No doubt about it, home inspectors have taken a beating these past few years. To get through the housing crisis, inspectors have had to revamp their business models, re-evaluate their expenses, and do what they can to survive. Here’s how three inspectors did it:
Ask For HelpFrom the home buyer that is. When he became a licensed home inspector in 2005, Stephen La Rosa of Rodan Home Inspections in Great River, New York, became known for creating gigantic reports. “They were 100, 110 pages long,” he says. “If you’re too thorough, realtors won’t even look at you. You become known as a deal breaker.” When the economy tanked, business got even worse. That’s when La Rosa started getting the agent’s perspective. “Always ask the agent, ‘What are you looking for?,'” he says. “If they want all the finer points, I’ll give them that. If they just want the meat and potatoes, I’ll give them that too.” After making that one tiny change, La Rosa says his business doubled in a matter of months.
When the economy started it’s downward trajectory, Matt Newberry, partner with Newberry Inspections in Reno, Nevada, stayed afloat by doing what others couldn’t. “We tried to pick up along the edges,” Newberry says. “We tried to find areas where people were being underserved and to increase our level of customer service.” One way Matt did that was by making sure his firm was available when other firms weren’t. That meant laying off staff, but ALWAYS making sure that someone was around to answer the phone. “As things got tough, a lot of inspection firms shrunk down so that inspectors were answering phones while in inspections,” Newberry says. “We wanted our clients to know that we were putting them first.”
Like Bob Sisson, profiled in our “Inspect the Inspector” section, Charles Buell of Charles Buell Inspections Inc. in Seattle doesn’t rely on agents to generate business. When the market crashed, Buell began relying more on the internet to generate business leads. “I was surprised,” says Buell. “I had heard that it was possible to get business from the internet, but I was unsure.” Since 2008, Buell has posted more than 1,400 entries on his blog and launched a second one. He currently brings in half of his business from the blog and maintains a strong Google ranking. Buell’s advice for inspectors looking to rely less on agents is this-“Just get a WordPress site and start blogging about yourself,” he says. “Be transparent and don’t worry if you’re not getting comments. People will find you. You just have to post consistently.”
Home inspectors who have encountered raccoon damage…this one’s for you:
* Buildfax provides info on the history of a home before buyers take the plunge. Through July 31, they’re giving away home background checks for free. Head here to check it out.
* Sure you can ID a crack in a home’s foundation from a mile away, but how good are you at keeping the books? Mint.com will import your business expenses directly from your business account and keep track of where the money is going.
* Route calls to multiple phones, save your voicemails online, and get voicemails transcribed and texted to your phone. One of the easiest ways to make a small business look large,Google Voice provides free phone numbers in the area code of your choosing AND clients to call one number and reach your home, cell, and office lines at the same time. A demo video explaining it all is available here.
* If you’re looking to add a video component to your online marketing plan, this is the place to do it. Blip.tv allows users to upload videos and podcasts for free.
* Find out whether clients are talking about your business online with free alerts sent to your inbox every day. Google Alerts allows you to enter searchable keywords like “John Doe Home Inspections” and monitor who’s talking about it and what they’re saying.
Entrepreneur Magazine is holding a video contest aimed at small business owners. Entrepreneurs who describe their AHA! moment, when they first decided to go into business for themselves wins serious bragging rights. Regardless whether you enter (the deadline is today, Yikes!), the most inspiring ones will be posted on the Entrepreneur blog throughout Independence Day weekend. We’d love to see some home inspectors represent!
Bob Sisson, owner of Inspections By Bob in Boyds, Maryland, built a home inspection business with higher prices than his competition and fewer real estate agent connections. Here’s how he did it:
Lesson #1: Franchises Are Easy to Enter, Hard to Leave
Bob Sisson: “I decided to go independent from day zero, so I had to start from a client base of zero. You hang out your shingle and hope someone would call. You beat the streets, you run into another inspector, and they say ‘Don’t put your card in that realtor’s box.’…It would have been easier if I had gone through a home inspection franchise where they feed you business, but I knew I wanted to run things on my own. That beginning though, it was difficult. Verydifficult.”
Lesson #2: Carve Your Niche
When competing with local inspectors for agents didn’t work, Sisson went a different route. “We started marketing directly to the end user through the web, rather than agents,” he says. “I’m one of six independent inspectors in the state of Maryland who pledges that they won’t market to realtors. That gets us a lot of business.” Instead of banking on agents to send him business, Sisson creates his own through direct marketing, pay per click advertising campaigns, maintaining a home inspection blog, and marketing through social media outlets. Recently Sisson was interviewed by Msn.com’s Real Estate section, in part because of his blog, and gained more business that way.
Lesson #3: Don’t Beat Competitors on Price
“That’s my number one comment to your readers,” Sisson says. “Beat them on service, beat them on something about your inspection, but don’t try to beat them by doing a $199 inspection on a single family home. People who do that hurt the industry greatly.” Instead of financially competing with local inspectors, Sisson researched what other inspectors were charging and used a cash flow calculator to determine how many inspections he’d need to do to make a living. With figures in hand, Sisson built his business putting customer service before price. With two Angie’s List awards under his belt, Sisson is currently one of the pricier inspectors in his area, but the clients keep coming in.
Lesson #4: Train the Staff
“Getting your phone answered in a professional manner will make a huge impact on your business,” Sisson says, adding that his wife answers his company line. “If you’re carrying your cell phone around on your inspection and say ‘Can I call you back?,’ that really doesn’t work. The client is going to call someone else in the meantime. The number one thing in our business is getting the phone answered quickly, politely and knowledgeably. My wife has more training than some of the new inspectors out there. When somebody asks a question about traps underneath sinks, she’s able to provide answers. She’s been in the classes. She can tell you what we do and why we do it. I send my wife to Inspection World each year and it’s worth it.”
Lesson #5: Go Pro or Go Home
“A lot of inspectors think that they need a tool kit, a cell phone, a ladder, and a car,” Sisson says. “To be successful, you need a lot more than that.” To take your company from one-man inspection service to full-scale business, Sisson says you need your own domain name, a professionally-built company website, an advertising budget, a newsletter, and a company vehicle worthy of a professional. Whatever you do, just don’t slap a magnetic sign with your logo onto a truck. “It’s unprofessional and it scares people,” Sisson says. “You can’t trust a magnetic sign.”
Check out Sisson’s company at Inspections By Bob.