It’s exciting to work in an emerging field such as home inspection, because new opportunities for making a living keep coming our way. Pushing the boundaries of our profession to the next level allows us to develop these opportunities into revenue sources that are rewarding on a personal level. Over the last 22 years as the owner of Tomacor, Inc. in Chicago, Ill., I have explored imaginative revenue sources that also allow me to serve the common good.
I don’t believe home inspectors are cynics; I believe we are do-gooders. Okay, I know there are a few of you out there rumbling and insisting you are in it just for the money, but I don’t believe it. Granted, we’re all looking for a job that pays well, but given the opportunity, we’d like it to be fulfilling as well.
Here’s my personal list of 10 boundary-pushing opportunities for home inspectors that can increase earnings as we provide needed and appreciated services.
1. Capitol reserve studies
These studies are virtually risk-free, and when done for small condominium associations, the fee can be significantly higher than your usual residential inspection fee. I inspect the common areas, tell the association which systems are failing and when they should budget for replacement. I provide replacement-cost estimates for the association. There is a secret to this revenue source. No one expects my estimates to be perfect. I talk to local contractors and check with R.S. Means or a similar source. Add photos and get paid; it’s just that simple.
2. Contractor tie-breaking
Condominium associations often request bids, then don’t know which one to choose. When a roof needs repair, a home inspector can inspect the roof and then charge a fee for helping the condominium board evaluate the bids and make a decision. The secret here is that we are workmanship assessment experts. Our opinions are worth gold. Just make the professional choice and be conservative.
3. Common areas inspections
With all the new construction and conversions from apartments to condominiums, building management and
condominium associations appreciate an opinion from an independent third party about what needs to be fixed in the common areas within a given timeframe. A variation on this theme is to market your services for inspecting remodeling work done in the common areas.
4. Construction progress inspections
Construction progress inspections can be performed for banks, trust departments or homeowners. Most of Tomacor’s progress inspections are for the buyer during the build-out and occur after the builder requests a payout. I send a letter to the client that says, “Pay out when these things are done.” I never negotiate anything on the client’s behalf. If the builder disagrees with me, I request he put it in writing.
Receiving the blueprints is key, but not critical to this service. I never measure or claim I’ve checked the drawings fully or exactly. The basis of all my judgments is visual. All my clients know that and don’t expect a full or technically exhaustive review of the documents.
I will also point out workmanship deficiencies; some that are not even included as details on the print if the defects are industry or workmanship standards that have been overlooked. Again, I request that any response from an architect be made in writing. My opinion is based on the industry standards, and my basis is visual, so I tell the clients that I may be mistaken on a few of the 30 or so deficiencies I find. The client understands this or I don’t proceed. I believe our service is not technically exhaustive, like an engineer’s is. It is visual only and is a judgment call. We are good at it because we know the visual standards, and we focus on workmanship, not design. I complete the criticism; collect the fee.
5. Blueprint review
I offer blueprint review to my clients because as a former carpenter and general contractor, I have a working knowledge of blueprints. Architects tend to overlook details in their prints that later can become critical to the construction process. I don’t interpret code, just point out inconsistencies. This fee is usually small, but the service leads me into the site inspection, as well as improves working relationships with architects who then send my company more work. We get the reputation of being professional and detail-orientated.
6. Contractor advocacy
Even good contractors get sued. They need our help. If you ever have an opportunity to help a contractor who is in the right by simply quoting standards, you will probably develop a friendship and business relationship for life. You can do this and also collect some cash.
7. Expert witness work
As a home inspector/expert witness, I am paid for my knowledge of workmanship, not design. When projects fail, it is usually due to workmanship. I look it up in the book and go speak the truth.
Last year, I completed my largest expert witness case with the gas utility company in Chicago. We won the case, even though the other side had deep pockets, because we understood the visual standards and the forensic engineers put the judge and jury to sleep. I am excited and passionate about what I know and what I can testify about. If you are, you can turn it into a larger gross income for you and your company.
8. Work for the local Legal Aid clinic
I suggest offering your time at half-price during the slow season to the legal aid clinic or do-good society in your area. You can become a plaintiff or defendant expert while bringing in money when other opportunities aren’t available.
I met several of my city’s most prominent lawyers while I was doing this type of work. We all believe in giving back to the community. Are you ready to start?
As an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau in Chicago, I have been paid to solve construction disputes. The bureau sent me to job sites, but it was the bureau’s job to present the results of the arbitration to the disputants. I was paid for my time, developed my resume and increased my contacts.
Illinois, like many other states, doesn’t regulate arbitrators. It’s possible to complete a professional arbitration in the construction arena with limited training and less funds. You must be committed to fair play and be knowledgeable in construction detailing standards. Should you have this background and be willing to attend training, sometimes offered by the Better Business Bureau, you may be able to hang out your arbitration shingle. In my case, fees are usually hourly. Should you become known as a construction arbitrator, you may be able to demand more money in the marketplace than less experienced inspectors. The work is not regular, but it does help pay the bills.
10. Train your competitors
What’s your business basis? Professional home inspectors often receive referrals from real estate agents, architects, lawyers and others who appreciate high-
quality work. Our system of commerce encourages this model of competition. The better home inspectors build more professional contacts and committed referral sources than those who deliver average or low-quality service. Under this model, those who train or educate other home inspectors will not loose work. You may be creating your competitors, but if you are professional in your approach to your business, it will take them years to catch up to your market position. And, if they do, the industry will have changed so much by then that you will be into other areas of the market they still can’t touch.
All 10 of the services I’ve described have produced income for me and for my nine-employee company. Last winter, when the real estate market was slow, these services helped us stay profitable. After 22 years as a home inspector, I believe our biggest problem as a profession is failing to think big thoughts or dream big dreams. Why limit yourself? There is absolutely nothing better than being paid a hefty fee for helping people in an area where they are being sold a bill of goods. I believe our training, background and experience set us apart from architects, engineers and general contractors. Recognizing those differences has allowed me to push the boundaries of home inspection, providing me with additional sources of income and ways to serve the community.