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



Ready to own a Home Inspection Company or a Franchise

SALLY CHAPRALIS

Ready to Own a Home Inspection Company or a Franchise?

You’re a home inspector considering your professional options. One could be to establish your own company and manage the business and employees. Another approach could be buying a franchise so you can focus on inspections while the franchise markets your business and provides valuable resources.

Meet Tim Buell, Bill Compton and Don Norman whose experience includes owning a franchise or a multi-employee inspection company. They discuss their decision-making process and careers in home inspections.

►Bill Compton, President and CEO, Champia Real Estate Inspections, LLC.

“Before purchasing Champia from its founder, I had owned a luxury home construction and renovation company. So I knew that if I worked in the home inspection field, I wanted to run the company,” explains Bill Compton, President and CEO, Champia Real Estate Inspections, LLC., based in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, and serving a 60 mile radius around metro Atlanta.

Bill purchased Champia in 2010 from its founder, Tore Knos, now retired ASHI Certified Inspector, who had owned Champia since 1987. Their agreement included a 10-month transition during which Tore would help Bill learn more about home inspections, the business and the geography.

“I joined ASHI, took a two-week course from The ASHI School in Connecticut and went through the inspection process, including 250 inspections, to become a Certified Inspector. Even though the State of Georgia does not require certification for home inspectors, “if real estate agents and others ask, we are certified by ASHI.” (Bill was a Certified General Contractor when he was working in construction.)

Growing In-House Resources

“Our goal was to build the business,” Bill says. Thus, when he took over Champia, Bill added five more inspectors and increased in-house staff. Today, he manages 10 home inspectors and eight staff members to handle once outsourced activities. “For example, our staff includes a full-time marketing pro who handles our website and social media. Another staff member focuses on outside sales.”

Last year, “we also pulled scheduling in-house. When we used a service, the close rate was 55 percent on average. Now, it’s 85 to 90 percent. In fact, we have created a separate company, Inspector Call Center, and plan to offer the same opportunity to other inspection companies.”

Champia has also introduced Agent Continuing Education Classes and is an approved school through the George Real Estate Commission for real estate agents throughout the Atlanta area. Many of the 23 courses offer three credit hours: http://champia.com/continuing-education-classes/

Community Involvement

“If you’re going to run a business, you have to be involved in your community,” Bill says. Bill is an active member of Rotary International, where he has served as both President and Assistant Governor, and where he met Tore Knos. Bill also belongs to Vistage, “which is meant for CEO’s so they can discuss business issues and learn from each other’s experiences.”

Appreciative Employees, Rewarding Customer Service

“Last year, 2013, our employees nominated Champia as one of the “Best 100 Places to Work” for the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s annual feature. At least 10 employees must write an essay about why we should receive this award.” Champia ranked #22 in the top 100 small business category, and “it was a very rewarding experience.”

“We belong to Angie’s List and won the Super Service Award. Only 5 percent of companies achieve that. It reinforces my belief that our employees enjoy their jobs. For us, customer service is how we live, and it is not simply a buzz word.” Champia’s weekly email to employees focuses on one of its 30 Fundamental Values, “which defines who we are as a company and what our purpose is here.”

Bill is enthusiastic about the home inspection profession. ”It’s important, and it’s a fun occupation,” Bill says. “Whichever approach you choose – whether going independent, operating a franchise or establishing your own firm – this is a growing field. We have to know where our talents lie.”

►Tim Buell, Pillar To Post Franchise, Central Ohio

“My wife, Mariana, and I have always liked to remodel homes, so when I was exploring a second career, home inspection was a natural choice,” explains Tim Buell, co-operator of a Pillar To Post franchise in Hillard, Ohio.

After researching home inspection franchise firms, they chose Pillar To Post, which serves more than 400 franchises in North America. Tim and Mariana opened their Pillar To Post almost 11 years ago, after Tim moved on from his first career as an accountant.

“Pillar To Post trained us in home inspection at its corporate headquarters, and continues to offer continuing education. Its many services allow us to focus on inspections, which is now more than 4,000 since we started,” Tim says. “This growth might not have been possible without the ongoing marketing and support services that Pillar to Post offers.”

Franchise Resources

Home inspectors who want to focus on inspections and wish they had more time for marketing and community outreach will appreciate their franchise’s resources.

  • Business plans
  • Marketing plans
  • One stop shopping for consumers and realtors
  • Technical training and computer software
  • National presence increases awareness.
  • Brand recognition
  • “Leg Up” in business reputation.

· Call Center. “During our first five years in business, Mariana answered the phone herself. Now we use the Call Center…much better.”

· Increase your income without raising your prices or doing more inspections

  • Be in business for yourself but not by yourself.

· Proven marketing designed to quickly grow your business based on 20 years of experience

· Take advantage of established realtor alliances to get into offices and in front of busy, professional realtors.

  • Low upfront investment.

In fact, Tim notes, “Pillar To Post was just ranked as the #1 home inspection franchise and #118 franchise overall in Entrepreneur magazine’s 2014 Franchise 500®.” http://www.pillartopost.com/pdf/2/2014EntrepreneurFranchise500.pdf

Professional Activities

Tim Buell, an ASHI Certified Inspector, is very involved in ASHI: Board of Directors; ASHI Education Inc.; past president of Ohio Chapter and current treasurer; and past instructor of The ASHI School. “In fact, Pillar To Post has the largest number of ASHI members of any franchise.” Mariana and Tim are also members of several Ohio real estate associations.

Tim received ASHI’s Ironman Award in 2013 from outgoing President Marvin Goldstein. The award recognizes an individual member who has given his or her time, energy, talent and determination to ASHI over a long period of time. Tim, for example, helped grow the Ohio ASHI chapter from 62 ASHI members to 96 between 2009 and 2012. He was also involved in joint educational efforts with NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors). Tim’s accounting experience helps ASHI’s Finance Committee and Board of Directors.

Tim was also awarded the 2014 President’s Award from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Established in 1989, the award is presented by the outgoing ASHI president in recognition of outstanding service to the Society. This year’s recipient was selected by Bill Jacques, 2013 ASHI President.

Whether this is your first or second career, Tim suggests that you “explore your options in home inspection and what you want out of it. “Mariana and I are happy, that when we became a Pillar To Post franchise, we have many resources and didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

►Don Norman, Buyers Protection Group, St. Louis, Missouri

“I bought my first house when I was 23 years old and didn’t have a home inspection because I didn’t know about them and the real estate agent didn’t mention it. After I moved in I had a stream of water that ran from the walk out door to the floor drain and our A/C ran for four days before dying. But at that time my attitude was, ‘If it’s broken, I’ll just fix it’,” says Don Norman, who now works for Buyers Protection Group based out of Alpharetta, Georgia.

Started with Franchise

Don approached home inspection as a career in 1985 when he acquired a HouseMaster Home Inspection s franchise. HouseMaster, a franchise that was established in 1979, now works with 370 local franchises. “HouseMaster provided great training and marketing materials and developed my expertise in the home inspection profession as an inspector and business owner and the advantages of a franchise are significant.” He has inspected over 10,000 buildings, both commercial and residential, co-authored several books, and is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer.

Don owned his HouseMaster franchise from 1985 to 2005, and during that time he decided to explore other opportunities and interests in the profession. These included course development and teaching appraisers and home inspectors, public speaking and writing. In 2003 Don was offered an opportunity to join Inspection Training Associates/Kaplan Professional Schools as lead instructor in the Chicago school. Within two years he was named National Managing Instructor and, as the company expanded, eventually managed over 20 schools and 100 instructors. As Managing Instructor Don created curriculum, hired and trained instructors around the country and had the opportunity to work with some of the finest minds in the profession.

In 2009 Don joined Buyers Protection Group, which provides home inspections and home warranties.

Teaching, Writing, ASHI

Don began teaching early in his career at the St. Louis office of Housing and Urban Development, the National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers and the St. Louis Association of Realtors as a means of marketing his business and was fortunate to meet Kevin O’Malley, owner of Inspection Training Associates in 1994 and began teaching at national conferences. In 2003 Kaplan Professional Schools asked him to teach home inspection. Don wrote curriculum, taught and managed training schools around the country until 2009.

He has co-authored several books, including Residential Roofing Inspection for the Professional Inspector, Appliance Inspection for the Professional Inspector and the ASHI Training Curriculum. Don’s credentials also include being a Missouri State Emergency Management Agency Special Inspector and an independent catastrophic claims adjuster.

Don is a member of the St. Louis Association of Realtors, which he joined in 1985 before joining ASHI in 1991. In fact, he was the first recipient of the St. Louis Association of Realtor’s “Affiliate of the Year” award in 2000. Don is a former president of ASHI’s St. Louis chapter and has chaired several committees, served on ASHI’s national Board of Directors and was national president of AHSI in 2005.

Return to Roots (OR: Working for Independent Company)

In 2009, Don’s friend and mentor of 20 years, past ASHI president Gerry Loesch, suggested that Don consider Buyers Protection Group, an independent home inspection company, as the next stage in his career. Don agreed. “I still like climbing roofs, inspecting homes and helping people make wise choices when buying their home.”

Don values the well-known advantages of owning a franchise: professional marketing materials, technical support, inspection report software and documents, national name recognition, public relations help and other franchise services. “Today, many more training opportunities exist, online resources are available, and you’ll find support from associations such as ASHI and its local chapters but one thing has not changed - marketing is still a time-consuming but critical key to your success.”

“However,” Don notes, “franchising does have challenges. You need financial resources to purchase a franchise, and most franchisors base their fees on gross sales, not profits. That means you pay a franchise fee even if you aren’t earning income. Most will also require you to sign a non-compete agreement.”

When considering your professional approach to home inspection, Don’s mission statement reminds us of the bottom line: “I inspect every home as if it is the most important home I will ever inspect, because, to that buyer, it is.”