October, 2007
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Build Your Business


Your Company Image Matters, But Who Determines It?
Part 3 of 3.

Welcome to Build Your Business. Each month, we will be contributing an article that provides some sound approaches to strategic business growth that have been field-tested for success by some of the most experienced home inspectors in North America. Whether it’s sales and advertising strategies, tips on making your business more customer-centric or how to evaluate public relations opportunities, our goal is to stimulate your interest to work on your business rather than just in it.

Here is a quick recap of the points covered previously, with our opinion about the importance of each with respect to its marketing value:

1.  Referral from someone the client knows (15 percent importance)
2.  A good business card (5 percent importance)
3.  A good brochure (5 percent importance)
4.  Telephone conversation with the client (15 percent importance)
5.  First five minutes when the client meets you at the purchase property (20 percent importance)

The final two points are as follows:

6.  The inspection — the professionalism, approachability and expertise you demonstrate to the client during the inspection (25 percent importance)
7.  The inspection report (15 percent importance)

6. The inspection process

If you are like most inspectors, you ask your clients to attend the inspection. The clients follow you around the home as you inspect. You report findings and answer questions as you go. The benefits for the client are significant. They get a much better understanding of the home. The benefits for the home inspector are also significant because you get a chance to develop a rapport with the client that helps reduce your liability. Clients who attend the inspection and see how hard you work on their behalf are far more likely to call you rather than sue you if they have problems. While you inspect the home, your clients form an opinion of you. Most will not be in a position to know if you are doing a good job or not. If an actor were trained to act like a home inspector, to walk the walk and talk the talk, most clients would be fooled. So, all the client has to go on is trust. That means how you say something is more important than what you say. Clients can gauge your communication skills, but not your technical skills. Of course, from a technical point of view, what you say is much more important, but we are talking about marketing and your company image.

Here are a few dos and don’ts

New home inspectors often make the mistake of placing “I think” into their analysis of problem areas. “I think the crack in the wall could be caused by this or that.” If you want to sound like an experienced professional and to inspire confidence, don’t sound uncertain during a home inspection. Remove conditionals from your vocabulary.

This may sound like a tall order. Of course, you can’t know everything or see everything. You are conducting a nondestructive inspection. In fact, a specialist is often required to determine the answer to some questions you and the client may have about a problem. So, how can you avoid sounding uncertain?

The answer is: You can be unsure, but you have to be definite about it! Suppose you see a vertical crack in a poured-concrete foundation wall. Because the house superstructure is wood siding, you can’t see if the crack continues up through the house, indicating a settlement crack. The crack is small and in a location that could indicate a settlement crack or a shrinkage crack. From the size and shape, and based on your experience in house cracks, you suspect it’s a shrinkage crack, but you can’t be sure because you simply cannot take apart the outside wall or spend time monitoring it. Instead of saying, “I think this is a shrinkage crack in the foundation,” better to say one of the following:

1. It is a shrinkage crack.

2. It is not a shrinkage crack.

3. It is not possible to determine, during a single visit or during a nondestructive inspection, whether this crack is from shrinkage. Further investigation is required to determine the cause of the crack.

4. The evidence suggests that this is a shrinkage crack, but we don’t have enough evidence to be conclusive.

Uncertainty on your part will diminish your client’s confidence in you. If you don’t know the answer, it’s best to say you don’t know, but with confidence. You do not want your client to get the feeling that if they had hired another inspector, that inspector would have known the answer. You need to tell the client that a conclusive assessment will require a destructive investigation, some calculations and/or monitoring the situation.

You will be drawing conclusions with certainty in some cases. In other cases, you will be drawing conclusions based on deduction and incomplete information. It’s not your fault that you don’t have all the relevant information. So, don’t guess about the situation without qualifying your position; give your professional opinion, but make it clear that only with more pieces of the puzzle could you be definitive.

7. Your final inspection report is important

The only thing more important than the first impression you make is the last impression. The inspection report is not only the impression that your clients leave with; it’s also the only tangible evidence of your inspection.

Is your report a marketing tool? We think it should be. It should create a positive image of your company and you should assume your report will be shared with others — friends and family, real estate sales professionals, lawyers, lenders, insurers and so on. It would be a wasted opportunity not to make your company look really good every chance you get. If your report is unimpressive, this last impression will shape your client’s image of you and your business.

On the other hand, imagine the leverage you create when people read your report and say, “Wow, that was easier than I thought it was going to be. I really understand my house now. Thank you!” or, “That was the best technical report I have ever read, on any subject! It was clear, easy to read and easy to understand.”

No report system or format is perfect or the best. And, in most areas of the country, there are no industry standards. Opinions abound on what looks best. Whatever you choose, make sure it is your best effort, and it reflects how you would like your company to be

We should also make it clear that a great reporting system will not save a bad home inspection or a bad home inspector, but it can make a good one look great.

This article is based on content from “Building Your Home Inspection Business – A guide to marketing, sales, advertising and public relations,” authored by Carson Dunlop and published by Dearborn Home Inspection. Carson Dunlop also authors the Home Reference Book, Essentials of Home Inspection, the Illustrated Home and most recently, HORIZON, a unique Web-based reporting system. See www.carsondunlop.com or www.dearbornhomeinspection.com for more information.