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.”
* 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.
Between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, Youtube, Tumblr, blogs, Flickr and the virtually endless barrage of new online tools coming out every day, it’s hard to figure out how you can maximize your online presence without devoting your life to social media. We asked three home inspectors to discuss what social media tools work best for their business and how they use the internet to draw in real-life clients.
Peter Walker, owner of A1 Property Inspections in Orange County, California, knows that when it comes to social media, you’ve got to give to receive. After posting on Facebook did not yield the type of clients he was looking for, Walker turned to LinkedIN and has quickly build a following of 800 to 900 real estate pros. Walker credits his online success (and all the additional business that came from it) to posting his thoughts about the industry on a regular basis and by connecting real estate professionals across the country. “If someone says ‘Hey! I need an inspector in Florida,’ I’ll look at my connections and see if any of them are there,” says Walker. “Once I’ve found someone, I’ll look at their [professional] memberships and look up one of their reports to make sure ‘yes, this guy is quality.'” Walker banks big when it comes time to return the favor. “First you reach out to people and then they’ll refer you,” he says. “Everyone knows someone who’s buying a building.”
Brandon Diggs of DHI Home Inspections in the Washington DC area can turn real estate agents into repeat business in 140 characters or less. In addition to regularly tweeting out tips aimed at home buyers, sellers and realtors, Digg saysthat Twitter works because allows him to search local agents, see what they’re talking about and reach out them in a direct, but unobtrusive way. “I also send out cold call e-mails that introduce myself to [area] realtors and I’ll send them my brochure,” Diggs says. “That’s very effective.”
Banking on Blogs
Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, founder of Your Houston Home Inspector, credits his blog for landing both clients and speaking gigs. Starting his blog in 2008, Shulte-Ladbeck gained followers by providing solid articles on this own site and by writing on other sites including Homefinder.com and Houstonrealestate.com. “I also started answering [home and housing-related] questions on sites like Yahoo! Answers and Answers.com,” Schulte-Ladbeck says. “I started to gain a little bit of authority that way.” Of course other social media tools helped too. Every time Frank posted a blog entry or answered a question, he used Facebook and Twitter to promote the post and drive traffic back to his blog. With approximately 6,000 monthly viewers, Schulte-Ladbeck’s blog has not only garnered clients and speaking gigs, but also interviews with national reporters. “If you’re going to be on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIN, you find a niche that works for you and you become known as a person who’s offering a solution. In my case, that’s talking about making a more energy and water efficient home,” he says. “You have to establish yourself as an authority and keep a consistent message.”
This article originally ran in our Tap Inspect newsletter. To start receiving our newsletter, click the “Join Our Mailing List” button on the right side of the screen.
This article originally ran in our company newsletter sent out earlier in May. To be the first to get Tap Inspect’s tips and interviews, sign up for our newsletter by clicking the “Join Our Mailing List” button on the right hand side.