When a character is applying for a building permit, participating in a homeowner's magazine contest, or trying to appraise the quality of their home so they can sell it, their home will be visited by an inspector.
To get top marks, the home owner will whip their residence into tip-top shape— usually by organizing clutter, throwing away trash, painting the walls, and/or hanging up beautiful artwork.
Unfortunately, their work is usually ruined by an unexpected incident moments before the inspector is supposed to arrive, giving them no time to fix the damage. This can come in the form of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tornadoes, or domestic pitfalls such as cooking accidents in the kitchen.
There are three common outcomes to this scenario:
- The inspectors are disgusted with the look of the flat, and the contestant fails the inspection or loses the contest.
- The inspection team loves the look of the house, believing the mess to be art.
- The person at the door isn't actually the inspector, but the residents are convinced he is due to the timing of his arrival.
- Applejack and the Honest-to-Goodness Switcheroo has Blue Ribbon to inspect Sweet Apple Acres for the Best of Equestria awards by Friday. Applejack tries her best to get the farm looking perfectly by then, her friends and family not being much help. In the end, Blue Ribbon appeared unimpressed by the results. But, as it turns out, Blue Ribbon had been secretly stopping by the orchard all week, watching them work. He was so inspired by their work that he just had to give them the prize, which Applejack couldn't even believe she won in the end.
- In Fawlty Towers, Basil hears that three Hotel Inspectors are in town, and immediately begins fawning on a guest with an officious manner and a vast professional experience of hotels. He then finds out that his target sells spoons. When another guest mentions he has two colleagues, Basil switches to fawning over him and even resorts to attempting bribery for a favourable report after he witnesses Basil's fight with the first guest. This one is in town for the regatta, though, at which Basil brightens up considerably, and disappears. He appears minutes later to thoroughly humiliate the first guest (who's leaving in disgust), in full view of the real inspectors who have just arrived.
- In the House episode "Painless" Cuddy is very worried about a Child Services inspection which she needs to pass in order to keep her adopted daughter. Naturally, when the inspector arrives, the house is a complete mess due to her cleaning lady arriving late and the inspector arriving an hour early. The inspector finds a messy house, a dirty diaper hastily hidden in an attaché case, and ants on the floor...and passes Cuddy anyway due to her having a steady income, being apparently loving and actually worried about her messy house, all of which makes her better than most of the applicants he visits.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Buffy finds herself entirely unprepared for a home inspection by a social worker come to check on whether it's appropriate for Dawn. She encounters a mess, Spike who does his best but doesn't exactly come across as wholesome, and Willow with a bag of "magic herbs" (actual magical herbs). To make it worse, Buffy knew the inspector was coming ahead of time but failed to realize what day it was (Buffy's life is hectic, but it's hard to explain in any meaningful way to the inspector.)
- Used for just a quick gag on Home Improvement, as the inspector was supposed to go to their neighbor Wilson's but got the wrong house. He still showed up right when the Taylors had a dead rat in one of their walls.
"Hi, I'm the home inspector from the bank [catches the smell of the rat for a beat] ...and right now, I'm thinking low."
- In How I Met Your Mother, Ted goes house-hunting and hires an inspector to look at a house. The inspector gets about halfway through before telling Ted the place is a deathtrap. Too bad he's already bought it.
Inspector: Now I could keep looking and see what else I could find, besides the black mold, the damaged retaining wall, the frayed electrical wires, the lead paint, the water damage, the fire damage, the sun damage, the broken furnace, the rotted floorboards, hey! Look at that, no termites! The cracked chimney, the bats, the rats, the spiders, the raccoons, the hobo, the detached gutter, the outdated fuse box, and the paint job in the kitchen, which is fine, but the trim really clashes with the countertops. Or I could just recommend that you do not buy this godforsaken Guantanamo Bay of a house and suggest that we all get our asses out of here before a medium-sized wind blows the whole sumbitch down.
- Animal Crossing has the HRA, who are never seen actually rating your house, but leave you a message in the mail with your score. City Folk has an actual building for them, where you can get a more detailed score plus a view of a house/room that can currently get you more points. The trope's commonly used plot point is sometimes lampshaded by the townsfolk.
- In The Sims 2, getting your child into private school requires undergoing House Inspection by the headmaster. This is one of the more challenging things to do in the game; not only should your house be good-quality and clean, but the kid and all house residents need to be on their best behavior. Being rejected from private school is the most likely outcome.
- In Despicable Me short film Home Makeover, a social worker is coming while Gru is away, so Gru's daughter must redecorate the house (with Minions' help) to make the supervillain-lair-looking house looks safe for children or else they will be sent back to their old Orphanage of Fear.
- Futurama, "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back". Hermes' office is all cleaned up for the inspector from the Central Bureaucracy, but it gets trashed. He attempts suicide, but the inspector talks him out of it by telling him he hasn't done the required paperwork.
- On an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Squidward wants to show up his high school rival Squilliam by having his house on a TV show. Naturally, SpongeBob shows up to help and makes a mess of Squidward's home. Then the show host compliments him on his daring sense of style.
- A similar situation occurs in the first season. Squidward wants to move and to keep SpongeBob out of the way, so he tells him that it's "Opposite Day", assuming that will mean that SpongeBob will stay quiet and out of the way. Instead he takes it to mean that he should act like Squidward and proceeds to do so when the realtor arrives.
- In Pepper Ann, one of mom's old friends has a TV show called "This Gorgeous House", and wants to feature their home. Of course, mom goes nuts decorating and dressing up the place like a classic farm stead. But when the old friend and her film crew arrive, the friend is saddened and upset. "I've been covering unrealistic, dolled up houses for years. Just once I wanted to do a show on a REAL, living house with a real family."
- The Backyardigans: In the episode "What's Bugging You?", Tasha's house is being inspected by Mr. Spiffy (Pablo) so she can join the Spiffy Club. When she finds out a worman is in her house, she calls Uniqua and Tyrone from Best Pest Control. Unfortunately, everything Uniqua and Tyrone do seem to attract even more wormans. Then Mr.Spiffy arrives, which means that Tasha, Uniqua, and Tyrone not only have to do their jobs quickly, they also have to do it in secret. Thus the "Fawlty Towers" Plot.
- In The Simpsons episode "Home Sweet Homediddily-Dum-Doodily", Principal Skinner is convinced that something wrong is going on at the Simpson placenote and sends Child Services to look in. They find the house is a mess, stacks of decades-old newspapers, Maggie drinking from the dog's water dish, and Grandpa asleep on the sofa in his own filth. Of course, the whole thing is an insane coincidence, but they still take the kids away and put them with the Flanders.
- King of the Hill had a similar premise for its pilot episode. A DCS worker catches wind of perceived abuse, as well as a poorly timed injury from Peggy and hearing Bobby exaggerate Hank's blustered threats to someone who had angered him and sends an investigator out. In an aversion of the Simpsons episode, the investigator find zero evidence of abuse, and the Worker gets chewed out by his boss for jumping to conclusions and taking matters into his own hands, getting shilled off to some far off place he can't embarrass his company anymore.