Only We

Being in the home inspection business for all these years has been challenging to say the least, but it’s taught me (at least) one thing: that we home inspectors are a generally unflappable bunch. After all, we repeatedly endure fire from all sides, a condition that would quickly wilt much more delicate flowers. Long working hours, demanding clients and agents with seemingly immoveable deadlines, and multiple competing entities present in every one of our jobs all make for a contentious work environment, and that’s not even counting the squalid working conditions we’re sometimes subjected to when inspecting other peoples’ properties.

dirty laundry room during a home inspection

To call us “unflappable” might be putting it mildly. We regularly deal with abuse from all sides, as the buyers, sellers, and their respective agents all come into each transaction with different (and often competing) priorities, and they generally will stop at nothing to make their preferences known. We inspectors seem to take it all in stride, at the same time we’re meticulously assessing a property and documenting our findings for all to see. We often make light of our unwinnable predicament, letting the countless comments and demands roll off our back like condensation dripping from a freshly cleaned evaporator coil.

But if we stop a minute to think about it, all that pressure has got to be taking a toll, doesn’t it? One would assume that the drain of competing demands made of us, day after day, month after month, and year after year, would eventually have some type of negative effect on us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Even the best of us can’t remain stoic forever. Left unaddressed, all those little injuries will ultimately build to a crescendo, spilling out like water from a TPR valve that our client opened while following us around the inspection. We can’t hold it back forever; left unchecked, every one of us will eventually burst.

All that stress isn’t good for business, either. It’s difficult enough running all over town to locate the house that the agent said was “easy to find.” We’ve already got enough problems with the seller (and their kids, neighbors, dogs, cats, and whatever else) hanging around for the inspection to see if “anyone has any questions.” We know we’re already running late for our next appointment when the buyer’s dad, who “built houses” back in the day (likely before color TV was invented), decides to show up at the end of the inspection and starts asking questions about things we’ve already gone over. Or we conveniently forgot to put our crawl suit back in our vehicle last night after we washed it, and we’re staring right into a 3000 square foot crawlspace the morning after a deluge of biblical proportions (with another inspection coming up right afterwards).

And if we’re lucky enough to work for someone else’s inspection business, we’ve got a whole other set of stressors to contend with in our lives: micromanagement from higher-ups who have likely never even been on an inspection; scheduling conflicts from underpaid secretaries who wouldn’t be able to drive across the block if someone wasn’t telling them which way to turn; to unrealistic owners who can’t seem to understand why you can’t fit another couple of inspections into your schedule, after all, who really needs time off on the weekend (which they say to us over the phone while calling from the golf course…). We’ve already got enough problems to deal with on a regular basis; we don’t need anymore.

How to get the most from the decisions that we make

While it’s quickly become a new age buzz word, work-life balance is real and it’s much more important than we care to admit. We can all likely picture another inspector who’s stressed out and handling it in the worst way possible. Maybe they’re drinking too much, addicted to some substance or another, in the throes of a nasty divorce, or on the edge of a trip to the emergency room in the back of a cardiac transport ambulance. Regardless of the unsavory outcome, most of these negative situations could have been avoided by someone simply taking control over their lives.

Yes, making money is vitally important, as without a steady income most of these problems will be magnified in a much more dramatic fashion, but amassing fortune shouldn’t be the entirety of our existence. We’ve need something else to look forward to in our lives. (That’s where the balance part of work-life balance comes into play.) But here’s where being an “unflappable bunch” can come back to bite us. All too often, as owners of our own business (or at least owner of “the business of me”) we’re far too quick to say yes to another opportunity to make money; to do a bit more. We’re quick to cut, just a little more, into our personal life to carve out a smidgen more business time: just one more inspection, one more email, one more event, one more social media post.

The problem is that it never really stops. There’s always going to be more inspections. We can always compose more emails, attend more marketing events, or broaden our presence on social media. When running a business, even “the business of me,” there will always be something else to be done. It’s constant; it never ends. We could put in 24-hours of work every single day, and there’d still be more to do. That point is not really in question; a business can (almost) always grow to be larger with more effort. The question we need to answer hits much closer to home:

How much is too much?

There’s only one person who can really answer this all-important question. There’s only one person who can know what is it that we’re trying to achieve, and how far we’re willing to go to get there? It’s up to us to figure out exactly how much income we need to support and sustain our family, and (more importantly) how much further past that bottom line we feel we need go. It really comes down to a question of our priorities:

Do we want more money to spend or more time spent with the ones that we love?

It’s a tough question to wrap our heads around, as spending time with our loved ones usually involves spending money, and that means more time spent inspecting, and that means less time with loved ones. (Argh!) Just like explaining deficiencies to the buyer, seller, and their agents all at the same time, figuring out where we draw the work-life balance line is like walking a tightrope: lean too far one way or the other and we’re probably gonna have problems.

walking the tightrope in our home inspection business

There are plenty of great resources out there (books, videos, podcasts, apps, classes, both online and in person, physical and spiritual practices, as well as counselors and physicians) to help us develop and maintain the level of work-life balance that works best for us and our specific situation. The most important thing for us to do is to come to the realization that work-life balance is something that we should be thinking about. To paraphrase an old biblical quote, what good does it do a home inspector to gain lots of wealth only to lose the enjoyment of his/her life in the process?

Only we can determine where our line gets drawn.

Only we can answer how much is too much.

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector