Being Respected or Being Profitable

As business owners, we often find ourselves faced with important decisions that are going to affect the future success of our business. And all too often, those decisions involve choosing between something that we know is right or something that we know will be profitable. We’re either going to gain someone’s respect, or we’re going to make a bunch of money.

making money as a home inspector

How come I can’t always do both?

I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity.

Julius Erving

In business, as in life, we’re constantly faced with choices. Choices that often have far-reaching consequences. Whatever we decide today can have an effect on our tomorrow (and plenty of tomorrows after that.) And to make things even more complicated, it’s often hard to tell what those repercussions are going to be.

Does what this person wants from me line up with my values?

Is this what I really should be doing, or is it just what I want to do in the moment?

Am I making the right decision?

We can’t see into the future, so we really aren’t sure what’s going to happen. This uncertainty makes it even harder for us to know what we should do when we find ourselves in this type of position.

All too often, in life as well as business, we’re left all alone to make these choices, and they’re never easy to make. It’s not like we were taught as kids, that we can only choose to do right or wrong; that everything is divided into good and evil. Things in life are rarely black and white. We’re surrounded by a whole bunch of gray.

As professional home inspectors, we’re tasked with following our industry standards, usually dictated by either our state or our professional association. But, all too often it seems, it’s up to us to decide exactly where the edges of those standards lie. We’re constantly tempted to (and often forced to) adapt our interpretation of those standards to fit whatever specific situation we find ourselves in.

I was recently speaking with a fellow inspector who found himself in one of these situations. He had performed an inspection where the sellers’ agent also happened to be one of his best referring agents. After the inspection, he received a phone call from that agent, asking for information about the house. He felt torn between his contractual obligation to his client and his (very profitable) business relationship with this agent. Without revealing how he handled the situation, he asked what I would have done if I was in his shoes.

I’m sure we all occasionally receive calls from sellers’ agents, with whom we have a long-established business relationship, asking for “privileged” information regarding an inspection that we just completed. The way in which we handle these type of situations can have a profound effect on the type of agents that we’re wed to in our career as an inspector.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Jim Rohn

We may choose the (seemingly) profitable route, and share confidential information about the inspection. It’s pretty reasonable to believe that doing so would make that agent love us, securing future referrals for our business. We scratch their back, and they’ll scratch ours.

But, we must ask ourselves if that’s the audience that we’re trying to target.

Are we hoping to work with agents who will break the rules for their own personal gain?

Do we want to be associated with someone who’s willing to do the wrong thing, as long as it means that they’re going to make more money?


As business professionals, our most valuable asset is our reputation. It determines how successful we’ll be, it directs the quality of our clientele, and it dictates the type of people with whom we’ll be associated. Hang around with the wrong crowd and we’ll soon be associated with them and their morals.

If we’re always working with shady agents, we’re soon thought of as a shady home inspector.

And an agent that’s willing to compromise their integrity to make a buck will certainly have no problem rolling us under the bus to make another one.

Like our friends, we must choose our business allies carefully. One misstep can destroy the years of hard work that we’ve dedicated to developing our reputation. Above all, in business as well as in life, we must guard our reputation at all cost.

It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.

Benjamin Franklin

When placed in a potentially compromising position by an agent, it’s always best to adhere to the letter (as well as the spirit) of our standards. In this case, simply tell the agent that we’re required to protect the confidentiality of our client’s inspection information.

Early in my career, I often found myself in this same situation. By consistently following the standards, I was able to develop the type of reputation that I wanted. The agents that valued money over everything else were quickly frustrated by my lack of cooperation, and soon moved on to other more “flexible” inspectors. The more principled agents, who’s values align more closely with mine, would see that I wasn’t working with those “other” agents, and eventually became part of my clientele.

Now that’s not to say that even the most principled agent won’t try to take advantage of their relationships in service of their clients. More than one time, I’ve found myself in this exact situation, on the receiving end of a phone call from a listing agent on a “fishing expedition.” But I always held my ground, falling back on our standards and protecting my client’s information.

Inevitably, the agent would end the conversation by telling me that they knew that I wouldn’t tell them anything, but they had to try to get the information out of me anyway. While the lack of inside information may make the agent’s job more difficult in that moment, the knowledge that I always respond in the same way reassures them that I’ll provide the same professional service for their clients in the future.

While I may not be popular with them (in that moment), I will have earned their respect, which will ultimately earn me something important to my bottom line: their future business.

As business owners, as well as home inspectors, we must always be cognizant of our reputation. We all know that people love to share their experiences as well as their opinions. Realtors often discuss the differences between home inspectors when they have down-time in their offices. And while we cannot completely control what is said about us, we can often influence that conversation. 

In business, as well as in life, we’re often faced with deciding between what’s right and what’s profitable. It’s up to us to figure out which of these is the best decision.

choosing between right or wrong in our home inspection career

You don’t go into battle because you’re sure of victory. You go into battle because it’s the right thing to do.

C.J. Redwine (in the book The Shadow Queen)

The best way to develop a reputation that we can be proud of is to be consistent in our mood, our methods, and our manners. While we can certainly appreciate the predicament of our inspector, torn between doing what he knows is right and doing what he thinks will better a profitable business relationship, the correct choice is clear.

Always do what’s right. While it may not happen immediately, profitability will soon follow.

I I welcome all feedback (both positive and negative) on this post.
Please take a moment to leave a comment below. Thank you!

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector

Comments 2

  1. David here! Great article Mr. Cook! I find that doing what is right pays long term, over doing what is profitable. This only furthers my distrust of real estate agents, for good reason(s). “He received a phone call from the sellers’ agent after the inspection, asking for information about the inspection.” That line stood out to me. 1.) Should it not be the agent’s job to know about the condition of the house? The agent or the agent’s company should have someone come out and periodically inspect the home.

    2.) I am not really sure how to explain this or link it, but that kind of behavior from the sellers’ agent is a huge problem, especially in Louisiana. Everything is political here, creating a network that is majorly influenced by nepotism/who you know, not what you know. Anything to get ahead I suppose. Asking for or requesting of such information is almost similar to insider trading in a sense that you have an advantage over someone who doesn’t have access to that information. Espionage, maybe even? Anyways, guard the information with your life and adhere to the Standards of Practice. It may not pay well immediately, short term, however it pays long term. And here I must end, as I have lost focus and am rambling.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hey David,
      Great point. It’s always best to do what’s right. That way, you never have to remember what lie you told to which party! Makes it so much easier on you; you only have to remember the truth!

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