September, 2003
News in Brief
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



“Selling the Invisible:” A Book Report

EDITED BY ASHI STAFF

A Book Report by James C. Dunsing

A few years ago, a home inspector friend of mine gave me a book. He told me that if I wanted to take my business to the next level, I would have to provide exceptional customer service. His opinion was that the general public sees a home inspection as a commodity. That is, buying a home inspection is like buying a gallon of milk. People assume all things are equal; therefore, the lowest priced inspector is the best deal, right? WRONG! We are not McDonald’s, a dry cleaner or a long distance provider. We need to differentiate ourselves from our competition.

The book that I am describing is “Selling The Invisible – A Field Guide to Modern Marketing,” by Harry Beckwith. This book is appropriate for those who want to grow their business, charge higher fees or generally become the pre-eminent home inspection company in their area.The ideas in this book come close to matching the customer service part of the ASHI Brand.

The book is a small (5" x 8") hardback that is separated into short
chapters. The 250 pages are separated into over 125 chapters that can be read during those short lulls during a home inspector’s day. Waiting for a client to arrive at the inspection, read a couple of chapters. Caught by a freight train, read a few chapters. Frankly, I found it hard to put the book down and found myself folding pages over and marking sections to read again. I suspect that most home inspectors will find the book to be an easy read.

What’s it all about?

The book describes little ways to change what you are doing to make your business better. Maybe you are already doing most things right – this book will validate those ideas. Before I read this book my company surveyed clients after the inspection. However, based on some recommendations from Mr. Beckwith we changed the way we surveyed clients. The better feedback made us provide a better product.
The book points out the little things that customers notice. Things such as how you answer the telephone, how you deliver your message, and how you tell people why they should buy from you rather than the competition are discussed. This book makes you think. I frequently reread sections of the book to help refocus my company’s plan.

An Example
One chapter, titled, “Thanks,” goes like this: “We tell someone we cannot thank them enough. We’re right; we can’t. Keep thanking. Few things feel more gratifying than gratitude- and few services express their gratitude as much as they should. How many notes of thanks did you send last year? A suggestion: Send twice as many this year. Keep thanking.”

I began sending thank you notes out about two years ago. I send them to other inspectors, past clients, real estate agents, and anyone who refers business to me. Funny thing – I get phone calls thanking me for the thank you notes! I also get more referrals. Mr. Beckwith is right. Keep thanking.

Why Better Service?
Recently, I switched accountants. The main reason was the lack of service I was getting from my previous company. His fees were reasonable and I never found a math error. Fact is, he made me bring things to him when I could just as easily email them. He refused to acknowledge that my time is valuable. I would have paid to have someone from his office pick up the work. However, he never even offered. The new accountant not only allows me to email, drop off or pick up my work, but he also allows me to review things on-line. I much
prefer this method and it saves him postage too! It’s this simple: the old accountant lost about $3,500 worth of business from me alone. I wonder how many others he has lost?

I am convinced that there are two basic ways to succeed in this business. Build a better mouse trap, or provide better service. I have not found the better mouse trap yet, so I am relying on better customer service. Occasion-ally hand delivering reports, following up to make sure that clients’ questions are answered, using the best technology available, returning to inspect snow-covered roofs at no extra charge are just some simple ways that I try to provide the best service available. This book will give you hundreds of ideas on how to provide better service, and ideas that will put money in your pocket.

This book will have you looking critically at other service businesses. After all, attorneys, accountants, auto mechanics and lawn services are all a form of a service business.

“Selling the Invisible” is available on-line at Amazon.com for $15.37, or at larger bookstores. It is also available on tape and CD-Rom for those of you who prefer to listen in the car.

Thanks to Jay Balin for the idea to write this report and to Wally Conway, ASHI home inspector in Jacksonville, Florida for turning me on to the whole Harry Beckwith series of marketing books.

James C. Dunsing is a second generation home inspector. He is a graduate of Purdue University in West LaFayette, Indiana with a degree in Building Construction Technology. Jamie is a member of Great Lakes Chapter and also an ASHI National Director. He is currently the Illinois/Indiana Market Executive for Inspectech, a Service of LandAmerica. Reprinted with permission from “The Laker.”

Service life study establishes data-oriented snapshot of U.S. construction

Pursuing a vision to improve durability and reduce maintenance costs by 50 percent by 2010, the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) sponsored a study to establish baseline measures of service life for selected building elements.
The study revealed something home inspectors already knew – this is tough to do.

Study served PATH’s needs

PATH, a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), allows leaders of the home building, product, manufacturing, and insurance and financial industries to join forces with representatives of federal agencies concerned with housing to do what it takes to produce affordable and attractive housing.

Conducted by the Office of Applied Economics in the Building and Fire Research laboratory (BFRL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the study serves its primary purpose, which is to provide PATH with the baseline measurements necessary to monitor progress toward its goals. According to the study, “the service life of a building component or material is defined as the period of time – measured in years – after installation during which all properties meet or exceed the minimum acceptable values when routinely maintained.”

Although service life estimates are of interest to home inspectors, the final report, “Baseline Measure for Improving Housing Durability,” may be of only limited use to them. It includes a variety of caveats, such as “the assumed independence between the performance of individual building components,” is considered a key concept for interpreting the meaning of the statistics, and it uses three source documents, resulting in wide ranges of service life estimates in most categories.

As reported, “… according to ASTM Standard Guide E2136, the minimum anticipated service life for hot water heaters ranged from five years to 15 years. Average anticipated service lives reported by Housing Economics and Whitestone were 11 years to 13 years for gas water heaters, 14 years for electric water heaters, and 50 years for hot water storage tanks, respectively.”

Elsewhere service life for exterior doors is reported as 20-25; 80-100 if protected or 25-30 if not; and 40 years.

If nothing else the report’s quick reference tables such as “Summary of Baseline Measures of Service Life” and “Summary of Baseline Measures of Durability-Related Costs: By cost Element Per Household” reinforce the value of having a  home inspector sort out service life issues case by case based on his or her observations.  

“Baseline Measure for Improving Housing Durability” is a data-oriented snapshot of the U.S. construction industry available from National Institute of Standards
and Technology Publications, Interagency Reports at http://www.bfrl.nist.gov/oae/publications/nistirs.html

Fire Resistance Design Manual

The Gypsum Association has released the 17th edition of the “Fire Resistance Design Manual.”

It includes fire-resistance ratings for over 325 gypsum-protected wall, ceiling, roof, column, beam, girder, and truss systems, including many systems not in the previous editions. It allows the user to quickly and easily determine essential characteristics of a wide range of fire-resistive gypsum systems classified according to use and fire resistance. STC and IIC ratings for numerous systems are also included. New edition includes new 2-hour wood-and- steel-frame floor/ceiling systems, and new wood I-joist floor/ceiling and 100% load-bearing partition systems. The cost of the publication is $15, and it can be ordered by going to their Web site at www.gypsum.org.

Click on your state

Find one-day business seminars by consulting the online calendar of events from the Small Business Association. Go to www.sba.gov/calendar/ and click on your state. (In many states, there is also a choice of cities.) A current calendar will come up with seminars listed on the day of the month. Click on the seminar link for full details. Some of the many topics include “Small Business Marketing,” “Understanding Payroll Taxes,” and “Advanced Quickbooks.” The seminars vary from state to state. There is something there for almost anyone. Fees for the seminars also vary, but are mostly in the $20-50 range.