Recently, I was writing some information for a website, creating some FAQ’s about the home inspection process. The article was intended to explain to potential home buyers the importance of getting a copy of the Standards that their home inspector adheres to during their inspection process. I explained that this document outlines exactly what the home inspector was and was not going to do during the inspection. And then I wrote out this sentence: If you know ahead of time exactly what you are paying your home inspector to do, there is much less chance of having a misunderstanding later.
Upon rereading, I was struck by the importance of that sentence to our home inspection careers. By making a slight modification to the sentence, it can easily serve as a mantra for home inspectors everywhere:
If your customer knows ahead of time exactly what they are paying you to do, there is much less chance of a misunderstanding later.
It seems like this statement would be a common-sense thing. Unfortunately, this flies in the face of the standard operating procedure of most home inspectors. As humans, we are programmed to try to get the most value from the least amount of effort that we have to expend. It’s simply easier to take care of the paperwork when you’re at the home inspection. But this reasoning tends to make (some of) us lazy, easing us unintentionally into bad habits. Bad habits that can come back to haunt us, if we ever end up in court.
Fortunately, making changes to our bad habits can be accomplished by intentionally starting new, good habits. The first good habit to start should be sending each of your clients your SOP/COE (at least) a day ahead of their inspection. By providing this information before the inspection, you give your client a chance to review your standards ahead of time.
This can allow that client, the one with unreasonable ideas about what a home inspection entails, time to either adjust their objectives, address them with you or find someone else to attempt to fulfill their unreasonable expectations. Previous court rulings show us that if a client is not given an opportunity to read your SOP and contract prior to seeing them for first time at the actual inspection, they can (often successfully) argue that they were forced to ‘sign under duress.’ The essence of this argument is that the client was not allowed a reasonable amount of time to review the paperwork ahead of time. Therefore, they were not given the opportunity to address their concerns with you before the inspection. This can seriously damage your ability to defend yourself, your contract and your report in court.
Another good habit to start is getting your home inspection contract signed prior to the inspection. Giving your client an opportunity to change their mind and not contract with your company is imperative to being able to defend yourself in a lawsuit. Doing this shows that you were proactive in your attempts to satisfy your client. You gave them an opportunity to review your SOP and contract ahead of time. You made an honest effort to make sure that their expectations align with the reality of the home inspection process. If you ever end up in court, this seemingly simple gesture can reinforce the fact that you have your clients’ best interest in mind. And that can go a long way in your defense.
This procedure may also help to weed out problem clients by moving that inevitable confrontation to be beginning of the process. Now, instead of having a disagreement with an unrealistic client after the inspection is done, you can have that interaction before the inspection. And while this interaction is always stressful, the fact that it occurred prior to them actually becoming a paying customer allows you to conveniently discover that your office has overbooked you and, unfortunately, you won’t be able to do their inspection after all…
The simple habit of sending out information ahead of time may help to identify those problem clients earlier in the process. This allows you the opportunity to deal with potential problems before you have invested valuable time and resources on a doomed business interaction. There is nothing worse than losing an inspection slot, one of your limited daily opportunities to make money, because you had to cancel the inspection due to an unreasonable client. By identifying potential issues ahead of time, you create an opportunity to fill that inspection slot and maximize your business potential.
The simple process of adjusting your routine, moving the delivery of important documents to the beginning of the home inspection process, can pay valuable dividends. Yes, it will initially be an inconvenience, requiring you to expend a bit of energy before you get to the house. But this simple technique can help eliminate some of the inevitable problems inherent in the home inspection process.
Always remember the home inspector mantra: If your customer knows ahead of time exactly what they are paying you to do, there is much less chance of a misunderstanding later. A small investment of time can lead to more satisfied clients. And you can’t beat satisfied clients for making your business (and life) much easier!
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