Layered Defense

I was listening to the Tim Ferris Show podcast this morning and his guest was Matt Pottinger, a military expert and previous U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor. They were discussing the potential threat that China may pose to the U.S. and the world. In part of the interview, he was speaking about China’s aggression toward Taiwan and its desire to annex it as part of their country. He made a statements about the way in which Taiwan should go about defending itself against a much larger opponent: “You want them to have to worry about several different dimensions of a layered defense.”

fighting to defend your home inspection company

I was struck by his statement, as it feels particularly applicable to our job as home inspectors. No matter how good a job we do, how thorough we are, how many pictures we take, or how long and convoluted our inspection agreement is, we’ll eventually be faced with the unenviable task of defending ourselves against an upset homeowner and, quite often, their legal team. And just like Taiwan, we may feel overwhelmed by a more powerful aggressor. If we follow Mr. Pottinger’s advice, and provide defenses on many different fronts, we’ll often be able to defend ourselves (and become a better inspector in the process.)

First and foremost, we should be focusing on offering our clients the best product. We want to be able to impart up-to-date information, providing them with enough knowledge to make an informed decision on whether they should purchase that property. At the same time, we need to make sure that the information we’re providing in our inspection report is easy for everyone involved to understand. Construction terms can be confusing, and we want our clients to be able to comprehend the information we’re trying to convey, regardless if whether they’ve been a contractor for 20 years or they’re a frightened, first-time home buyer. Attempting to show off by making our reports overly technical is not likely to impress anyone, and can often prove detrimental in a dispute.

We need to make sure that we do a thorough inspection, providing our clients with written and photographic verification of everything we did (and weren’t able to do) while on site. Almost as important, we need to look like we’re doing a thorough inspection. We don’t want to give any of the other people at the inspection (a seller, buyer, or agent) the impression that we’re slacking. Talking on the phone, walking around with ear buds in listening to music, or doing things that aren’t home inspection related don’t help demonstrate the image of professionalism that we’re trying to convey. On average, someone is paying over $100 an hour for us to be walking around that house; the least we can do is look like we’re working hard.

All the world’s a stage…

William Shakespeare

It’s difficult to do a good inspection without possessing adequate knowledge. Our business is constantly changing, and we need to do our part to change with it. Even though our licensing entity may require us to do a minimum number of continuing education hours each year, we should be exceeding that paltry number of hours by a mile, learning everything we can about the inspection industry. We should also keep any certificates that we receive from our training. Even if we can’t use them to satisfy our licensing requirements, having a large folder of certificates documenting all of the additional education we’ve done can go a long way towards swaying a case in our favor, proving to a judge or arbitrator that we take our job seriously, and go above and beyond to make sure we’re adequately prepared to offer professional services to our paying clients.

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

Charles Darwin

Making sure that we present a professional image can go a long way towards discouraging problems. Exuding quality in everything we do, from the cleanliness of our vehicle to the quality of our tools, helps us present a formidable persona, lessening the changes that someone will feel emboldened enough to challenge us. The type of image we portray with our marketing, from our website, emails, and social presence to the look of our report and the polish of our writing, helps to frame us as a professional, ensuring that our clients view us as such.

If we ever do end up in court, we can be certain that opposing counsel will use anything they can get their hands on to attempt to discredit us. They will investigate every aspect of our business and personal life, going as far as taking screenshots of our personal social media and producing a big picture of that drunken post that we stupidly made years ago to prove our inadequacy as a person and a professional. Nothing is off limits to a plaintiff’s attorney, so we need to stay vigilant, making sure that everything we put on the internet helps to support our hard-won expert persona.

It goes without saying that having an effective home inspection contract is a must. Utilizing a contract provided by our state or insurance company is the least we should be doing in order to protect ourselves. If our home inspection insurance company allows, we should be working with a trusted attorney to continuously update our inspection agreements, making appropriate changes to the document when new tactics and industry information emerges. Obviously, a contract is worthless if we don’t have our clients sign it. Ideally, we should be getting our contracts signed before the inspection starts (which may be required by our insurance provider.)

insuring your home inspection business

Lastly, many states mandate minimum insurance policy limits for their inspectors, but we’re often inspecting properties that far exceed this minimum amount. Generally, boosting our insurance coverage to the upper limits (often one million dollars) is not cost prohibitive, and may help to ease our anxiety over potential lawsuits.

We often find ourselves with a big target on our back. We operate in a high profile industry, charging a pretty penny for our services, making us an attractive target for random people looking to make a quick buck. We know that problems are the norm for people working in our industry, so why shouldn’t we do everything in our power to defend ourselves?

Having a multi pronged defense strategy is not only a smart idea, it’s key to our ability to avoid problems.

If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly.

Colonel David Hackworth

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector