While we all come into the inspection business with different goals (making more money, becoming our own boss, having more control over our schedule, etc.), the overriding goal of everyone is to be successful. Success in the home inspection industry is dependent on many factors. Some of these elements, like the quality of the homes in our area, are (for the most part) beyond our control. Fortunately, for those of us that are practicing inspectors, most of the things that affect our success are within our control. We simply have to realize that these things have an effect on our level of achievement and implement policies and procedures that maximize our odds of building a profitable company.
We all start out in this business with a blank slate, bringing with us only the processes and procedures that we’ve picked up over the years from our other jobs. For the most part, we begin our careers without much experience in the inspection business. We may have gained some knowledge from the initial training that we went through to get into the industry, but for the most part we’re left to our own devices.
Just like a small child, we’re thrown into the deep end of the pool, forced to quickly learn how to swim in order to keep from sinking. Most of our local competitors consider themselves just that, our competitors, and aren’t inclined to reach out a helping hand to someone who stands to take away some of their valuable business.
This often leaves us flailing about, trying to keep our heads above water while at the same time trying to figure out exactly what we’re supposed to be doing in this new business venture. Finding help is difficult in most industries, but it’s even more difficult in a fledgling industry like home inspections, where every new inspector is viewed as a threat to the profit margin of established companies.
Fortunately, there are some sources, like The Home Inspectors Network, where experienced inspectors are willing to share their knowledge with other inspectors. Poorly trained inspectors reflect badly on our industry as a whole, so it’s in all of our best interests to lend a hand to the newer inspectors, passing on the knowledge that we’ve gained over the years in order to lift up the entire industry.
With this fact in mind, we’re going to discuss six of the most important things that we can do to help maximize our chances of success on a home inspection. By utilizing these six tactics when performing an inspection, we can help limit our potential problems, maximize our output, provide the best value for our paying clients and increase the chances of gaining favorable social media reviews, all of which can dramatically increase our odds of maturing into a successful home inspection company.
1) Get maximum information
The first thing that we can do to increase our chances of success is something that can be easily implemented when we’re setting up our schedule for the week. Whenever we’re communicating with our potential clients, whether directly by phone, text or email, or indirectly through an online scheduler or third party phone service, the more information that we can get about our upcoming inspection, the better our chances of reducing future problems.
By gathering as much detail as possible about our upcoming jobs, we increase our possibility of success by reducing the chances of scheduling related errors. Whenever we get less information than we could, problems are more likely to occur, which can lead to misunderstandings and tension between the client, agent and inspector; never a great way to start off a new business relationship.
When scheduling a new inspection, we should try to get as much information as possible about our clients and their (potential) new home. At a minimum, name, phone and email are needed for both the client and their agent. This allows for maximum communication between parties, enabling you to quickly contact them should something go wrong (and it’s guaranteed that something will eventually go wrong).
Here are some of the things that I want to know before I confirm an inspection appointment:
a) Square footage of the property (living area as well as total area)
b) Type of foundation (slab or raised)
c) The age of the property
d) The number of HVAC systems on the property
e) Is the home occupied or vacant
f) Are the utilities all on to the property
g) Whether or not the client will be in attendance at the inspection
This information allows me to provide an accurate price to the client, as well as gives me a better idea of how much time to block on my schedule to perform the inspection. I also ask whether or not other items may be involved, such as swimming pools, docks or detached structures. This allows me the chance to either add additional services to my inspection or align the client’s expectations regarding what will and will not be included as part of their inspection.
The last thing that I want to happen is that I get to the property and discover there’s a 1200 square foot mother-in-law apartment in the back yard that the buyers are expecting me to include in my inspection (at the price I already quoted for the main house alone). This is certainly going to lead to hard feelings all the way around, as the buyers are going to be mad that I want more money than they were already quoted and I’m going to be mad that they want me to do more work for less money than I would normally be getting.
Better to settle everything up front, when the buyer can still walk away if they’re not happy with my price and I can still adjust which items are included in the inspection in an attempt to satisfy everyone involved.
One of the most important mantras to use in your business is that a little extra work up front can save a lot of headache later on in the process.
2) Do the research
Once I’ve accumulated as much information as possible from the client or agent (whoever happens to be scheduling the inspection), it’s time to fire up the computer and start the prep work. I like to get as much of the inspection done as possible before I even set foot in my vehicle to drive to the inspection site.
I’ll typically start with a quick Google search, putting in the address to see what information comes up. Generally, my search is rewarded with lots of real estate websites showing the property listing with corresponding information about the specifics of the property. Most of the real estate related websites get their description information from the MLS, as well as the pictures that the listing agent included with the official listing.
This information does many different things for me all at once. First, the information I see on the internet will allow me to confirm that the information I was given when the inspection was scheduled is correct. If there are any discrepancies between what shows on the listing and what I was told when the inspection was scheduled, I’ll make a phone call in an attempt to clear up any inconsistencies.
It’s much easier to tell a client ahead of time that their inspection is going to be more money because they didn’t tell me that the house was raised than it is to try to accomplish the same thing once everyone’s standing in the front yard looking at me on the morning of the inspection.
This advanced information also allows me to get a head start on the actual inspection, as I can start to enter information about the property into my inspection reporting software from the comfort of my home. In my “home office” (which is actually a closet that I outfitted with a couple of shelves), I have two monitors set up on my desktop, which allows me to have my inspection software open on one screen while I’m looking at pictures and descriptions of the property on the other. I can easily move back and forth between monitors, using the information about the property on one screen to add that info into my software on the other. (And it’s much easier than you think to set up multiple monitors on either a desktop or laptop.)
On most inspections, I’m able to enter a lot of the basic information about the home (siding, roofing, garage, porch, patio, wall, ceiling and floor coverings, kitchen and bath info, appliances, HVAC system info, site specifics, etc.) before I even set foot on the property. Conservatively, this prep work saves me about 15-20 minutes of data entry once I get to the house.
While that may not seem like a tremendous amount of time, every little bit of time saved while on site helps me to be more efficient and keeps the buyer and agent happier (since they’re at the house for a shorter period of time).
If you’re lucky enough to be able to access your local real estate board’s MLS page, this additional information can be a valuable asset in doing pre-inspection prep work. The MLS (multiple listing service) are a series of private databases, created by local real estate boards, that allow real estate agents (and often the public) to view which properties are currently listed for sale. These services provide information about these listings, which allows shoppers to be able to compare the different properties that are for sale in their area.
The various real estate sites that show up in our Google search (Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, etc.) all pull their information from the local MLS. In some areas, the local MLS is available for buyers to easily access, while other areas make it difficult (or impossible) for anyone other than licensed real estate agents to access this information.
One of the first things a new inspector should figure out is whether your local MLS is open to the general public. Access to this information can often provide more data about an upcoming inspection than you can get from search sites like Zillow. The MLS will often provide direct access to maps and directions, information about neighborhoods, access to downloadable property disclosure forms, as well as other information about the property that can help an observant inspector prepare for an upcoming job.
If your local MLS is not easily accessible to you, there may be other ways to get to this information. Sometimes, if you have a close relationship with a local real estate agent, they may be willing to allow you to use their login information to access the MLS system. Some local real estate boards will provide MLS access to affiliate members, whereby simply paying the board a small yearly fee will provide access to this valuable information. In other areas, it may be beneficial to earn a real estate license from your state in order to get the benefits of belonging to the local board.
If you choose to obtain a real estate license, be sure that you’re aware of any conflict of interest rules pertaining to your home inspector and real estate licenses, and be sure to steer clear of any situations where you can potentially be accused of being involved in unethical behavior.
The quality of the product we produce is incredibly important to the success of our business. But making sure that we’re making it easy for our clients to do business with us may be even more important to our eventual success. Doing everything we can to produce a top-flight home inspection report in the least amount of time can turn us into a valuable asset for our clients, and one that they simply cannot live without.
Check out next week’s post (part 2) for more tips on how to produce the best report in the least amount of time.
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