Note: This article is part 2 of a 3 part series. Click here to read part 1.
We each come to the home inspection business from different backgrounds, different thoughts and different ideals, but we all share one common goal: becoming a successful small business owner. It’s hard to start a successful small business in today’s dog-eat-dog environment. It seems like everyone else is out to make sure that you don’t make it out the gate. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. The deck sure feels like it’s stacked against us.
What’s a new business owner to do?
While that’s certainly the $64,000 question, there really is only one answer.
When you’re hitting the wall? Keep trying. When you’ve heard “no” ten thousand times this week? Keep trying. When it seems like there’s no where else to turn? Keep trying. When everyone else looks like they’re enjoying a cake-walk, but you keep getting hit in the face with a cream pie?
I know the “keep trying” mantra sounds all well and good, but really, what the hell can I do to get ahead? This business is rough for a newbie…
Whenever we’re backed against a wall, which we all will be when we’re trying to start (and run) our own small business, it’s really all we can do. But that doesn’t mean that we have to keep trying the same unsuccessful thing, over and over and over again.
It’s up to us to figure out what works best for us in our particular niche. Each area is different, each deal is different, each client is different and each Realtor is different. The responsibility is squarely on our shoulders to figure out what it is we need to know to make it work for us in our own unique situation.
So, what’s kind of things we can do to help us figure out what works best? Two things: learn as much as we can about our business and test what we’ve learned through trial and error. The only way to know if what we’ve learned is going to work for us is to try it out in the real world.
With that in mind, we’ll continue with our list of the top 6 tactics to help increase our success as a professional home inspector.
3) Prep your client
One of the easiest ways to get into trouble in any business is to disappoint your clients. Especially in today’s always on, instantly accessible, social media driven world, allowing your customers to be anything less than ecstatic about the services you provide is often a one-way ticket to bankruptcy. Allowing your customers to go into the inspection without having a solid knowledge of what’s about to happen can lead to all kinds of stress for you and problems for your business.
There’s nothing more important to your success than ensuring that your customers’ expectations align with the reality of a limited, visual home inspection. As this is our business and livelihood, we should all be intimately familiar with the rules, laws and innerworkings of the home inspection business. We should know exactly what our state and/or organization’s standards require of us when we’re performing an inspection. Whatever Standards of Practice we follow in our business, we should know them like the back of our hand. (If you don’t, now would be a great time to learn…)
Our clients, on the other hand, are not familiar with our industry, and are often surprised to learn the fact that the inspection industry is something that’s regulated (in most states.) They typically have no idea what it is we do, what it is that they’re paying for or why they even need to get an inspection in the first place. Most of them have never experienced a home inspection and the only reason they’re getting one done is that their real estate agent told them that they needed to get one done before they can buy their new home.
If we don’t take every opportunity to align our new client’s expectations with the reality that is a general, visual inspection, we’re simply asking for trouble. Our clients’ expectations are often colored by misinformation; driven by untruths told to them by uninformed friends and relatives or overzealous real estate agents that are looking out for only one thing in this transaction: their commission check.
The home inspector is going to check out everything in your new home. They’ll tell you everything that’s ever happened and everything that’s ever going to happen. And if anything ever does break while you’re living there, they’ll come back and fix it for you for free!Ms. Overzealous Agent (to your inspection clients)
The responsibility for setting proper expectations falls firmly on our shoulders. If our client thinks we’re doing something that’s far outside the scope of the job of a professional home inspector, we’ve got no one else to blame but ourselves. Especially now, in our current age of instant communication (email, texts, DM’s, IM’s and virtually unlimited phone access), we have more opportunities than ever to deliver information to our clients in an attempt to align their expectations with reality. We have many different options to communicate with our clients at our disposal; it’s up to us to decide how we’re going to put these channels to work for us in the most effective manner.
Obviously, it’s impossible to ensure that every one of our clients is going to listen to what we’re trying to tell them. Some people have deep-seated opinions that cannot be changed by any manner of fact or amount of information. Anything we tell these people will simply go in one ear and out the other. Even though we can’t ensure that they’re going to listen to what it is that we’re trying to tell them, we can (at least) get them to sign a contract that says they understand and agree to our terms.
Our standard operating procedure for prepping our clients often begins with the initial scheduling phone call. If the client is the one scheduling the inspection, simply asking questions to figure out what their concerns are about the property is one of the easiest ways to start the conversation. By listening to what they say about the property, we can easily get a handle on the client’s familiarity with the inspection process and begin to align an unfamiliar client’s expectations with the reality of a general, visual inspection.
Emailing information to the client ahead of time is another great way to provide information to our clients. Sending our contract, standards and additional information to the clients ahead of time allows the intelligent clients to become familiar with what it is that we do, and helps protect us from those clients that we may consider “somewhat less than intelligent.”
Obviously, not every one of our clients are going to be inclined to read this information, but at least we’ve provided them with the opportunity to learn about what it is that we do during our inspection. While it would be great if every one of them read this information (as it would certainly make our lives easier), the important thing is that we’ve given them the opportunity to access this knowledge prior to the inspection. If there are ever any issues after the inspection (and there will always be issues), being able to point to the fact that this information was delivered to them before the inspection took place can go a long way in settling disputes in our favor.
And it doesn’t hurt if the contract that they sign states that they’ve received, read and understood all of the information that they’ve received…
4) Maximize our time
There is nothing else on earth as valuable as time. Your time, your buyer’s time, your agent’s time; everyone wants more time. We’re all overloaded with more things to do and never enough time to finish them. If we could figure out how to create more time for everyone, we’d instantly become one of the most popular individuals of, well, all time.
Time is a valuable commodity. It’s the only asset that we can’t create more of; no one has yet figured out how to add more hours to the day. And as small business owners, we know that time is money. We can only create income for ourselves if we have enough time to perform the tasks that produce money. We’re always stretched thin; always looking for ways to use our time more efficiently; always searching for the most recent “life-hack” that promises to save us more time.
We need to remember that we’re not the only person involved in the inspection process. Our client may be pressed for time, and our real estate agent is certainly going to be looking for a way to squeeze one more showing into their already over-booked schedule. The old adage that “time is money” has never been truer than in today’s hustle and hurry world.
All of which puts the home inspector in a precarious situation: we want to do a thorough job for our clients, but we’re also looking to maximize the value of our time. Time spent at a home inspection (that you’ve likely already been paid for) is time that can’t be used to create more home inspections. It’s almost as if time stands still while we’re on site, performing the actual inspection.
If we stop to think about it, an inspection is almost a no-win situation for the real estate agent that’s attending the inspection. First, they’re stuck at the property while we’re going through the motions. While the more experienced agents will come to an inspection armed with enough busy work to show some semblance of productivity while we’re checking outlets and opening and closing doors, the fact remains that it’s difficult for them to get a lot of meaningful work done during an inspection.
Even more important is the fact that, from an agent’s point of view, virtually nothing good ever comes out of an inspection. It’s not as though an inspector is going to discover things that reinforce a buyer’s decision to purchase the property. We’re there to identify problems. Identify enough of them, and the sale stops in its tracks. We’re an unpleasant distraction, a bump in the road to closing, the deal-killer (as one of my agents is fond of calling me). We’re a hurdle that must be overcome before their client gets to buy the house. So, in theory, the more time everyone’s at the inspection, the worst their chances of closing.
Therefore, it’s imperative that we do everything in our power to be as efficient as possible in our inspection methods, while still making certain that we’re doing the best job we can for our clients. It seems like an impossible balancing act, doing a thorough job while being onsite as briefly as possible. Those appear to be mutually exclusive goals: maximizing the quality of our product while minimizing the amount of time we’re spending producing that product.
There are a number of different things that we can do to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.
- Getting to the property early allows us to get some of our work done before we’re “on the clock.”
- Having a set routine that we follow on every inspection reduces the amount of thinking we have to do about how we go about doing the physical work of inspecting a property.
- Knowing our software like the back of our hand helps us to navigate quickly while entering our data, ensuring that we’re not wasting valuable time trying to figure out where we need to enter the information about that ungrounded outlet.
- Doing our “ahead of time” prework keeps us from having to enter the menial details about the property while we’re onsite, allowing us to focus on the items that aren’t easily discovered from looking at the pictures on the listing website.
- Take advantage of the few seconds lag time in our software (between when we take a picture and when we can actually start typing again) to quickly scan our current area for deficiencies. While those few seconds don’t seem to matter, if we’re doing that multiple times on each inspection, those few seconds start to add up.
- Especially in areas where it can be difficult to work (attics, roofs and crawlspaces), take lots of pictures while on site and worry about doing the data entry later, when we’re back home or comfortably sitting at our local coffee shop.
Every little thing that we can do to limit the amount of time we’re at the property, without negatively affecting the quality of our inspection report, makes us more efficient at our job while also reducing the time our clients (the buyers and the agents) are sitting around waiting for us to finish. The quicker our agent can get back to their main job of showing houses to potential buyers, the sooner they’ll be calling us to schedule another inspection.
The success of our business is wed to the quality of the job we do while on-site, performing our inspection as well as the quality of the final product, our report, that we provide to our clients. The better we can get at these two all-important aspects of our job, the better our chances of success in this highly competitive industry.
Our clients have an ever-increasing number of options when it comes to choosing a home inspector. We need to make sure that we do everything (and every little thing) in our power to convince them that we’re really the only choice that makes sense for them.
Check out next week’s post (part 3) for information about how to provide the best value for our clients.
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