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.

 

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