December, 2009
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Making it in a Tough Marketplace


Since starting my business seven years ago, I’ve been hearing about foreclosures, interest rates, federal bailouts, new home inspectors flooding the market and sales downturns. My father, who was a successful salesman, told me a good salesperson could sell anything to anyone at any time. As independent business owners, we need to be good salespeople, especially when things slow down. Here’s what I’ve learned about succeeding in today’s tough marketplace.

 1. Ignore the negative press.

Newspapers make money from sensational stories. For example, this recent headline from a Seattle paper: “ Home Prices Declining.” When you read the story, the average price declined from $400,000 to $399,500. That’s a rounding error in my book and can be explained many ways, but the headline suggests there’s real trouble brewing. What the newspapers don’t say is that real estate sales are still happening every day. Sellers are listing their homes; buyers are making offers. The volume may be less than during the boom, but the market doesn’t stop.

2. Here’s a shocker – you need a plan.
Making money in a down market is always harder than making money in an up market. You need to be deliberate with your time. Lacking a plan with a strong marketing element, you’ll be working without direction and a goal. Build a plan, consult it often and change it to suit your business environment.

3. Be disciplined.
The only way to survive a tough market is to use your time well. Go back to the basics of time blocking. Determine the best times to call or visit realty agents and brokers. For example, in my area, the best time to catch them at their desk is between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. I also know many agents return to their desks after doing their home tours. I schedule my marketing phone calls and visits between those hours and after the tours.

4. Promote your company’s strengths and differences.
Practice delivering your pitch and make sure it is concise. Successful realty agents carefully manage their time, and you need to respect that. You have 90 seconds to get their attention. If you don’t pique their interest in that time, it’s time to move on. My 90-second pitch highlights our 90-day warranty, client education and superior reports. If I get their attention, I know I have a few more minutes to expand on why they want to do business with us.

5. A weak real estate market is not all bad.

A weak market thins the herd of run-of-the-mill home inspectors and realty agents. The first-year business mortality rate for new inspectors is about 90 percent, and half of those who survive the first year don’t make it past the second. Think about it: of 20 new inspectors only one will still be working at the end of two years. A weak market accelerates this process.

6. Manage your company expenses.

Have a good accountant and know where your money goes. If you don’t know the difference between gross revenue, expenses and net profits, you need an accountant. Some new business owners don’t realize they’re running their business in the red until they’ve had that tough-love conversation with their accountant. They find out what they need to charge for their services to make a profit.

7. Don’t hang around with negative people!
Negative people cluster together and are poison. Do not get drawn into their circle. Spend any downtime generating new business opportunities. Successful salespeople are always optimistic. Seek out and surround yourself with upbeat, optimistic people. If you are optimistic, potential clients and real estate professionals will be drawn to you.

 8. Find a mentor.

If you look, you can find a successful real estate professional, businessman or inspector to be your mentor or coach. Seek those who have been successful in hot and cold markets. When I was transitioning to my home inspection business, I asked a senior executive from the company I was leaving to look at my business plan. He suggested ways to improve it and continued to advise me as I got started. When we moved our business to Washington, a well-connected realty professional helped me define my tactics and identify good prospects. He also introduced me to productive real estate agents and brokers. Most people can’t resist someone who asks for help.

9. Take care of yourself and your family.

Time-block visits to the gym. Balance your diet. One of my goals for 2010 is to get away from the “drive-through diet.” Work while you’re working; play when you’re playing. Take advantage of slow times to time-block personal and family time.

10. Most importantly, get ready for the market to turn around.

Real estate is an important part of the economy and with most economists predicting the recession over, be ready!