Inspect the Home Inspector: Five Lessons From Bob Sisson

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:

A family crisis brought Bob Sisson into home inspection. “I got out of the rat race in time to know who my children were and tosave my marriage,” he says. “My wife and I agreed long ago that divorce was not an option. If I hadn’t changed careers, one of us would probably be in the big house and and one of us wouldn’t be here.” Moving from a high pressure telecommunications job, Sisson retired early, took some time off, and quickly found that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “I started going stir crazy after about a year and a half,” he recounts. “My friends said ‘Why don’t you become a home inspector?’ My reaction was ‘I can get paid to be nosy?'” Getting his license in 2003, Sisson quickly moved from merely inspecting homes to becoming an active part of the local and national home inspection community. Today Sisson splits his time between doing 200 to 250 inspections a year, acting as President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of ASHI, and spending time with his two children and wife of 25 years. Here’s what the years have taught him:

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.

 

Inspect the Home Inspector

Kent B. Sauber of KBS Home Inspection and Consulting in Guysville, Ohio discusses setting himself apart from the pack.

Getting a home inspector’s license is only half the battle. Kent B. Sauber of KBS Home Inspection knows that marketing, generating leads and getting your name out is the other half. With home sales bouncing back at a painfully slow rate, the home inspection business is increasingly cut-throat.

Tap Inspect: What is the most effective thing you’re doing to market KBS Home Inspection?

Kent Sauber: I do a weekly e-mail that I send out every Sunday night. I send that to about 1,000 realtors so my company is always right in front of their face on Monday morning. That’s actually worked out really well for me…Statistically, most real estate deals happen over the weekend. The real goal is that my company name is right there in front…If I have nothing to tell them at all, I’ll just send an inspirational quote.

Tap Inspect: How do you separate yourself from all the other home inspectors in the area?

Kent: There are 11 other inspectors in my area. It’s not a very huge community at all…My goal is to be as educated as can. I do push my continuing education and the national associations that I belong to. Everyone in the county knows that when I do an inspection, I know what I’m talking about and I do it well. I have agents who won’t work with me because they know that I will find everything that’s wrong with the house and that might affect the sale. All of a sudden if they have a brother, mother, cousin who’s buying a home, all of a sudden I’m the most important person.

Tap Inspect: How do you keep agents coming back?

Kent: It starts with the first phone call, trying to befriend every single one of my clients and taking time to answer all of their questions, even if it’s explaining from front to back how a heat pump operates. If it turns a two and a half hour inspection into a three and a half hour inspection, that’s ok. When I get feedback or praise from my clients or a realtor sends me an e-mail saying “Wow, you really took the time to explain to so and so what’s important to them,” that’s really important to my business.

Tap Inspect: Any advice for young home inspectors?

Kent: Learn as much as possble. That is what’s going to set any home inspector above the rest is their knowledge of every component of the home. My first year as a home inspector, I trained in mold, I trained in radon. My first year in business, I did 168 continuing education hours and I think that made a world of difference because in my community, you could ask anybody and they knew who the most well-trained inspector was. I spent a lot of money to educate myself. I refresh myself on my training manuals once a month just to make sure I didn’t forget anything and to keep myself refreshed.

Tap Inspect: We ask this of all our home inspectors—What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?

Kent: I inspect foreclosed homes in the area and some of them are just super disgusting. One had a basement that was full of water. It was a giant swimming pool. That moved all of the rats that were the size of small house cats up into the main floor. I got to deal with basically inspecting this entire house with rats because they weren’t afraid of me at all. I was more afraid of them.

Check out Kent’s work at www.kbshomeinspection.com

Got a question? Got a trade secret? Tap Inspect is always looking for ways to help our current clients and promote their businesses. If you’ve got a question on the home inspection business you’d like answered or you’ve got a tip you’d be willing to share with our fans, send us an e-mail at chris@tapinspect.com with “Inspect the Inspector” in the subject line.


Inspect the Home Inspector: Dan Paradela

Dan Paradela of All American Inspections, LLC in New Orleans breaks down his trade secrets:

Dan Paradela and Family

All it took to get this former vending machine distribution guy into the home inspection biz was a surprise $30,000 bill and a hurricane. Seven years ago, Paradela and his wife purchased a home only to find out that the inspector had missed the leaky roof, the bad plumbing and the faulty electric breaker box. After investing 30 grand into repairing the home, Paradela decided that he could do better. Looking for something new, Paradela started slowly selling his vending machine business and taking inspection classes on the side with hopes of learning the ins and outs of flipping houses. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out the remainder of Paradela’s old business and forcing him into a new profession. “I found out I love it,” Dan says. “It really clicked. There are no gray areas in home inspection. Either the systems in the home are good or they need repair. It’s pretty cut and dry.” Today Paradela averages about 500 inspections per year throughout Louisiana. We asked him to give us a sneak peak into how his business works.

Tap Inspect: Mastering the inspection end is only half the battle. How do you market and promote yourself?

Dan Paradela: First off, My wife [who manages the sales and marketing end of All American Inspections] and I market directly to our customers. Everyone knows somebody else who’s buying a house, so we always hand out business cards. I also have a list of about 4,000 agents in the southeast Louisiana area. I’ll e-mail about 1,000 of them in a certain metropolitan area and offer them a coupon or a special. We go to broker open houses and we try to remind them of all the services we offer including infra-red thermal imaging inspections, mold and asbestos inspections. We even do inspections for meth labs. When the cops bust a meth lab, they need somebody after the clean up is done, we do those inspections too.

Tap: How do you turn one-time inspection clients into repeat business?

Dan: I try to give them a good inspection. I’m thorough. I take my time. It doesn’t matter if it takes me 3 hours to do an inspection. I’m going to look at everything inch by inch. I also give [the home owners] pads and pens and tell them that if they see something to write it down. I give them something to do because if they follow you, they can drive you crazy. It helps you too. They’ll find little things that are wrong. No matter how bad it is, I always have a positive attitude when I disclose. I never shake my head and say “Oh man, this house has mold all over it.” This is their dream. This is the house that they really like. I tell them all of the negative things and include them on the report, but I tell [the client] about them in a very gentle way.

Tap: That must be hard in homes that are significantly damaged.

Dan: When I first started [inspecting homes], I would go to different agencies and talk to agents about their complaints with home inspections. One of their biggest beefs was that guys doing the inspections, a lot of them were electricians or plumbers and really had no customer relations experience. They would tell people “I wouldn’t get this house” and it would blow the deal. If you talk to a customer like that, the customer might walk away from the deal, but the agent is never going to work with you again. I tell the agent up front that I will never lie or withhold information from a report, but that I will put it all in the report and tell the agent about the problems in private so that they can choose how they want to disclose that to the customer. Usually the agent says “Oh, you tell the customer,” but I try to give them that courtesy ahead of time.

Tap: What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen on the job?

Dan: After Katrina, I saw was in St. Bernard, Louisiana and saw a full apartment complex that the storm had picked up and put directly on top of a house. Part of the house was crushed, but the other part was perfectly in tact. That was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

Check out Dan’s work at Allamericanhomeinspections.biz.

Got a question? Got a trade secret? Tap Inspect is always looking for ways to help our current clients and promote their businesses. If you’ve got a question on the home inspection business you’d like answered or you’ve got a tip you’d be willing to share with our fans, send us an e-mail at chris@tapinspect.com with “Inspect the Inspector” in the subject line.

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