While I’m certainly not an attorney, it’s fairly easy for the average person to learn almost everything they need to know about the law from a small amount of quality internet research. While doing a bit of investigation to see if there were any ways that I could improve my current home inspection contract, I came across a site where someone had writing extensively about legal contracts. I won’t bore you with the minutia expounded on by this particular author, but there was a particular point made in one of the articles that really got me thinking about my job as a professional home inspector.
The author made it clear that the most important aspect of any legal contract is the exchange of value between the parties to the agreement. Without some degree of value amongst the items being traded, there really is no need for a contract.
In most cases, this concept is fairly easy for us to grasp. When we enter into a contract with our local car dealer, it’s pretty obvious what’s being exchanged: we get to drive off in a new vehicle and the dealer’s finance company gets money from us at the end of each month to repay our loan. When we sign up for a membership at our local gym, the gym gets revenue from our monthly payments to use to run their business while we gain access to their equipment and facilities in order to exercise our bodies everyday (or stress our minds because we neglect to use those facilities that we’re paying for each month.)
When it comes to running a home inspection business, on the surface, the exchange of value seems to be pretty simple as well: the client pays us and we provide them with a report outlining what we found when we inspected the property. Pretty cut and dry.
You pay me, I deliver a report.
Most people would argue that the preceding phrase summarizes the entire client/vendor relationship involved in a home inspection contract. And for the vast majority of inspectors out there, that’s where it ends. Do the inspection, collect the check, send the report, answer a few questions and move on to the next customer. Lather; rinse; repeat. Over and over again, this contractual relationship plays out as the years stretch on. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of times we repeat the same dance with our clients: inspection, check, report.
Most people would argue that this is all there is too it; and most people would be wrong.
Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. An inspector can certainly build a successful business by employing this model. And, truth be told, there are more than enough homebuyers (and real estate agents) out there for whom this model fits the bill, providing exactly the minimal amount of personal interaction that they desire from a home inspection.
Tell me what I need to know and just go away.
If that’s what we’re looking for in our business, then here’s some good news: it’s pretty easy to do. Very little effort is required on our part. Do the bare minimum, send out a short inspection report and keep on moving. It’s really a pretty simple business transaction. We figure out exactly what’s needed by our clients, and if applicable in our states, what’s required by law, and that’s what goes into our report. We check all the boxes, take a few pictures and hit print. Another job done.
If we stop and think about it, that’s exactly how every home inspector starts in the business. We buy some software, figure our what our standards require, and set out to offer (as it’s known in the internet business world) a minimally viable product (MVP). This MVP is good enough to satisfy our clients (especially since most of them have no idea what a home inspection entails anyway) and, for the most part, keep us out of trouble. As the name indicates, it’s the minimum amount of work that we need to do to keep everyone happy. We sign a contract between us and our clients and exchange something of value.
Unfortunately, that’s often where it ends. Many inspectors simply keep offering the same MVP, day after day, week after week, year after year. Doing the same inspection, writing the same report, offering the same product, with little thought to improving their offering. They fall back on the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But if we stop to think about it, almost everything else in our lives evolves. Cars get better. Technology improves. Medicine advances. Music gets better. (OK, I’ll admit that last one may not be entirely true…) The fact is, for the most part, people like things that are new and improved. We like to think that we’re buying the latest and the greatest. We love to brag to our friends and family that we’ve got something better than the old version that they have. It’s human nature to feel fulfilled we think we’ve got something better.
So, if everything else keeps getting better, why shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we be making improvements to our business, our product and our offerings? Why is it that so many of us are content with lather, rinse, repeat?
Yes, we know that it’s easier to just keep doing what we’re doing. And yes, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” sounds like great advice. But sooner or later, someone’s gonna come along who’s built a better mousetrap. Someone with a little spark of initiative is going to do something different. They’re gonna improve on what everyone else is doing; they’re going to amp up some aspect of the process; they’re going to offer something new that no one else has ever thought of; and they’re going to take away some of our business.
It’ll happen gradually at first, a few clients here, a few agents there. The changes will start small; we may not even notice it. Then, slowly but surely, it will build up steam. We’ll notice our numbers starting to drop. We’ll hear the chatter about the latest thing in the industry, and we’ll wonder how we could’ve missed it. Often, we’ll say to ourselves “I though of that years ago,” but we were too __________ (insert the applicable adjective here: lazy, scared, busy, intimidated…) to do anything about it. And then it happens: we’re yesterday’s news. One of those old-timers that makes all the other inspectors groan whenever we open our mouths.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Remember, we’re entering into a contract with our clients in order to exchange something of value. Why not work to build a more mutually beneficial relationship? Why not strive to improve our product, so that our clients get more value from what we’re offering than they were expecting?
Find people who share your values, and you’ll conquer the world together.John Ratzenberger
When we exceed our client’s expectations, lots of good things can happen. For starters, we end up with happier clients, and happier clients bring many benefits to our business. Think about how great you feel when you’re at a restaurant and your server brings you something “on the house.” You didn’t order desert, but you got one anyway. When that happens, there’s a good chance that you’re going to go home happy, leave them a great review and come back again in the future. Sounds like a great investment of the restaurant’s marketing budget. With one small action (giving away a $7.00 desert), they’ve compounded that investment into much more value and goodwill than they could ever get from spending $7.00 on an ad.
Happier clients help grow our business by leaving us good reviews and telling their friends and family about our business. They’re also less likely to fly off the handle the minute anything goes wrong with their house. They remember the value that we provided them and are more likely to call us for advice when there’s a problem than they are to contact their attorney. A little extra value can go a long way.
By improving the value that we provide to our clients, we can expand the value that they give to us in return. Instead of just collecting a check, we can turn them into brand ambassadors, lobbying for us and our future success. Free marketing, provided by the best kind of spokespersons, ones that have actually used our product and were happy with the results.
We enter into a contract to exchange things of value. Why not up the value of what we’re offering? There’s no limit to the dividends we can gain as the result of such a small investment.
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