May, 2015
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



People-Driven PR — First-Time Buyers’ Seminar

ALAN CARSON

INTRODUCTION

The first-time buyers’ seminar is a powerful way to acquire new clients and build relationships with allied professionals – real estate agents, bankers, mortgage brokers, title companies and real estate lawyers.

Provide Good, Relevant Information
The seminar speakers are typically involved in the real estate transaction. Each gives a brief overview of what they do, some practical advice and, very often, their competitive advantage. The seminar is a business development opportunity for the service providers, and an opportunity for homebuyers to learn a lot very quickly. There is no need to promote your company during your talk. Your participation as the guest expert establishes your credibility. You gain trust by position and association, but more importantly, by providing something of value to the audience. That might include tips on things to watch for, providing perspective for items that frighten most people unnecessarily, etc. A real estate agent or lender often hosts the first-time buyers’ seminar. The bank and the real estate agent are in the best position to find participants, and they have more to gain financially from the event than other service providers. The bank may put up a sign or poster in the bank advertising the event. Agents often advertise seminars in magazines, websites, newsletters, postcards or flyers that list homes for sale. Agents often have a database of people interested in purchasing a house.

Offer to Speak
We have participated in first-time buyers’ seminars for years and don’t pay anything. Instead, our contribution is our presentation. The very nature of our business ensures a compelling presentation because people learn something new about the systems of a house. If you have visuals that combine things to watch for with some entertainment value, your presentation will be valuable and memorable. It’s easy to capture attention with a few well-chosen pictures. If there have been home-related issues prominent in the news recently, there is often a good chance to shed more light and clear up misinformation. When the media sensationalizes things, the home inspector can be the calm, professional expert and the voice of reason.

PRESENTATION FORMATS

Visual Presentations Pack a Punch
If you have a presentation with visuals, you need an overhead projector or a media projector, a screen and portable computer. The host often provides these. A PowerPoint presentation is a great way to show interesting pictures of house system performance (or nonperformance!). The goal is not to put on a horror show, but to pose issues and then solve them. Be sensitive and courteous to all parties ,with respect to time. Check with your host.

Make a lasting impression: Give the audience a copy of your presentation — on paper, CD, DVD, memory stick or through a link to your website. We like things that are inexpensive, tangible and can be branded easily. Business cards and brochures are old-school, but effective.

Non-Visual Presentations Are Portable
We like to use visuals where we can, but that's not always possible. You may have to present without the visual aids. You can use handouts that leverage your PowerPoint presentation and include useful content and promotional materials, but don't overdo the promotion. Your presentation should be focused, high-energy, and brief. Inviting questions is a great way to build rapport with an audience. Make it interactive!

Whether or not your presentation includes visuals, be sure to touch on any ancillary services you provide such as radon, termites, pools and spas, infrared thermography, etc. People appreciate one-stop shopping. Offer to answer the attendees' questions any time, including months after the presentation.

Long Presentations Bore Attendees and Alienate Other Presenters
When using visuals, speakers often find themselves doing too much. The lender makes a slide for every possible mortgage option, the agent projects a copy of an offer to purchase and goes through each detail, and the lawyer puts up a list of conditions that should be added to the offer to purchase. This level of detail is unnecessary.

Most first-time buyers don’t want to commit to an entire evening of presentations. They would prefer a quick, informative session. Be helpful, be dramatic and be brief. Your audience will love you.

What Is a Home Inspection?
Buyers’ seminars are a great way to educate other presenters as well as your audience on the scope of a home inspection. You need to provide a balanced view of the tremendous value of the home inspection, framed within an appropriate scope of work. It's amazing what people think you will do unless you adjust their expectations.

Discuss the importance of the client attending the inspection and describe the inspection as a course in homeownership by showing clients how to maintain their home and how to shut off gas, electricity and water in an emergency. You should also touch on report format, report delivery time and perspective – all homes will have some adverse conditions.

ELEMENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL SEMINAR

This section outlines the key features of a first-time buyers’ seminar. Whether you are invited as a guest speaker, are involved in the planning stage or decide to organize the players yourself, keep these points in mind.

Create Relationship with Other Presenters
If you have any input, make sure all your seminar speakers think in terms of goals. Each presenter’s goal is to be recognized as an expert or leader in their field. As a home inspector, you have the advantage of highlighting the independent, unbiased nature of our work. We receive our fee whether or not the transaction goes through. However, be careful not to make this point at the expense of other presenters.

Recognition is an important goal, but it’s not the only goal. The other goal is to create a relationship with the other presenters. In the long run, their referrals may be worth more than the attendees’ inspection business.

Know Attendees’ Goals
The main goal of the attendees is to get some advice that will help them make a great decision. They also want to walk away with something. Your educational material and one piece of promotional material may be ideal. These allow the attendees and the other presenters to absorb your message. The material also makes it easy for the attendees to contact you. Also, be sure to give your materials to the other presenters.

OVERALL SEMINAR OUTLINE

Golden Rule: Keep It Short
Everyone’s goals are best served by a short presentation, followed by a question and answer period. We have consolidated our experiences over the years and put together this outline for success:

  1. Introductions (five minutes): The host introduces all of the guest speakers and gives an overview of topics. They should also be clear about the session duration. An uncertain audience is a distracted audience.
  2. Mortgage lender or broker (ten minutes): He or she gives an overview of the pre-approval process, why pre-approval is preferable to applying after finding the house and what information the bank needs to approve someone.
  3. Real estate agent (ten minutes): What the agent does for you. Who pays the real estate agent? Who the agent is representing, how you choose an agent, some comments on current market conditions and a few tips on house hunting.
  4. Home inspector (ten minutes): What is a home inspection? How much does it cost? (Best to cover this early because the audience will be waiting for it.) When is the inspection performed? What should people watch for? What questions should a homebuyer ask a home inspector?
  5. Real estate lawyer or title company (ten minutes): When does the lawyer enter the picture? How much does it cost? What is title insurance? A few tips for your offer to purchase.
  6. Question-and-answer period (fifteen minutes): Attendees are invited to ask questions. If the answer is too long and complicated, the subject expert offers to discuss it with the attendee afterwards.
  7. Snacks and discussion: The entire seminar is roughly one hour, plus any discussion after the seminar over coffee.

Closing Advice
As a home inspector, you are in the communications business. However, presenting to a group is different from talking to clients as you go through a home. Like so many things, practice makes perfect. To get started, create your presentation and practice in front of a mirror; practice it in front of a video camera and watch yourself; practice it with friends and family; polish it and practice some more. It's not enough to be the expert. You have to look and act the part.

Public Relations Follow-Up
Last month, we talked about public relations. Roger Hankey provided this great advice:

“Get to know the real estate reporters in your local press/media. By providing them information about real estate, home inspection and other topics of interest, you create an opportunity to be quoted as an expert. Local press often needs content to support the real estate ads they carry. Be a source of content. Over time, you can become their home expert, and they will reach out looking for your opinion. This may also lead to a local news piece on inspectors, where you are featured as the expert inspector. This type of PR has long lasting-benefits. People remember who they read about or who they saw on TV.” Thank you Roger!

Alan Carson, Carson Dunlop
www.carsondunlop.com