September, 2013
Inspecting
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



From the CoR Speaker: The Best Time to Market Your Home Inspection Business

TONY SMITH

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Your inspection time is 9:00 a.m. and you have scheduled four hours to conduct it. It’s 8:45 a.m. and you are pulling up at the curb. Remember: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is just . . . totally unacceptable.” Park at the curb as often as possible. Why? The driveway you were about to park upon is within the scope of your inspection as per the ASHI Standards (www.ashi.org). Let’s get a good look at it. Furthermore, there are two other cars in the driveway, and you do not want to block anyone in. Your clients (young couple referred to you by a family friend) just got out of their car. You had spoken to them a couple of times but never met them before. Their real estate professional was already at the front stoop, and the sellers were standing in the open doorway. (They have a toddler at home sick today but did not want to cancel the inspection as it would push the closing back.) By the way, now is NOT a good time to take a picture of the front of the structure. Get it later. Nevertheless, get a picture of the house number at the curb or something that digitally documents your arrival time without taking peoples’ picture. You had not met the Realtor before but had spoken to her for the first time an hour before the inspection when she called to inform you of the sick child and the sellers staying home. The child’s illness, you were told, is not contagious and the sellers and your clients both want to move forward.

It’s showtime, but you are still early, so take the time to take stock of the structure and surrounding structures as you gather the report and your tools. Let this 106-year-old structure talk to you from a distance. Does the roof line tell you anything? Does the structure appear well maintained?

Leave the ladder in/on your vehicle until you need to use it. Why? You do not want to leave an unattended ladder outside, not even laying down—it could just get up and walk away with someone. The sellers came out of the open doorway to meet the Realtor, who also represents them and works in a dual role. She was introducing the sellers to the buyers on the front flagstone stoop when you walked up. Introduce yourself to everyone, shake hands and look people in the eye when you speak to them. Express your regrets to the sellers about their sick child and wish the child a speedy recovery. Take charge by asking if everyone intends to stay for the entire inspection. Upon learning that the Realtor intends to leave after a while and return at the end, and both females intend to leave after a while, it’s time for you to invite everyone inside the structure so that you can get started.

Time to Market
Your primary marketing will be toward your clients, but keep in mind that you are also marketing to a Realtor, who could be the source of additional business. You are also marketing to the sellers who will be downsizing to a structure without steps across town, and you are also marketing ASHI. Ask the clients for their signed copy of the Inspection Agreement Contract. Review it with everyone present. Start by letting everyone know that you will be inspecting the structure to the ASHI Standards. Keep in mind that, to the sellers, this is their home. They love it, they are proud of it, they maintained it, and you are a guest in their home. To your clients, it is one of many houses they looked at in the past weeks, and they really like it. To you, it’s a structure—an old structure. Ask if everyone has heard of or is familiar with ASHI. Take the time to explain what ASHI is: the oldest and most respected organization in the home inspection industry. Let them know that ASHI sets the standards and that they are very high standards and that you are proud of them because they protect the consumer and yourself, the inspector. Let them know that a hard copy of the Standards will be attached to the final report and that they can view the Standards online at http://www.homeinspector.org/standards/default.aspx. Let them know if you serve in a leadership role within ASHI at the national or chapter level. Let them know that the mission of ASHI is To set and promote standards for property inspections and to provide the educational programs needed to achieve excellence in the profession and to meet the needs of our members.

Explain briefly the things you will be looking for based on the ASHI Standards and their signed purchase agreement with the sellers. Explain briefly the things you will NOT be looking for.

Inform them that the inspection is NOT a guarantee, nor is it a warranty of any kind and should not be relied upon as such. Let them know that at the end of the inspection, and based upon the ages of their major appliances, you may recommend they purchase a home warranty from a warranty company.

Inform them that their report is not transferable to a third party if they decide not to buy the structure.

And finally, explain to them what happens if there are disagreements with their written report and how these disagreements may be handled. Sign the agreement and provide the clients with a copy. Now would be a good time to hand out some cards, one card to each couple and one card to the Realtor. Ask the clients if it’s okay for you to email a copy of their report to the Realtor as you verify everyone’s email address.

Point out special features of the report they will be receiving. Explain the summary page and when they can expect to get it and the full copy. Draw their attention to the Home Owners Maintenance Manual in the report or any other manuals you provide.

Review the evaluation form you will be sending them with the stamped, self-addressed envelope and how much you look forward to receiving it in the mail.

Ask for a copy of the seller’s property disclosure and take a few minutes to review it.

Present and briefly review a copy of your permit research for the permits found on file for the structure. Explain that the sellers may not have known that the structure had a fire 50 years ago and that if you see signs of it, or repairs due to fire damage as stated on a 50-year-old building permit, you will photograph it and point it out and comment on said repairs being satisfactory or not. Be sure to let them know that there will be no extra fee for the permit research that they had decline earlier and that you are glad you went and did it anyway.

Ask if there are any questions before you go outside and get started. Let everyone know that they are welcome to join you outside and let the clients know that there are NO stupid questions and that the inspection will be an ongoing dialogue. Its 9:10 a.m. and you are on schedule. Your cellphone should be OFF or on silence. Do not check on calls or messages. Keep track of the time but do it discreetly.

Ask the clients to stand back from the house with you as you observe the “language” of the structure. This is a good time to get a good picture of the front of the house with no people in it. You may want to use it on the front cover of the final report. You may also want to use it to make simple “just moved” cards on a nice card stock and provide the client with about 10 “just moved” cards along with envelopes with their final report. Let it be a surprise to them when they receive the final report. They will appreciate it. This “just moved” card will be for them to send to 10 family members and friends. It will have on the front, a picture of the structure, the address and “JUST MOVED.” Keep it simple but elegant with the stock you select. On the back it will have ALL your company information as it appears on your business card. The middle panels are left blank for them to write messages.

Determine the orientation of the structure. I pull out a compass to be accurate. Plus, it’s good show and tell. I’m an old Boy Scout, and I also let them know that at this time. You would be amazed at the bond it can create if someone in the inspection party has also been a Boy Scout or even a Girl Scout. Explain to them the importance of the orientation of the structure and how it will impact their outside maintenance. Let them know they will be hearing the word maintenance several times in the next several hours. Check and document the weather conditions outside at this time. Do not forget to document any rain events in the past 48 hours. That information could come in handy when you enter the attic space, crawl space or basement of the structure. If a rain event is ongoing, provide a large umbrella for the clients’ use and invite them along. If the roof is snow covered, let them know that you will do the best you can from the ground with your field glasses or from the top of your ladder if it’s safe to set it up. Do not walk on a snow-covered roof. If asked to return to do the roof, let them know if it would be an additional fee and that you can incorporate that into the fee should they request your presence at their final walk-through before closing to check the items that they request the sellers to remedy.

Look up at the mature trees that tower over the roof line of the structure. Vegetation is a part of the Standards. Comment on the neighbor’s tree that overhangs the structure and how best to handle it after close of escrow. Remember the “special feature”—the in-ground swimming pool? Well, guess what? There is a fence around it, and fences are outside the scope of the Standards. Inspect the fence if you feel comfortable doing it. Let the client know that it is outside the scope of your inspection but that you are doing it as a courtesy due to their liability with the in-ground swimming pool. There is nothing that prevents you from exceeding the Standards when applicable. Strive for excellence; it will show.

Point out and explain to the client the importance of grading and proper surface drainage around the house. Water intrusion is most homeowners’ worst nightmare. The sellers did disclose water intrusion at the basement. Look for ways to correct the problem (i.e., to turn the water around). Explain that whatever is done to fix the problem inside the structure is only a remedy and that there are no guarantees with remedies. Explain to the client that these are maintenance issues, very important maintenance issues, which, if corrected, will solve the water intrusion problem at the basement.
You have completed the inspection of the exterior system with the clients, sellers and Realtor in tow. Ask each party if there are any questions.

Its time to do the roof and the best way to inspect it is by walking upon the roof covering. You have determined that it is safe to walk the roof, so now is a good time to get out your ladder system. Inform everyone that they will remain on the ground as you inspect the roof and ask the sellers to open the overhead door to their attached garage. The Realtor, who had said she had to leave early, informs everyone that she will now stay for the whole thing because she is learning so much. This is a good thing. The seller’s wife and the female half of your client had to leave. Shake hands and wish them a good day.

You are on the roof alone; this is a good time to discreetly check on the time, you are doing well—right on schedule. Some inspectors may prefer to go to the attic space before walking the roof; there is merit to doing so. I prefer to walk the roof while outside. Explain your findings about the roof when you are on the ground. Ask if there are any questions. If you are comfortable doing so, verbally let the client know how many years are left in the life of the roof covering and when they should start to plan and budget for its replacement. Again, if you are comfortable doing so, verbally let them know about how much that might cost. You are going over and above the Standards by doing so. Be sure to remind your client of this. The attached-garage’s overhead door is open. Let’s inspect the garage. You may want to ask the seller to remove the car before you test the reverse safety mechanism at the opener. Do NOT test said safety mechanism if the car cannot be moved from inside the garage. You will still want to check the photo-eyes. Ask if there are any questions with regards to the garage.

The seller informed you that the access to the attic space is from the garage. Time to suit up. The best way to inspect the attic space is by entering into the attic space. Wear a Tyvek protective suit, rubber gloves and a good respirator. Take along a back-up flashlight with you, your moisture meter, your digital-sling psychrometer and a business card with the day’s date written on it. Check the temperature and humidity outside before entering the attic space. Check the temperature and humidity inside the attic space several times; they may determine how long you might want to stay there. Be sure to leave your business card with the day’s date at the far end of the attic space. Let it be a part of your overall marketing strategy. You never know who may pass that way after you. Plus, it’s proof that YOU were there. Inform the client how much insulation exists at the attic space and how much more you recommend. Let the client know that they may want to take a look at the last two or three seasons of heating and cooling bills. The Realtor can request the sellers provide these bills from the utility company. Ask the client if he has any questions about the insulation and ventilation at the attic space. Show the sellers the photographs of the contents that are at the attic space. They may have forgotten that they were there. The client will want them removed.

You have completed the inspection of several systems and components so far: the exterior, the roof, the garage, and insulation and ventilation at the attic space. As you notice the Realtor glancing at her watch, ask her what time it is. You are right on schedule, and she is still learning. Your client informs you that he did not realize there was so much to the inspection and that he is learning a lot. Let him know that it is your job to educate him about the structure and how best to maintain it. Remind him that the best part is that he is never alone and that you remain his consultant at no extra fee for as long as he owns the structure.

Inform everyone now that it’s time to go inside where the rest of the inspection will start at the top floor as you work your way down to the structural components in the basement and crawl spaces. Now is a good time to take the seller up on the glass of water he had offered you at the start of the inspection. Take the short break to use the bathroom and freshen up from the attic space. Engage the Realtor over the short break as to how long she has been selling real estate. Do NOT ask her which inspector she normally refers. Engage your client over the short break as to what he does for a living. This could just open up a whole new doorway in your overall marketing strategy. Engage the sellers over the short break as to what side of town they are looking to purchase in and if they have already selected an inspector. Remind them that, whomever they end up using, to be sure they use an ASHI Certified Inspector.

Wear shoe coverings or remove your shoes while inside the structure. If you break out shoe coverings, be sure to have a pair for your client. Wear a clean pair of rubber gloves while inside the structure. Offer your client a clean pair.

As you work your way to the lower levels of the structure, you are inspecting the interior, the plumbing, the electrical, the heating and cooling, along with any fireplaces and solid fuel-burning appliances. Ask the sellers which appliances stay with the house and inspect them also. Appliances are outside the scope of the Standards so be sure to remind the client that you are inspecting them as a courtesy. Take a few minutes to inform the client and all present about the differences between ionizing and photoelectric smoke alarms and how knowing the difference between the two and supplementing the existing smoke alarms with photoelectric smoke alarms could save lives. Inspect as many windows and electrical outlets as possible and do not forget to check the proper functioning of three-way switches.

At the basement, be sure to point out to the client the locations of the main water and electrical shut-off. Be sure to leave a “stick-on” copy of your business card on the outside of the main electrical panel. Document the age via model and serial numbers of the A/C, the furnace and hot water heater and inform the clients as to when they should start planning and budgeting to replace them. Be sure to talk about the water intrusion in conjunction with the corrective measures you pointed out earlier outside. Suit up again as you did for the attic space to enter the crawl space that is accessible. Be sure the client sees you after exiting the crawl space and prior to removal of the dirty suit. He will have a better understanding of how hard you work for him. It will stick in his mind, trust me. Inform him as to the reason why you cannot enter the second crawl space. There is very low ceiling height and obstructions; he will understand. Be sure to document it in the report.

It’s 12:50 p.m. and you have just completed the inspection you had planned for four hours. The Realtor stayed for the whole time and is impressed. She asks for a few more of your business cards. Give her a couple and no more, unless, of course, she insists. The client is happy. Nothing earthshaking fell out from the inspection, and he now has a much better understanding of the real estate he is buying and how best to maintain it. Take about five minutes to recap the items that are deficient and will appear on the inspection summary page. Remind the client one last time that you remain his consultant at no extra fee for as long as he owns the structure and if he ever has a question about the structure, to call, text or email you. Thank the seller for being a guest in his home and inform him that you would be honored to conduct his home inspection.

Two last and very important things: Ask the client if he brought along his checkbook and that now would be a good time to get it out. Also, now would be a good time to present the client with the gift you brought along for him and his wife—their first photoelectric smoke alarm.

You have just completed the inspection and the client has written you a check for your fee. You have just completed four hours of marketing to your client, a new Realtor, the sellers and the folks at the municipal building department where you went to conduct the permit research. Why was this the best time to market your home inspection business? It was the best time to market your home inspection business because you did the very best inspection you could. You used the inspection as a marketing tool to some very solid leads, and best of all, you were PAID to do so.

Work safe and walk good.

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P.S.  Follow up with your clients after you have emailed the inspection summary to make sure they received and understood it. Follow up with them after you have sent the full report with all pictures taken and their 10 surprise “just moved” card. Remind your client to return the evaluation of the inspection in the self-addressed stamped envelope. Remind your clients that you remain their consultant at no extra fee after they close escrow. Remind your clients that you would be honored to return for an extra fee to check the items the sellers remedied. Remember you have no past clients—they still are all your clients. Check that the close date has not changed and document it in your records; it’s an important anniversary date for them. You will want to follow up here also. Stay in touch with your clients. Invite them to be your “friend” and to follow you on Facebook. Follow up with the Realtor in about a week or two if you have not heard from her. Follow up with the sellers after they have received your clients request for remedy from the Realtor. 

Respect.
Tony Smith, ACI
ASHI Speaker, 2013 - 2014

ASHI Council of Representatives

Speaker:
Tony Smith
319-533-4565
inspectthathouse@
netscape.net

Alternate Speaker:

Bruce LaBell
602-765-2140
inspect@cox.net

Secretary:
Larry Cerro
850-545-8448
larrycerro@comcast.net

Group Leaders

New England/Canada:
Mike Atwell, 617-285-8554
mike@jmhi.com

New York/New Jersey:
Jerry Sanangini
856-232-6607
jsantangini@comcast.net

Mid-Atlantic:
Jim Funkhouser
571-214-4039
jfunkhouser@aol.com

Midwest:
Mike Wagner, 317-867-7688
mwagner@ralis.com
South Atlantic:
Richard Hart, 770-827-2200
ashi1@comcast.net

Gulf:

Larry Cerro, 850-545-8448
larrycerro@comcast.net
South Midwest:
Paul MacNeill
314-392-9313
paul@appleinspections.com

North Central:
Brendan Ryan
724-898-1414
brendan@csahomeinspection.com

Mountain:
Marcus Richter
520-271-8582
info@handsonhome
inspection.com

Pacific:
Scott Swickard
949-454-1389
scott@inspectoc.com