How to Provide a Personal Touch During Social Distancing

For over 20 years and after 10,000 jobs I have always encouraged my home inspection clients to attend the entire inspection. I explain that if they want to have the full value of the inspection they need to see what I do and they will get to learn how their particular home operates. That is not the case during COVID-19.

By now everyone should know about social distancing and be providing some type of stay safe procedure for their clients, agents, and inspections. If not, check out the InterNACHI COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Home Inspectors and Contractors course for free. It is our job as professionals to guide them along the next steps to keep our clients, homeowners, and ourselves safe.

Set the Tone During the Booking Call

We have been surprised that almost none of our clients have asked about COVID-19 precautions while booking their home inspection. It is understandable when you keep in the mind the journey they have been on before they called us. It is stressful enough in normal times. These days it is even more stressful.

We are now telling our clients to not attend and how we intend to keep them, the occupants of the home, and ourselves safe. We also set the tone of how our process has changed and what communication they can expect from us. It has become super important to make sure the client is comfortable with a phone call, FaceTime, Zoom, or maybe Skype for their call with the inspector. 

Make Contact Before the Inspection

My favorite part of most home inspections is usually the driveway meeting. It is when I get a chance to meet my client and let them meet me. In just those first few minutes you can tell what kind of client you are working with and what kind of reporting will be needed.

Many home inspection clients are downright terrified. They will likely not hear a word you say or ask a single question. Others are extremely comfortable doing their own repairs. Home inspection clients are not all the same. The driveway meeting helps us understand who we are working with.

This is not so easy during COVID-19. Since we ask our clients to not attend the inspection or to only come alone at the end, the driveway meeting is a thing of the past.

Since we have already let the client know the inspector will be reaching out before the job they are ready. We contact the client at least the night before or better yet on the day of the job for a virtual driveway meeting. 

Write the Report for an Absent Client

Over my 20 years our reports have developed into something that is meant to be read. We always do our best to only report on important information. Since our clients are with us and we have been able to also talk and show them how things work and what we do it has worked incredibly well. It has let us deliver a home inspection report that our clients really want. The only complaints we get are from clients that are not at the job.

Now that our clients do not attend we now write the report for an absent client. This is not really new since we have been doing it for years once we realized that these types of clients were the source of complaints.

We still do not overwhelm them with every piece of information about the home but we are more mindful that the report is the only way they can tell what we did and did not do. We now report on much more informational items that we typically would if the client was with us. The goal is not to overwhelm them with such a long report they can not read it but just enough information that they understand the home. 

Do a Virtual Report Summary

After the driveway meeting I have always enjoyed the report wrap up and report summary with my clients. Some of the best real estate agents I know also show up at this point so everyone understands what the biggest issues are that need addressing and possible ways to make that happen. It also gives everyone a chance to understand what makes a particular house unique.

These days that is no longer possible in person but it can be done virtually. The most important thing is to set up if it will be FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or phone call with the client beforehand. That way everyone is expecting it and should have their personal technology ready. They are also prepared when they see us in full personal protection equipment (PPE) when we call for the summary.

Follow up After the Job

After the home inspection our clients move on to the repair request and the next steps of the homebuyer’s journey. They may never think of their home inspector again or even look at the home inspection report. Unless there is a problem.

The post job followup can be the most important way to maintain the personal touch with our home inspection clients. It is also an incredible way to limit complaints and generate online reviews. This has not changed much since COVID-19 has come into our lives but it is more important than ever. 

We already send an email and also a text to every client three days after the home inspection asking if they need any help or have any questions during the repair request phase. Now, since we are doing everything to provide a personal touch during social distancing we are having our inspectors call as well.

Master Home Inspectors Understand the Homebuyer’s Journey

Happy Homebuyers

By the time the homebuyer reaches our door, they’ve been on a long journey. They’re almost to the end. They’ve already spent months looking at properties. They’re already working with some of the dozen other players in the home buying process, including the real estate agent, the loan officer, and the seller. When they meet us, the homebuyer is praying that nothing is wrong with the home. If it falls apart now, they have to start the journey all over again.


 

Home inspectors are in a delicate position. On one hand, we must give cold, hard, and sometimes ugly facts about the home. On the other, the homebuyer is desperate to make this purchase happen.

Our mission is to guide the homebuyer through the inspection and prepare them to confidently request and negotiate repairs. To do that, we will need to understand our client and tailor our services to their home and to their needs.

Understanding our Client

Knowing houses is only part of being a great inspector; knowing our client is the other. Homebuyers are desperate. Many have never bought a home before. Even if they have, they usually don’t know how the home works. They know that they’ve picked a property that appears to fit their needs. They don’t know if a hidden problem will turn their dream home into a nightmare of repairs.

Homebuyers also don’t know the first thing about us or what we do. Many hire a home inspector based on a recommendation from their real estate agent and our availability, but few know how our job works. Homebuyers are laying the biggest purchases they’ll ever make in the hands of a stranger and trusting us to give a clear picture of the health of their home.

Being Kind but Firm

Listen and be patient with the client. Give them good and bad news calmly and directly. Keep in mind that we are not seeing the homebuyer on a typical day in their lives. We meet them when they are stressed out. Stay strong. It is not our job to make the deal easier. It is our job to help them make an informed purchase.

Homebuyers might feel extra pressure from their real estate agent to close the deal. It’s easy to think of the real estate agent as an adversary, but remember, they’ve been the homebuyer’s closest friend through this process. Talk about the real estate agent in a professional and respectful manner. Gently correct the homebuyer if they’ve received inaccurate information from the real estate agent and explain why the information is wrong. This professionalism-first strategy builds client trust and builds business. Real estate agents who feel respected will happily send referrals your way.

The homebuyer needs a guide who can provide reliable, unbiased information about the property and can help them stay calm and make sound decisions. Confident homebuyers will enter the repair request phase armed with a clear idea of what their new home really needs.

Home Inspectors are Only One of the Homebuyer’s Dozen

The home inspector is just one of about a dozen people that our client will deal with throughout the homebuyers journey. We play a very unique part. The home inspector is the only person who can provide impartial information about what the homebuyer is truly getting into. We are the only player in the deal who knows the house from the inside-out. Master home inspectors know the major players that their client deals with before and after they reach our door. Here is a breakdown of the homebuyer’s dozen.

Player 1: The Loan Officer

Buying a home starts with financing. Before contacting us, a loan officer helps the homebuyer figure out how much they can afford. Before they look at homes, the homebuyer gets pre-approved for a loan so that they have a price range in mind.

Player 2: The Real Estate Agent

The real estate agent is the homebuyer’s life raft. Master home inspectors understand just how important and special the relationship between the homebuyer and the real estate agent is. Real estate agents go from house to house helping the homebuyer figure out what they really need in a home. They answer endless questions. They take panicked phone calls when the homebuyer feels overwhelmed. Many real estate agents spend nights and weekends showing properties that the homebuyer will ultimately reject.

Homebuyers rely on the real estate agent for guidance finding a home and assembling other players in the purchasing process. Real estate agents want the purchase to go through. They are not always easy for home inspectors to deal with, but they can provide valuable client referrals to you for years to come.

Players 3 and 4: The Seller and Seller’s Agent

Once they find the dream home, the homebuyer and real estate agent make an offer. If the seller and the seller’s agent agree, the clock begins ticking. The homebuyer has about 10 days to figure out the home’s true condition.

Player 5: The Home Inspector

By now, the homebuyer is exhausted and eager to complete this transaction. Here we come to do the home inspection and deliver news that could make or break the deal. We inspect the home, write our report, and prepare the homebuyer to make repair requests. Our job happens in the blink of an eye compared to the rest of the homebuyer’s journey. The homebuyer, seller, and their agents now start negotiating repairs and a final price.

Player 6: The Appraiser

Unless we report something devastating, an appraiser estimates the home’s value. The finish line is just around the corner!

Player 7: The Loan Underwriter

The loan underwriter digs into the homebuyer’s employment background, debt, assets, and credit history to hammer out the specifics of the loan. Once there’s final loan approval, closing is in sight!

Players 8 and 9: The Title Officer and Home Insurance Agent

Closing brings in new players and a small mountain of paperwork. The title officer verifies that the seller truly owns the property and that there are no outstanding liens, debts, or other restrictions. The home insurance agent writes the homeowners insurance policy.

Players 10 and 11: The Closing Attorney and Escrow Agent

Legal details are the only things left to iron out now. The attorney and escrow agent guide the homebuyer and seller through the legalities of the transaction and both parties sign the necessary paperwork. The homebuyer grabs their new keys; the seller receives escrow funds. The homebuyer becomes the homeowner.

Player 12: The Mover

The big day is here and the homebuyer’s journey is finally over. Movers haul in furniture and the new homeowner starts making the house their own.

Become a Home Inspection Hero in 10 Days or Less

home inspector with clients

When a home buyer gets a contract on their dream home panic usually sets in. It’s pretty understandable. Imagine spending months looking at dozens of homes with your real estate agent. You could have even made a few offer on homes that didn’t get accepted. It has been a long journey.

Now the clock is ticking and it is crunch time. There are usually only 10 days before the inspection contingency window closes and they have to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. Walk away or close on the home.

Buyers Can Feel Lost or Abandoned

Once its time for inspections most Realtors take a hands off approach. They may offer a list of recommendations with a few home inspectors but that is usually all. It’s up to the buyer to contact, choose, hire, and meet up with their home inspector. If you know the history of home inspections it’s simple to understand why.

Most home buyers have no idea how to deal with the inspection process. They spend the next ten days feeling panicked, lost, and overwhelmed. They hurry to book the right appointments and assemble all the right parts. All while the clock is ticking.

That time crunch and panic is why buyers frequently don’t choose the best home inspector. They go with the first one who is available and can keep the home buying process moving along.

How a Master Home Inspector Saves the Day

Most buyers need more than just the fact about the home inspection. They also need guidance from their home inspector. It is easy to forget that this is all brand new to most buyers.

The home buying process is not something that they do a lot in their lives. We deal with the process everyday and providing guidance can make all the difference.

That guidance starts with the very first time we make contact with our client. When that first call or email comes in take your time. Give them a chance to share their fears and concerns about the process and the home.

Once they are ready carefully explain how we can help, what we do, our role in the home buying process, and what they can expect working with a home inspector.

It’s also helpful to tell them the limits of your job. Remember, they are overwhelmed. For example, buyers often don’t know that home inspectors won’t solicit contractors or that specialty systems like wells and septic systems might require a separate inspection.

Take the time to reassure them that someone is there to help them navigate this step in the process. Leave them with confidence about the home inspection process. If a problem comes up later you will be the hero who helps them. Not the villain to blame.

Going the extra mile to be the hero is not just a feel good idea. It is solid business advice. A master home inspector knows you will have easier clients to work with at the time of inspection and they will remember and reward you by telling their friends and family. 

What Happens After the Home Inspection?

Congratulations! The home inspection is complete! We write the report and move on to the next job, but it isn’t over for our client. They will now use our report to negotiate repairs with the seller. How we write and present the report to the homebuyer deeply affects the repairs request and negotiation process plays out. Here’s what we can do to prepare the homebuyer for the negotiation process. 

Keep Things in Perspective

We know that home inside-out after inspecting it. We spot every problem, from huge structural issues to tiny cosmetic blemishes, and we know which ones to worry about. Our client doesn’t have this frame of reference. To them, an inspection report can feel like an overwhelming list of problems they have no idea how to prioritize.

Give the homebuyer perspective. Emphasize what issues really need addressing now, and which are less important. It’s tempting to write up every minor flaw, but an overly long report reads like a textbook. A typical homebuyer can’t digest the important information in time. Ask the client what is important to them, and address those points in detail. Tailor the report to cover the most relevant issues to that client and include an executive summary that places important information front and center.

Speak the Client’s Language

Our client shouldn’t need a dictionary to read their home inspection report. Technical language is second nature to us, but discussions about roof flashings and water heater anodes will lose readers. If our inspection report reads like a software manual, homebuyers won’t pay attention and may miss something important. Simple is always better. People respond to straightforward, uncomplicated language. Define complex systems and components so the homebuyer doesn’t have to ask, and encourage the client to ask questions even if they sound silly.

Give Your Client a Roadmap Through Repairs

Our home inspection reports serve two functions: notifying our clients of problems and giving ways to address those problems. The best reports offer concrete, actionable steps the homebuyer can take to address major issues before they move in. When writing up a significant problem, step into the client’s shoes. They have an issue. How big of an issue is it? What do they do? And when?

Write with action in mind. Don’t just say that a furnace is unsafe; tell the homebuyer to get an HVAC inspection before closing. We don’t need to provide cost estimates or recommendations for HVAC inspectors, but we do need to recommend next steps. Maybe the homebuyer decides to take those next steps before closing, maybe they don’t. The important thing is that they’re ready to make informed decisions.

Follow Up After the Inspection

Your home inspection report is fresh on their minds. Now, show them that you appreciate their business. Shoot the homeowner a thank you note three days (or less) after the inspection is done. Within a month, send another note that welcomes them to their new home and offers a timeline for maintenance tasks, like cleaning the gutters.

Homeowners are excited when they get the keys to their new place. They can move in and turn the house into a home. After a few months, small annoyances and problems surface. Send another note 90 days after the inspection to check on the homeowner and another at the four to five-month mark. Remind your client that it’s time to do seasonal maintenance, like checking the sump pump in winter or the HVAC system before summer.

Follow-up notes show that you’re a diligent, careful home inspector who cares about your clients. Investing in that relationship builds your business and minimizes complaints and lawsuits.