting the list of jobs he worked while he continued his self-education and gained clients: a bouncer, a security guard, a table busser and more. Finally, after working in facilities for the Kansas State at night and conducting inspections during the day, he was able to launch Tallgrass Home Inspectors as a full-time venture. He developed the very detailed template that he uses today for home inspections. “Some people in the field would say, ‘You don’t need to do that much,’ but clients were loving it,” he said. A smile lit up his face.

Over the years, Butler has mentored other veterans interested in becoming home inspectors and discovered more aspects of his new career that made it a great fit for post-military life. “It’s a great field for soldiers with PTSD,” he said. “There’s a very clear set of rules and defined structure, but you work autonomously. There aren’t a lot of people around. You’re in control of the situation.”

He has also become a passionate educator who loves helping his clients navigate home ownership even after the sale has gone through. “How do you take care of a home? It’s a skill set our generation seems to have lost. Why do you clean out the gutters or wash down the AC unit? I see helping clients learn about their homes as part of my work.” And despite the time involved, Butler remains devoted to producing detailed reports.

In 2018, Butler was awarded the Inspector of the Year Gromicko Award by his professional association, InterNACHI. It was a high-point in his civilian career, and the recognition from his peers acknowledges Butler’s tireless pursuit of education.

Through InterNACHI, he has learned about the home inspection field around the world. The Australian field of building certification especially fascinates him: a building certifier stays with the clients for the entire time they own the property, advising them on home care and improvement as they need it. With his InterNACHI peers, he is exploring the ways in which that model could work in the United States. “I think of it as home consultancy,” Butler said. “It’s one more way we could help our clients.” He presents educational programs through InterNACHI and travels regularly to learn more about the home inspection field. Though it’s been a long journey for Butler, he and his family have found a home in Manhattan where he can fulfill his passion. “Everything I want to do, I’m doing it.”

Sarah McGreer Hoyt is a writer and editor for K-State Libraries. When she’s not at a computer, you can find her chasing her son in City Park, on the Konza or through Sunset Zoo.

Photography by: Doug Barrett

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