July, 2014
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Independent Home Inspector: Is It You...

SALLY CHAPRALIS

Independent Home Inspector: Is it You…Now or in the Future?

Being an independent home inspector offers rewards and challenges. Many home inspectors – early in their careers or after years of experience – consider the possibility of becoming an “independent” but wonder if it’s right for them.

Kevin C. Doyle, Mark Cramer and Larry Hoytt, ASHI members and independent home inspectors, explain the advantages and disadvantages of independence and offer important decision-making advice and observations.

KEVIN C. DOYLE

Kevin C. Doyle is president of Tri-States Home Inspection, Inc., based in the historic town of Galena, IL, and past president of ASHI’s Great Lakes Chapter. Kevin’s independent home inspection business covers Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

After 30 years as an independent home inspector Kevin offers his perspectives on independence and how to decide if it’s “you.”

Advantages of being an independent home inspector:

· Be your own boss. “In fact, before starting my inspection business, I was a contractor, with employees, in the restoration and remodeling field,” Kevin says. “When you go solo, human resource issues aren’t a problem anymore.”

  • Work when you want. “There are times you want to be with your family or, for example, attend more of your kids’ school events.
  • Choose the inspection services you prefer to focus on. “You don’t have to work on ones that you’re not comfortable with.”
  • Take charge of your destiny. “You can pursue your business the way you want and believe it should function to be successful.”

Disadvantages of being an independent home inspector:

  • Too busy to accept new assignments. “When you’re on our own,” Kevin explains, you may be busy and have to decline an assignment. “Because I live in a very rural area, I avoid referrals (of other inspectors) because I don’t know the expertise of my competition.”
  • Proximity to other inspectors, programs and networking. “If you live in a big city or densely populated area, you can attend more seminars and training sessions, carpool together, and share things back and forth. The Great Lakes Chapter is great, but I can’t get to as many meetings as I would like to.”
  • Location…footnote. “If I want to attend home shows, I usually have to go alone,” Kevin adds. “And, given my work load, covering three states, volunteering and giving back to the community, “location is an issue.”

Kevin’s Advice for Inspectors Considering “Independence”:

  • Are you personable? “You may be technically knowledgeable, but are you also helpful and are you open to questions from buyers and sellers? In other words,” Kevin asks, “are you conversational because it’s very important when you’re an independent.”
  • Define your niches and expertise. “For example, I cover a geography that includes many older and vintage homes, and also both new and old log homes. So, these are my niches, as well as my restoration and remodeling experience.”
  • Write a business plan. “It forces you to think ahead about the services you will offer, determine your niches, identify and evaluate your competition, review liability concerns, how you will promote your business, and what your financial situation will be,” Kevin explains. “Your plan, goals and interests will change over time, but you need this first step.”

Observation: Once, when Kevin (who is left-handed) and was GLC Chapter President at the time, was observing the audience, he noticed quite a few were left-handers. He asked those who were to raise their hands, and about 30 percent did. “I was astonished because they’re both technical and creative.”

MARK CRAMER

Mark Cramer is president of Mark Cramer Inspection Services, Inc., based in Tampa, FL, and a past president of ASHI. Mark is also the administrator and lead instructor at The ASHI School in Tampa.

After 25 years of experience as an independent home inspector, Mark discusses the challenges and rewards of being independent, “although it’s not for the faint of heart.”

Advantages of being an independent home inspector:

  • “No boss.”
  • “Keep all of the money.”
  • “Lots of home inspectors are not good employees, so going it alone is better.”
  • “Perfect for strong-willed types who want to do it their own way,” Mark notes.

Disadvantages of being an independent home inspector:

  • “You won’t have anyone else – boss or other employees – to discuss inspection questions with.” Perfect solution: “Join your local ASHI chapter. The information, feedback and support are great.”
  • “When your business grows and you reach a certain level, or if you’re taking a vacation, you have to turn down business. Inspections are time-sensitive so buyers/sellers have to find someone else. I make referrals to other inspectors.”
  • “Wear many, many hats when you are a sole proprietor, so you have to be extremely motivated and organized. Are you?” Mark asks.

Mark’s Advice for Inspectors Considering “Independence”:

  • “If you’re a newbie, then first work for another company for experience and mentoring. Licensing classes, 1,000 home inspections and other requirements are just the beginning.”
  • “Do you have the ability to market yourself?” Mark advises that you “allow a certain percent of your time just for marketing.” After teaching thousands of students, Mark notes that some are “natural born sales people.” Many franchise and multi-inspector firms are marketers first and home inspectors second, which is why they are often successful.
  • “Consumer feedback says they want experienced inspectors, whether independent or working for a franchise.”
  • When considering independence, Mark offers this advice:
    • “If you want to focus on inspections, then work for a firm.”
    • “If you know you don’t take direction well (control freak?), then go independent.”
    • “It could be a great second career for the first few years as you establish yourself.”
    • “Marketing directly to home buyers doesn’t work because they are only in the market for your services about every seven years…when they buy.” So, Mark says, “most of your business will come from referrals, such as real estate agents, former clients, builders, lenders, or attorneys.
    • “Are you willing to get involved in your community?”
    • “We know that being a home inspector is very difficult. If you’re an independent, it can be tougher but very rewarding if you succeed.”

LARRY HOYTT
Larry Hoytt is president of Hoytt Inspection Services, Inc., based in Marin County, CA (San Francisco Bay Area), and a past president of ASHI. He is also the recipient of the Monahon Award, the tribute to an ASHI Certified Inspector who has done the most for the organization and the home inspection profession over a long period of time.

Larry began his home inspection career 38 years ago managing his own business and several home inspector employees. “As an employer, you can help provide technical expertise but it is very difficult to instill judgment, wisdom and experience,” Larry explains, “but you also lose a little control with every added employee inspector. So, after being an employer for 20 years, I decided to become an independent home inspector and focus on my niche, which is high end Marin County.”

Larry offers a consultancy approach (higher fees and more services) that reinforces his “reputation as an agent of reality” and this has resulted in more opportunities, such as consulting and providing testimony in legal cases relating to home inspection standard of care and practice, and tenant vs. landlord cases involving habitability.

Advantages of being an independent home inspector:

  • “You can design and implement your own approach to home inspections – and not have it dictated to you. “But,” Larry notes, “this is a double-edged sword because we all need input, guidance and feedback from our peers to make sure we are meeting or exceeding the local standard of care.”
  • “People have more confidence when they know the inspector they are walking with through their prospective purchase is the ‘chief cook and bottle washer.’”
  • “No firm performs home inspections. An individual person does.” And, Larry adds, “As you become a trusted known entity, you receive referrals through word of mouth marketing in your niche.”

Disadvantages of being an independent home inspector:

  • “As a one-man shop, if I take a vacation or am sick, I will refer other local home inspectors that I trust, some of whom I have mentored or trained.” Otherwise, potential clients will go elsewhere.
  • Working alone without day-to-day contact with other experts and home inspectors. “The solution for me has been my involvement in ASHI’s Golden Gate Chapter,” Larry says. “The chapter’s online discussion forum offers timely and invaluable feedback and support for all of us that work in the San Francisco Bay Area. ASHI’s Standards of Practice are also important guidelines, especially the part about addressing the implication of our findings, not just discussing the finding itself. ”

Larry’s Advice for Inspectors Considering “Independence”:

  • “You cannot be all things to all people, so determine the niche you wish to work in, explore marketing opportunities and pursue them.”
  • “Do you have a good bedside manner? A home inspector who offers excellent technical skills may not know how to communicate during an inspection. We need to present a welcoming, patient approach that involves the client, makes them feel a part of the process and encourages questions and clarification. This is the only way a client can make an informed decision regarding the property we are inspecting.”
  • Speaking of communication, Larry considers our primary purpose is to be “agents of reality” who must make sure our clients truly understand the implications of our findings.”

Independent Home Inspector – Is it You…Now or in the Future?