News Home Inspectors Can Use: March Edition

* Canadians! The Canadian Home Builders’ annual conference takes place March 14 through 16 in Mont Tremblant, Quebec.

* Don’t think we left NAHI out. The NAHI Colorado spring conference will happen on March 24.

* InterNACHI is hosting a series of free webinars in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy on home performance, energy efficiency and sustainability. Webinars run on March 14 and May 16 at noon Pacific time, 3:00pm EST.

* We love home inspection marketing guru Ken Compton. If you’re looking for a bit more reading on how to boost your home inspection biz, check out this piece on increasing your SEO love or this one on establishing yourself as the expert.

* And if you haven’t seen enough weird stuff for today, we bring you nests made for people. Inspect that.

News Home Inspectors Can Use

* Registration is now open for Inspection World , the who’s who of home inspectors. This year’s conference will be held in Phoenix, Arizona from January 4 through 7 and will include 45 education courses not to mention a boatload of networking opportunities. Registration is open from now until September 1.

* In case you missed it, former ASHI president David Tamny’s presentation at the National Healthy Homes Conference is available for download right over here.


* You know homes from the inside out, but how do you deal with the buyers? NAHI has a webinar for that .


* AOL Real Estate wonders if divorce rates can predict the housing recovery. We have our doubts.


* Inspect this – Beehive houses in Syria provide natural air conditioning . Lucky ducks.


* Regardless of what kind of trouble you encounter the rest of this month, please take comfort in the fact that at least developers in the US aren’t chasing residents from their homes with scorpions.

To Franchise or Not to Franchise an Inspection Business

New inspectors have a choice to make—to get their business off the ground as quickly as possible, is it better to buy into a home inspection franchise or simply go at it alone. Kathleen Kuhn, President of HouseMaster, a home inspection company with 169 franchises across the US and Canada, and Curtis Niles, the current President of the National Association of Home Inspectors who started his own inspection company, Armored Home Inspections, LLC in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania 12 years ago, present both sides.

Round One: Getting Started

If you can pass the introductory interviews and get your paws on a home inspection franchise, many of the decisions young entrepreneurs struggle with won’t be a problem. Home inspection franchises provide everything you need-from a business plan to marketing materials to continuing education courses-without requiring managerial experience from your end.

“So much of the leg work is done for you,” says Kuhn. “There’s a proven business model, your accounting systems are in place, there’s information on how to budget your company and position yourself in the marketplace. It’s an incredible shortcut to get up and running.”

Franchises also provide new inspectors with one invaluable commodity-a nationally-known reputation. While other new inspectors sit by the phone waiting for calls, those who take the franchise route have an automatic in with both realtors and home buyers. Of course, all of the perks will cost you says Curtis Niles.

“The biggest hurdle is the cash,” he says. “There is a financial outlay that may not be feasible for many.”

While HouseMaster franchises cost anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000 to start (and that includes all franchise fees, travel costs, training and start up materials), other companies price franchises substantially higher. The good news is that you’ll (hopefully) get back some if not all of your initial investment. Once inspectors are ready to leave a franchise, they can sell it off to the next owner.

Round Two: The Culture

If you don’t fit into your franchise’s company culture, think carefully before buying in says Kuhn.

“One of the biggest things we look for [when choosing new franchise owners] is are they interested in following the system? Do they like being part of a team? We want the person who says ‘I want a proven system with proven methods and I really like being part of something bigger than myself,'” she says, adding that the average franchise owner stays with HouseMaster for a full decade.

Franchise owners get the benefit of legions of corporate support at their feet, but those who go the solo road get to make their own rules.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Curtis Niles says when asked if he would take the franchise route if he had to do it over again. “Crazy nut jobs like me jump out [on our own] because we think we have the skills necessary. The right decision really depends on that person’s mindset and abilities.”

Before purchasing a franchise, both Kuhn and Niles advise inspectors to carefully evaluate whether they fit into the corporate culture and to ask both current and former franchise holders about their experiences.

Round Three: Closing Shop

If you own your own shop, you can open and close for good, move down to part-time, freelance for other companies and make your own boundaries. If you own a franchise, you’ll probably have to sign a non-compete agreement.

“Buying a franchise is kind of like a marriage; getting out is certainly difficult,” says Kuhn. “If we have someone leaving [their HouseMaster franchise], they basically want to get out of the home inspection business.”

Curtis Niles says that small business owners always have the option of setting their companies up to be franchise-able in the future.

“That’s the way I did it,” he says. “If I wanted to, I could pay the fees and get an attorney to draft up a franchise agreement and Voila! I have a franchise of my own.”

Inspect the Inspector: Forrest Lines, Vice President of the National Association of Home Inspectors

Vice President of NAHIAs the Vice President of the National Association of Home Inspectors, President of NAHI Ohio and owner of By-Lions Home Inspections in Columbus, Ohio, Forrest Lines is well-versed in the home inspection game. A former draw inspector, Lines has run his own inspection firm for the past 14 years and weathered everything from hard times to on-the-job nudity. In an age where inspectors are scrambling to cram more and more inspections in per year, Lines takes his time and spends an average of three hours on each home. Here’s how he built a smarter business.

Tap Inspect: What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

Forrest: The biggest challenge in the home inspection business is all of us want to inspect homes. We don’t want to market. We don’t want to do business development things. All of that takes a back seat because we’re really interested in homes. One of the biggest challenges is to stay in a position where you are always marketing your business.

Tap Inspect: In terms of marketing, what works for you and what doesn’t?

Forrest: I’ve found some decent ways that you can reach people and get some reasonable results. One of the big ways is through the internet. People are searching for home inspectors and they’re not looking in the Yellow Pages. They’re much smarter about what they do and by the time they reach you, they know a little bit about home inspecting and they know something about you too. The best marketing tool that we have is doing a good inspection. That is what will get us more business than we ever even know because people talk to people so we just need to stay sharp, stay smart and fresh about what we do.

Tap Inspect: What’s been the most effective tool for you?

Forrest: One of the single most effective things I’ve ever done, and it’s so simple, is just not to leave money on the table, to be able to do ancillary services so that we can be more efficient at each inspection that we do. Ohio is a pretty strong radon state. Right on my [home inspection] contract, I have people accept or deny a radon test. You’d be surprised how many home inspections go from $350 to $475 in a blink because people go, “Oh yeah Radon. I’ve heard about that. Tell me about that.” Get yourself educated about radon and get licensed if your state requires it and you can add that to six, seven, eight out of ten inspections. I’m also educated in termite inspection.

Tap Inspect: What’s the number one thing you’ve learned about the home inspection industry?

Forrest: It’s not what you know; it’s how you say it. We all know about plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s all about relationships. It’s about connecting with people and telling them the story that you read from the house. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who tells people, “Don’t ask me any questions. I’ll answer everything at the end.” That blows me away. I can’t get my home inspections done because I talk too much. I know i spend too much time connecting with people, but when I get done with a home inspection, people love me.

Tap Inspect: How do you handle the inherent conflict between giving all the gory details on a house to a client and keeping the realtor, the person providing your business, on track with the sale?

Forrest: We have to hold onto our standards and ethics and they state quite clearly that we inspect and report. The real estate agent has nothing to do with what we do, even though they sometimes try to be a big part of it. If the roof needs replacing, you have to say it. The home inspection is the last piece of the sale negotiation, so it’s a good thing that I found the bad roof. The buyers can use that as a negotiation tool. If I succumb and say, “Well the roof doesn’t look that bad” and then a couple of seasons down the road it starts to leak, I couldn’t sleep at night. You’ve got to tell the truth and it’s got to be clear. You can’t tap dance.

Tap Inspect: What’s the most surprising part of the business to you?

Forrest: I’m very surprised that the banks aren’t smart enough to figure out that if they would leave the utilities on in a vacant home, they would spend a few hundred dollars to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in mold mitigation. People come in, see the mold and end up negotiating these houses down by tens of thousands of dollars. I can’t believe that someone hasn’t figured that out.

Tap Inspect: We ask this of all our Inspect the Inspectors, what’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the job?

Forrest: I was doing an inspection on a piece of property that the owner was home. The buyer was with me. We started out early on a saturday morning. We did the outside, the basement and the first floor. We were going up to the second floor and as we walked up the stairs, the owner of the home stood at the top of the stairs. He guided us to the first door on the second floor, opened it and stepped aside as if to say “Go on in.” I stepped into the bedroom and there lay his wife on the bed, completely naked. I turned around right away and looked at him and he just shrugged his shoulders like “Oh well.”

Check out By-Lions Home Inspections here.