I’ve been performing inspections since 1988 and, over the years, I realized that certain patterns show themselves if you pay attention. It was always my contention that putting someone else down never really had staying power for increasing your market share or branding your business.
In Delaware, a few of us branded “ASHI” early on, so real estate agents learned to ask, “Are you a member of ASHI?” before they scheduled an inspection. Before long, we never really had to sell the ASHI brand. Very few inspectors were involved with any other group, simply because the business was not there. Separating yourself from the pack and branding your particular business was the hard part.
When I founded the First State Chapter of ASHI 18 years ago, it was because some newer members were at cross-purposes with experienced members when writing about defects. Being the second inspector in Delaware made me the de facto person for agents to complain to, so I had a good feel for the agents’ concerns.
After a year of holding meetings and setting up training sessions with expert speakers, we began to focus as a group on the real issues and how to call them. It was also very helpful that we could share stories and advice about how to avoid liability issues. My intention was to brand our chapter’s members as the “go-to inspectors” for agents to contact.
Around this time, I came up with the idea of the “pad,” which basically is a mid-sized, tear-off pad of paper that lists all of the names, companies and phone numbers of our chapter members. We gave the pads to real estate agents, and they could circle three inspectors they liked and give the sheet to the buyer. This gave the buyer the option to use someone the agent did or did not recommend, but the pad limited their options to only First State chapter members. The agents loved this and (in lesser form) the pad is still in use today. In this way, we successfully branded ASHI, we branded our chapter and we provided the agents with a useful tool.
Over the years, we’ve tried many different ways to attract the attention of the real estate community, but none of them have ever proven as effective as holding a special event planned specifically for real estate agents. The idea began as a wine-tasting reception and catered dinner, during which industry speakers could help agents understand why inspectors report defects the way they do and explain the limitations of what inspectors can do.
When planning this event, I enlisted the help of some members of the largest local real estate law firm, and they provided most of the continuing education. I looked for local speakers to offset some of the costs. We wanted the top producers, so we invited 300 agents who worked in the county. Close to 80 agents attended our first event! The dinner has grown over the last 10 years, and it has become the “go-to event” for agents to earn continuing education.
Here are some keys to planning a successful event:
- Select a comfortable venue.
- Select a date during the winter, which is a slow time for agents and gives them an opportunity to earn the continuing education (CE) they need.
- Identify your chapter’s point of contact in the real estate community.
- Contact at least one local person who provides education to real estate agents, and develop a course that provides three hours of education and includes issues related to home inspection.
- Contact your local board of real estate agents and provide them with all the details. In turn, ask them to provide you with the names of the top producers.
- Get approval from your state to offer CE credit for your course
- Arrange for food and beverage.
- To defray costs, arrange for one or two guest speakers who are willing to be a sponsor of the event. This opportunity is worthwhile for them as well.
- Call and invite the top agents and aim for a capacity number. Initially, do not charge a fee. After you’ve had a couple of years of successful events, then you can begin to charge a fee.
- Our local board of real estate agents covers the cost of the venue, our chapter covers the costs of the dinner and our sponsors cover all other costs.
- We invite the agents who work with us the most. It’s nice to have friendly, recognizable faces in the crowd.
- Make it fancy: Opt for white cloth napkins, tablecloths and wine glasses. Flowers and candles are a nice touch. We have hired a small jazz band to play during dinner.
- Follow up with a little survey at the end of the course to inquire what venues the agents suggest for future events.
- Do not use the event for solicitation. Go for a softer sell—we brand ourselves as the “Go-To Inspectors,” the leaders! And we give each of the agents who attend the “pad” so they will have a list of all of the involved inspectors.
- onHave fun with this event!