March, 2018
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Expanding The Vision With Sewer Inspections: Questions From the Field

PETER HOPKINS

Well, by now you’ve probably had a chance to read my article, “Getting to the Root of it with Sewer Inspections,” in the November issue of the Reporter, and maybe you also had a chance to get introduced to sewer inspections by attending my session at InspectionWorld® 2018 in Orlando. But, if you somehow missed both, it might be worth your time to pull the November Reporter off the reading shelf, especially if you are looking for a great way to increase your inspection fees in 2018.

Hands down, adding sewer inspections in 2014 was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business. Plus, I continue to hear praise on a weekly basis from inspectors who took my advice to that leap, too—even a few old-timers who were willing to learn a new trick.

Personally, I hope I am as excited about doing inspections when I am 80 (yes, I said 80) as I am right now. Most people say that they’ll retire by the time they are 80, but personally, I define retirement as not having to work, not that I won’t be working. So, I feel that when you love what you do, you could hope to die doing it (not literally, of course—I mean that people will still want me for my expertise until my last breath).

For a quick refresher, here are a few things I tackled about the sewer inspection business in the November article:

  • the time it takes to do a sewer inspection
    • (about 15 minutes average) 
  • the income potential
    • (30%-50% increase in revenues) 
  • a brief discussion of how to sell sewer inspections

Do you need to be licensed? My state requires a plumbing license.
Great question and obviously, the answer to this can vary from location to location. My answer is to dive into the intention of licensing in the first place. This is really designed around stopping people from doing work they are not qualified to do and to have some regulatory direction. 

In the case of A sewer video inspection, how is this different from the rest of your inspection? Are you not, in effect, inspecting with another set of eyes to the unknown zone?
Obviously, you are not doing repairs or building anything, so what I believe is, if you hear people saying you have to be a plumber to inspect a sewer, it is pure protectionism of their trade. Many states encountered contractors who felt they were better qualified to do inspections when it came to a state initiating licensing regulations for home inspectors. 

My take on it is this: If contractors did their job, inspectors would be in a scarce field. Okay, yes, I am familiar with homeowners’ jobs that have been inspired by big-box home improvement ideas, but my suggestion is to challenge your local- or state-level officials if you feel there is a block wall stopping you. I think if you play your cards right and do a little research, you will find inspections are inspections and nothing more.

You mentioned capturing 35% increases with $175 inspection fees; people in my area are paying $100 for sewer scans!
Well, I am guessing that your inspection fees are lower, too, and when you do the math and calculate the time it takes, the return on the investment percentage is still there!

You say it takes 15 minutes to do an entire sewer inspection, but I live in an older area with older pipes, and it may take me 15 minutes just to get the cap off!
Great point; however, I must emphasize that in my business, I look for the cream of the crop on SewerScan jobs. If I see a challenging or difficult job (meaning, I can tell that it will take me more time than I typically allow), I leave that job for the plumber. 

Something to consider, though, that I may not have mentioned in my previous article, is that when people have root problems, it is an ongoing thing. Often, they have a plumber do a rooting job every six to 12 months. These houses usually have clean-out caps that are readily accessible and easily come off. (Think about it: The easiest ones to open up are likely the worst pipes!)

I understand that you use a 100-foot sewer camera, but in my part of country, it might be 200 feet to the main sewer.
Well, the code is on your side, as clean-outs are required every 100 feet and this has been a requirement for some time. I chose the camera system I use because of its portability, professionalism and the fact that it seals up in its own case (meaning, there is no open reel). 

Also, the pan-tilt camera head is priceless—I’ve used it during several moisture-intrusion jobs as part of the thermal imaging division of my company. If you have a 200-foot line, you should have access to a second or third clean-out. If not, you can address this condition in the same way you would the rest of your inspection, by emphasizing the level of “accessibility.”

Sometimes, after I do a survey, sellers ask me where the roots were located and how deep they were. Does the camera you use allow you to see this?
The camera model I use does have a locator, so I can locate the deficiency; however, I don’t do this normally unless I am specifically asked about it during the survey. You’ve heard the saying “time equals money,” right? So, the more time I spend on site helping out sellers, the less I make! That said, I strive to ensure that all of my clients come away from the inspection understanding what, specifically, they will need to hire a plumber to locate. 

If  I do offer a location, I note it generically, with comments like “in this general area.” Locating the depth is another thing. The sewer camera I use has a locator that does not identify depth, so to address depth, I’ve purchased another company’s locator that can address both depth and location. Let’s just say I like to be prepared! 

I also chose to have an alternate camera on hand because it has a frequency emitter that I can use for future opportunities as I expand my service offerings. For example, often I can see a trace wire with gas lines and the emitter will be connected to a tracer line, so I can locate that along with other things, like septic tank locations and underground ducts.

You spent how much on your sewer camera?!
Yes, I spent more than $7,000 and yes, you can get systems for about $1,000, but honestly, I’ve known some inspectors who “buy low” and then later buy the good stuff. I am all for low-cost tools, but not for the ones I need to depend on every day. Inspectors make good money—you can afford the more expensive stuff. If you have to finance the purchase, the payment typically works out to equal your fee for one SewerScan a month ($175 per month, based on a $7,500 purchase with decent credit). If you can do that, all the rest is profit.

Is there financing for this sort of thing?
Yes. Reach out to your local bank or credit union. Most companies offer financing. Ours is www.unitedinfrared.com/financing.

How do I get training and how long does it take to learn?
There is not much out there in the line of sewer inspection training for home inspectors, so we developed www.sewerscan.com specifically to train inspectors. It is a course by inspectors for inspectors and we incorporate tips from a 100-year-old plumbing company to give you the scoop!

I am new to home inspections.
Great, here is a great add-on to build your business even more. You will likely work hard to get your customers, so making more from the inspections you do will definitely help your business take off.

I am not interested in sticking my hands in the drain!
I get it, but by using good methods, all of which are taught in our training class, you will feel comfortable shaking your client’s hand at the end of the inspection.

Do you have more questions?
Visit sewerscan.com for more information on cameras and testimonials from inspectors who’ve expanded their vision with sewer inspections. Scroll down on the first page to register for a free, on-demand, one-hour webinar. You can call our office (888-722-6447) for more information, email me at peter@unitedinfrared.com or call me directly at 760-593-2339.

Peter Hopkins has operated a successful home inspection company since 1996 (www.inspecdoc.com) and has performed more than 7,000 property inspections. The company expanded into infrared in 2005, with the opening of SoCal Infrared (www.socalinfrared.com), and has found success in many areas of diversification. Peter expanded his business in 2014 with the purchase of a sewer camera and found success in adding a new revenue stream to his business. He is the cofounder of United Infrared (www.unitedinfrared.com), a national network of contract thermographers that provides application-specific training and business coaching in a multitude of applications related to infrared technology and other vision technologies like sewer cameras. Peter is a Level III Certified Thermographer, ASHI Certified Inspector, ICC Code Certified Building Inspector, Electrical Inspector and Certified HERS Energy Rater. Peter lives in Southern California with his wife and two children.