The Drone Ranger: What Home Inspectors Should Know

Whether it’s encountering a dark space just crawling with animals or an abandoned property that’s seen better days, every home inspector has found themselves in a situation they may not consider totally safe at one point or another.¬†According to Chris Rogers, President of Inspector Bots, a company that produces small robots home inspectors can use when tackling a dangerous property, fear no more. Inspector Bots’ line of camera-ready mini-drones can boldly go where no home inspector wants to go (and record their findings) without risking your safety. We caught up with Rogers to ask how this technology could work in the home inspection profession.

 

How long have inspection bots been around?

Chris Rogers: I first started noticing inspection robots during the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster. A small robot named Urbie was used in the rubble piles to search for survivors of the terrorist attacks.

 

What are they currently used for?

Chris Rogers: Inspection Robots are uses to inspect many different things including residential properties, oil and gas pipelines, sewers, commercial facilities, HVAC systems, etc.

 

Would they be useful to a residential or commercial home inspector?

Chris Rogers:¬†Yes, Definitely! As more and more people accept robots in their daily lives, I think it’s just a matter of time before these inspection robots become just another tool in the residential and commercial inspector’s toolbox.

 

What is the benefit of having a robot?

Chris Rogers:¬†Inspectorbots Video inspection Systems send back live video of the crawl space and it enables the inspector to virtually “look around.” They can look up, down, left and right and everywhere in between without having to get into the crawl space itself. The video is recordable. The Inspector can then share the findings with the homeowner or customer by reviewing the video. Inspection Robots are now being used by Border Patrol to inspect tunnels used for smuggling drugs into the US. Basically robots are used when the work is dirty difficult or dangerous.

 

Would you mind going over some of the features of these bots that may be useful when inspecting dangerous places?

Chris Rogers:¬†A popular platform, which I sell for $2990 is the Spider Mite Inspection System. It has a remotely controlled camera on a pan/tilt mechanism which allows the inspector to be located in a safe place while the robot is working in the hazardous or dangerous environment. I’m sure you are are aware of the hazards in crawl spaces such as broken glass, rusty metal, black widow spiders, snakes, asbestos, etc. The system comes with a OCU, or Operator’s Control Unit. The OCU houses the radio controller, the batteries, receiver and a flatscreen display. Other features to look for are rugged four wheel-drive, or tracks, the ability to jump over /crawl under obstacles, onboard lights and a roll cage or some way to protect the sensitive camera equipment.

 

What type of clients would purchase a bot?

Chris Rogers:¬†Anyone who is tired of crawling into another crawl space or difficult to access area. Many of my clients see the benefit of having a “technological edge” like thermal cameras or a a hIgh-tech robot which not only make their job easier and more fun, but can increase the business’ bottom-line as well. Other customers have specific applications in mind. For example, I have a customer who needed to inspect the sewer lines in Mexico City after a gas pipeline exploded sending a wall of flame four stories high and several blocks long! They needed a system sent out the next day and apparently it worked perfectly for them. We have also done custom work for specialized inspections such as termite inspectors. We even built custom “Super Mega Bot” platforms for customers including General Motors, ABB Robotics and Sharp Electronics.

 

What’s the price range for these robots?

Chris Rogers:¬†The primary inspection robots, which we sell to the residential and commercial inspector, range from $2990 to $9990. Three “Ready to Crawl” models are designed with the residential and commercial inspector in mind: the Spider Mite [at] $2990, the MINIBOT [at] $4990 and the Trackbot [at] $5990. All of these systems come with the OCU and are ready to go with the addition of batteries and a battery charger. Additional options and upgrades are also available. The Trackbot is interesting because it is a rugged, but lightweight tracked platform with a convenient carry handle and a wide angle camera. It can climb 45-degree inclines and can rotate in place! This is very useful for tight Crawl Spaces where you don’t have room to do a “3-point turn.” On-Board LED Lights, Recordable DVR’s and Infra-Red Cameras are some of the options available as upgrades.

 

Head to Inspectorbots.com for more info. 

How Home Inspector Gary is Building a National Presence

Gary Smith of Safehome Inspections

About 18 months ago, we profiled home inspector Gary Smith who is currently using location-based programs like Facebookcheck-ins to drum up local business. You can read about his unique strategy right over here. Now he’s taking it it up a notch. Smith, the owner of SafeHome Inspections in Ridgeland, Mississippi, is now turning his attention to mobilizing home inspectors in a way that helps them boost business. This past [month], Smith launched Todayshomeinspector.com, a website and Google Plus hangout where home inspectors can get the latest inspection news and talk shop. A benefit to becoming a part

of Smith’s community is that it could boost your Google ranking in the process.

“If inspectors are looking for support, this is a great way to garner some base support, to come in and ask questions,” Smith says. “…if an inspector is looking for a way to grow his social place, his ranking, Google Plus is a good place.”

That last part is crucial. Google has long been the most widely used search engine in the world. According to Comscore, the site garners about 1.87 trillion searches per year‚ÄĒthat’s 5.1 billion searches per day‚ÄĒmeaning that it’s probably where your future clients are heading to research your company. Unlike some other social media sites, Google Plus content gets indexed and appears in Google searches. Establishing a regular presence on a site like Google Plus can help boost your ranking and connect you with those who are searching for home inspectors in your area faster.

“I think any time you are able to grow your work and spread your brand, it can’t hurt,” says Smith.

In order to build his brand and connect with like-minded inspectors, Smith also operates several other social media hubs including a robust Facebook group and ASHI Home Inspectors, a LinkedIN forum with approximately 2,500 members. Smith is quick to note that although he is an ASHI-certified inspector, the forum is not linked to the American Society of Home Inspectors. He says that reaching out to those in his profession has helped him pick up tricks of the trade from the best in his field and take his inspection business to the next level.

“It’s helped me understand and make friends, support-wise, with other inspectors,” he says. “Knowing more protects me and allows me to do a better job in the marketplace.”

 

How I Did It: Craig Iden

We thought we were finished with our “How I Did It” series until we met Craig Iden. The owner of Golden State Home Inspections in Sacremento, California for the last 14 years, Iden says that the number one challenge he and every other home inspector faces is making everyone happy. And we agreed. For home inspectors struggling to break into the biz, making it in our already saturated market means being able to consistently provide an inspection that gives home owners what they need to know and being a reliable one-stop shop for real estate agents. It ain’t easy. Beyond battling the inherent conflict between agent and home buyer desires, inspectors also have to figure out how to work their own happiness into the equation.

The Problem: Agents want to simplify the sales process by using a home inspector who can provide a wide array of services. Buyers want a home inspector who’s on their side and will give a heads up on problems and glitches. You want enough money to live on, a reasonable work schedule and some time to see the family. Good luck pleasing everyone.

The Solution: Go by Iden’s three rules-break into the home inspection business slowly, invest in auxiliary certifications and delegate when you can. One reason that Iden has been so successful is because he gradually transitioned into being an inspector. After spending 16 years in carpentry, Iden did inspections on a part-time basis for five years, giving him enough time to know the markets before jumping in full-time.

“[The company] started turning a profit almost immediately, but it wasn’t much of one,” he said. “It took a little while before things started taking off.”

Going part-time first also gave Iden some much-needed time to get certified for auxiliary inspections. Gaining mold certification first, Iden has since invested more than $40,000 in adding infrared, energy auditing, contract referral and soon pest inspections to his roster of services.

“That makes it easier on [real estate agents]. They don’t have to find separate people to do each of those things,” says Iden. Having auxiliary certifications also helps woo home buyers as well he adds. “[Buyers] may only use me for a home inspection, but having all of these other services available makes people feel comfortable just in case they need it.”

The move has more than paid off. Iden currently earns 65 percent of his revenue from home inspections and the rest from auxiliary services. To keep buyers happy even after the deal has closed, Iden offers a 90-day warranty on services and will answer questions on a project even years after the home has been sold.

The final piece of the happiness puzzle is Iden’s own. To farm work out, Iden already has one inspector on his payroll and he’s working to make room for another. The key to keeping good inspectors on board, he says, is to provide training and to set a generous pay rate. Until another employee is on board, Iden is focusing on adding pest inspection services so he can please clients even more.

“It’s all about being able to accommodate everybody,” he says.

How I Did It: Ralph Borgess

In the final installment of our “How I Did It” series, focuses on staying in contact with clients¬†after the inspection on their new home is done. Ralph Borgess, President of¬†Borgess Home Inspections¬†in Middleton, New Jersey, is a master of keeping clients engaged. After spending ten years working in the construction field, Borgess opened up his own home inspection shop only to find the market overrun with other inspectors with more experience. In an effort to set himself apart, Borgess created a new work mantra‚ÄĒservice the same clients throughout home ownership, not just when they purchase a home. Here’s how it’s impacted his business.

 

The Problem: Time is limited and home inspectors, unfortunately, spend way too much of it reeling in inspection clients, doing a single job then never seeing those clients again. More clients means more time and marketing money spent reeling them in.

The Solution: Borgess brings in extra work for himself and saves clients thousands in home repairs by offering services that start before clients find the home of their dreams and last long after the paperwork has been signed. In addition to offering traditional home inspections, Borgess also uses his construction background to assist clients that are looking for the right home and performs preventative maintenance checks that can save clients costly repairs, though Borgess does not do the repairs himself.

“What prompted me was personal experience,” he says. “Seeing friends, family not knowing how to properly maintain their home. It gave me an idea that I could educate people on this. I thought it would be a great opportunity and I don’t see many other home inspectors taking advantage of it so I thought I would try to lead the way a little bit.”

Borgess’ preventative maintenance checks cost several hundred less than a traditional home inspection and aim to educate clients on how to get the most value from their home purchase. Maintenance checks include providing information on the life expectancy of the home’s features including the roof, furnace and cooling systems, and about which repairs home owners can take care of themselves.

“A lot of home owners don’t realize that something as simple as changing the air filters can reduce the flow of air conditioning in basically their whole house,” Borgess says. “That’s a simple repair they can do themselves as opposed to hiring a professional to come in and do it for them.”

To stay connected with clients and keep them in the know about how to maintain their purchase, Borgess also includes a free one-year maintenance check-up for every client who purchases a traditional home inspection and provides advice on simple ways home owners can make their home last longer and avoid unexpected repair costs. Today, he’s gearing most of his marketing and social media efforts towards targeting existing home owners and reminding clients that keeping a home in tip-top shape doesn’t stop once the purchase is over.

“Our biggest challenge to date is getting clients to understand that home inspections aren’t just for home buyers,” he says.

How I Did It: David Dodge

In our new series, “How I Did It,” we’ll profile home inspectors who overcame a specific challenge, whether it be finding that killer marketing strategy, getting over a slow patch, taking your inspection business to the next level or something else entirely. For the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring this series in an effort to show how successful home inspectors have overcome business hurdles and how you can do it too.

David Dodge

¬†This month’s “How I Did It” focuses on standing out amongst the competition, an obstacle that’s put many a home inspector out of business. David Dodge, owner of¬†MyHomeInspector.Biz¬†in Putnam Valley, New York, struggled with this problem when first starting out. Coming out of 20 years in the construction industry, Dodge moved over to home inspection 18 months ago only to find his field crammed with other inspectors. In the past year and a half, Dodge has slowly carved out his own niche among the veteran inspectors, due largely in part to a savvy marketing strategy. Here’s what’s worked for him, and what hasn’t.

The Problem: The economic collapse left a lot of veteran home inspectors out of the job and unfortunately, many are still there. For new inspectors trying to get their foot in the door, separating themselves from the sea of other working inspectors can be daunting.

The Solution:¬†Take a different marketing strategy. When David Dodge entered the home inspection field, he found that literally hundreds of other inspectors in his area were offering the same services.¬†“Getting our company name out there and marketing it directly to our end clients as opposed to trying to solicit the realtors for business [set us apart],” he says. That meant creating a low-cost, marketing strategy that would target future home buyers and figuring out how they want to do business.

“The majority of my business is coming from direct internet marketing…,” Dodge explains, and Servicemagic.com, a pay site that matches consumers with local service professionals in their area. “As soon as we get the alert [from Service Magic], no matter what I’m doing, I drop everything because you need to be the first person to respond. When I’m the first person, I have a 95 percent closing rate. If I’m five seconds too late, they usually hire someone else.”

Dodge doesn’t invest time in blogging or writing articles on home inspection topics,¬†but he does list his company on services likeBuildingPros.com, Inspectopia.com and other sites to¬†ensure that buyers are readily finding his company site. Dodge invests approximately $300 in Google Adwords and Microsoft Adcenter to ensure that his company’s name pops up whenever a future client searches for a home inspection in¬†one of the nine counties he services plus the phrase “mold inspections,” “home inspections,” “radon testing”¬†or “home inspector.” “You have to put a few chips into the game,” he says. “For the little amount that we spend per month, if we get even one job per month out of it, it’s certainly well worth it.”

For inspectors who are trying to raise their online profiles, Dodge recommends using¬†DIYSEO¬†to optimize both your company’s web site and your social media strategy. He also advises new inspectors to prepare to wait. “It took a good two to three weeks to [implement and optimize] everything I could,” he says. “From there, it was another 30 to 60 days before I started seeing any results.”

Since launching his strategy, Dodge’s company website has brought in more than 25,000 hits. 85 percent of his business comes from internet marketing and the rest are generated through referrals. Dodge chalks his success up to his marketing tactics and his ability to seal the deal once the client makes contact. “The key to getting out there with any business is knowing how to convert the leads that you get [to sales]…” he says. “You can be the best inspector out there, but if you can’t talk to someone on the phone and sell your services, it doesn’t matter how good you are.”