Question of the Month: Advice from Home Inspectors

Home inspectors across the country give their best advice on the topic of the month. This month’s question is:

What’s the most effective marketing decision you’ve ever made for your home inspection business?

“By far joining a BNI group.”
~ John Keener, owner of Mountaineer Inspection Services in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

“Make sure the BNI group has a strong power team of real estate professionals that can refer you business. Examples would be real estate agents, loan officers, insurance agents, skilled tradesmen, etc.”
~ Lee Harless, owner of Safe and Sound Inspection Service in Huntington, West Virginia.

“Getting someone ELSE to answer my phone so I don’t interrupt an inspection with a sales call and get both parties upset.”
~ Bob Sisson, owner of Inspections By Bob in Boyds, Maryland.

“…Indoor air quality and mold testing and writing scopes of work account for 40 percent of my business. I also do commercial inspections and expert witness work. So I would say diversification is a strong marketing tool.”
~ Jim Dietrich, owner of AAA Home Inspections in Flushing, Michigan.

10 Ways Home Inspectors Can Maximize the Slow Season

Just because you’re not doing as many home inspections in the winter months, that doesn’t mean it’s time to slack off. These tips, provided by veteran inspectors and small business experts, will help you build your business even if new clients aren’t pouring in.

Expand Your Skills

“Diversify,” says William Decker, Senior Inspector with Decker Home Services in Skokie, Illinois. “…The model for my company is complete home inspection services. I not only do pre-purchase inspections, I also do pre-listing, maintenance inspections and energy audits.”

Decker says that about half of his business comes from services he offers outside of pre-purchase home inspections. The extra income keeps the business viable when home buying slows down.

Get Support

Of course you don’t have to go at this job alone. Groups like ASHI, NAHI and InterNACHI not only offer conferences and continuing education credits, they also offer invaluable support systems for home inspectors breaking into the field.

“New [home inspectors] should look at joining ASHI and finding a local chapter for local support, education, camaraderie and mentoring,” says Bob Sisson, owner of Inspections By Bob in Boyds, Maryland.

Test New Toys

That infrared camera you’ve been eyeing…that moisture meter you’ve had in the back of your mind…that amazing home inspection software for the iPhone or iPad that provides five inspections for free…Well, now’s the time to take them for a test drive. To ensure that you’re prepared to provide a better, more thorough home inspection service for next year, test the new tools and toys you’ve been salivating over during the off season. Find something that works and your job could be a lot cooler once business starts flooding back in.

Find a Back-Up

That vacation you didn’t get to take last year? You’re going to disappoint your family again next year if you can’t find someone to take up the slack while you take a break.

“Take the time to make friends with a few inspectors in your area,” says Michael Wirth, co-founder of Tap Inspect. “It’s always helpful to have another point of view on the market, to talk over problems and to refer clients when you finally get a vacation.”

Connecting with the competition benefits your clients as well. Your business will be taken care of in your absence and you’ll have extra work when your business buddy takes his much-needed break.

Make Connections

“Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from others who are willing to share,” tweeted James Brantley, owner of Magnolia Home Inspections, LLC in Brandon, Missouri.

As the home inspection season winds down, conferences and networking events ramp up with the ASHI Inspection World Conference landing smack dab in the middle. Take advantage by making connections with veteran inspectors who can answer your questions and solve problems.

Account For Yourself

Sure you know how much money you billed out last year, but do you have any idea how much you actually made once gas, office supplies, car maintenance, office space and employee payroll are taken out? Taking a cold, hard look at your financials and calculating your per hour net pay can indicate whether you’re actually earning wealth or bringing in money just to see it go again.

Offer Something for Nothing

To get your foot in the door with new clients, William Decker of Decker Home Services says that he offers free safety inspections to clients who want their home to have a good once-over.

“[Safety inspections, usually at the beginning of the heating season] only take about 10 minutes to complete and they’re free,” Decker says. “I tell clients that I won’t fix anything, but I will tell them what’s wrong. You’d be surprised how much that little bit of good will helps.”

Mark Up Your Marketing

Your inspections might be spot-on, but they could be overlooked if your marketing is poor. Welmoed Sisson, Marketing Director of Inspections By Bob, says that new inspectors should take the slow season to revamp their social media strategy, rework their web sites if needed and take a careful look at the message they’re sending potential clients.

“Work on your marketing materials,” she says. “Order flyers and business cards…Are you using the same flyers from last year and the year before?”

Think Outside the Box

Home inspectors, builders and real estate agents can give you contacts, but so can those outside of the home and real estate professions. William Decker says that one way that he connects with members of his community is through his local chamber of commerce and through general networking groups like BNI and LeTip International. General networking communities often break members into smaller, diverse groups.

“In those kinds of groups, only one person can be a lawyer or a real estate agent or a home inspector,” he says. Decker’s group meets once a week over breakfast to exchange leads, critique each other’s elevator pitches and improve on each member’s public speaking skills. Thus far, Decker’s networking groups have connected him with several leads as well as a reliable handyman and a remodeler.

“If you know somebody that you can personally vouch for, that’s good,” he says. “It’s a marketing multiplier for you and a service multiplier for your client.”

See the Family

If you don’t decompress, at least a little now, you’ll be a mess once business kicks back into high gear. In the midst of testing, accounting and networking your fanny off, take a breather. Once clients start calling again, you’ll be glad you did.

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.