October, 2008
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Home Inspection Business 101

BILL SUTTON

Part 2 of 2. Read Part 1 here.

Last month, Bill Sutton shared with readers the life lessons he learned since inspecting his first house in 1976. Closing with the advice “it’s nice to be nice,” Sutton cited a study that concluded physicians who were perceived by their patients as “… harried, uninterested and unwilling to listen and answer questions” were sued more often than those who were viewed as  “… concerned, accessible and willing to communicate.”

This month, he continues to share the business philosophies that helped him achieve positive results from his home inspection business through three decades of fluctuating housing markets. Again, the focus is on client satisfaction.


SELLER DISCLOSURE – ASK THE QUESTIONS


Massachusetts is one of the few states that does not require mandatory, written seller disclosure. Therefore, with my client beside me, I always question the seller regarding the property. I ask sellers if they’ve ever had water in the basement. Has there been a history of termites or treatment? Are they aware of any structural, plumbing and electrical or any other problems with the property? Is there an underground fuel tank? How old is the roof? How old is the furnace? Have they had work done? If so, did they get permits? Sellers may not be aware of the many deficiencies that exist in their houses, yet, if questioned by a professional home inspector, I find they generally answer all questions to the best of their knowledge. (In the past three decades, with more than 7,000 completed inspections, I’m aware of only a handful of sellers who deliberately lied to me. A few more may have been evasive or misleading, but that sends up a ‘red flag’ with any experienced inspector.)

If the seller is not available during the inspection, I ask the listing agent about the condition of the property and advise my client to get full, written disclosure from the seller as opposed to just the opinion of the agent or other third party. If there is another home inspection report available on the property, I ask to see it and suggest that my client receive a copy. We all know we can’t be too careful.

I’ve learned about many major concerns and deficiencies through this disclosure process — things that would not have shown up in my inspection report. This disclosure process may make your inspection more accurate and complete, thereby limiting and/or reducing your risk of future problems, surprises and litigation. And, it makes you look like a true professional, one who is going above and beyond the norm on your client’s behalf. You are the only one there who is representing the buyer exclusively. He or she will recognize and appreciate your efforts.

Now, any disclosure, particularly by the sellers or agents, should not be taken as gospel. Although they may not be lying on purpose, people can (and often do) get the facts wrong. Furthermore, the fact that a seller has lived in the house for a long time and knows the history of the work performed does not mean that he has noticed or understood progressive changes, picked up clues of incipient problems or recognized the development or presence of hazardous conditions. We also know that owners often adapt to less-than-optimum conditions. Owners and agents are not the experts.

SERVICE, SERVICE, SERVICE


Become obsessed with serving your client well. You can’t pay too much attention to your client. At the inspection, find out what his major concerns are, and be sure to address those concerns. Be available to your clients after the inspection period. Quick, professional follow-up can avoid costly headaches later on.

MAINTAIN A PROFESSIONAL DEMEANOR

Don’t be unnecessarily critical of others. Refrain from derogatory comments about other professionals. Try not to make yourself look better at someone else’s expense. Maintain a professional demeanor with your adversaries and competition … that’s one of the qualities of a true professional.

HELPING AND SHARING WITH OTHERS


Share your knowledge and expertise with your colleagues. It builds good will, better friendships, generates referrals and will benefit you, our clients, the society and the profession. As you pass on knowledge built through experience, hard work, education and independent study, you keep yourself open to change, new interpretations and the new experiences of others.
Our ASHI meetings provide a unique and ideal forum for this exchange of knowledge. I found your expertise, opinions and new ideas make every meeting an enriching experience both professionally and socially. ASHI continues to be an important asset to my home inspection business. Without the society, my practical and technical knowledge, expertise and insights into this business would be significantly lacking.

I’ve learned to be proud of my ASHI affiliation. I appreciate its commitment and dedication to excellence in our profession, and, I’ve learned that ASHI does set you apart — and ahead — in this business. In this fast-changing world, membership in the society has been the primary key to my professional growth.

In conclusion, what I’ve learned in home inspection 101 applies to any good business. You should be honest, ethical, friendly, objective and fair; work hard, study hard, have initiative, enthusiasm and a sense of humor; love your work, be exact and in all things DO YOUR BEST.

I’ve found all these clichés to be true. When you love your work, you find great pleasure in mastering it. The more you put into it the more you get out of it. Giving IS better than receiving. We all give so much to our clients at each inspection and, ultimately, that’s what is most important … what we’re willing to give. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What’s behind us and what’s before us are small matters compared to what’s within us.” The real test of business and life is helping and sharing with others.