This is my blog, so it’s my opinion. It’s not the last word on any subject. You are welcome to read, encouraged to consider, and should feel free to disagree.
This article made me smile in so many ways. I don’t know who Brian is, but, “Thank you Brian!”
A model for decision-shy execs
Michael Stern, Financial Post Published: Wednesday, November 26, 2008
One of the toughest challenges in business today is making the right decisions at the right time. Should we launch our new product into export markets? Is it time to contract out production? Should we replace our sales manager? And so on.
A few years ago, decision-making was easier. Everyone had more time to mull things over, there were far fewer people or resources to consult –decision makers had to, um, make decisions.
Today, there is greater urgency and higher stakes. Between the Internet, which provides a wealth of research wisdom, albeit much of it is contradictory and not entirely applicable, and consultants from just about everywhere eager to advise on almost everything there are also a lot more options. Meanwhile, instant communications and data-management tools mean changes can be implemented (and measured) immediately.
How do executives deal with these pressures and make the best decision they can? Ask my home inspector.
When I hired Brian a few months ago to inspect the older home I hoped to buy, I didn’t expect a lesson in decision-making. But his shrewd ability to combine analytical skills with the instincts born of long experience is a model for today’s decision-shy executives.
Brian had a weather-beaten, fifty something face and a quiet authority I took to immediately. The first thing that struck me was all the tools he’d brought. He clearly was up to date with changing measurement and analytical hardware. More importantly, he also knew when to leave them in the toolbox.
For instance, Brian had a digital tool for measuring moisture in the basement, but when it came to testing for dampness, all he had to do was push his finger into the drywall. His years of practice told him, if he felt moisture, he knew there was a problem if he didn’t, it was not really a problem.
That’s what’s missing in the executive suite — insights that come from years of experience. Things are changing so fast that few leaders now have the experience and confidence needed to lead big projects. All the more reason, then, for corporations to honour the knowhow of time-tested leaders, and do everything they can to retain those skills.
The new generation of business leaders, along with a few open-minded old-timers, have embraced BlackBerry’s, text messaging and other new media tools, to contact a host of colleagues. Being able to “ping” people 24-7 for their input is a great resource, but it’s more important to have the judgment and confidence to make a decision by yourself.
When he was probing for trouble in my house, Brian abandoned his Inspector Gadget toolkit and used a pocket knife. He rapped it against a wall and judged its integrity by the sound. He also used it to pry up shingles to get a look at my roof.
“Here is a guy who knows how to get a job done with minimal fuss,” I thought. Best of all, that attitude carried over in to the way he communicated.
As I followed Brian around asking questions, he responded in simple, comprehensible language. He wasn’t trying to dazzle me with his abilities; he wanted to ensure I understood what had to be done now, and what could be put off. A good tradesman benefits from informed customers, just as the best business leaders inform and empower their subordinates so they can think and act for themselves.
Finally, Brian had a firm sense of his limitations. He poked around the house after I asked about possible termite infestations, and he said he was pretty sure I was OK. But he insisted I call a termite specialist before closing the deal.
The business world needs leaders with Brian’s qualities: People who know their stuff, and don’t get carried away by technology; who don’t hoard knowledge or use it to impress or intimidate, and who admit when they’re out of their depth. –
Michael Stern is president and chief executive of Michael Stern Associates Inc. ( www.michaelstern.com),an executive coaching and executive search firm in Toronto, with affiliates in major business centres worldwide.
As inspectors, there are some important points to take from this:
1. Tools may be useful, but experience is irreplaceable.
2. If you don’t feel the need to impress, that’s impressive.
3. If you communicate with clients like you care, they notice and appreciate.
4. Simple comprehensible language is the only language we should speak.
5. Knowing your limitations is impressive itself.
November 16, 2009
Re: JUDGMENT AGAINST BRITISH COLUMBIA HOME INSPECTOR
This paper summarizes the case and identifies things home inspectors can learn.
The entire judgment can be seen at http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/09/15/2009BCSC1515.htm
· House built in 1960s with 1980s addition. House is on a steep lot.
· Sold in 2006 for ~ $1.1 million.
· Agent recommended inspector – Fee was $450.
· Clients say he was negligent in not identifying material defects.
· Inspector denies negligence and also relies on limit of liability in contract.
· Repair costs:
o ~ $54,000 A-frame beams
o ~ $57,000 stabilization
o ~ $26,000 engineering
o ~ $9,000 remove deck
o ~ $24,000 replace deck
o ~ $12,000 shore up east deck
o ~ $9,000 GST
o ~ $22,000 contingency
o Total ~ $213,000
o Less $20,000 estimated in report
o Net claim ~ $193,000 plus interest and costs
o Decision in favor of client/homebuyer ~ $193,000
· Clients apparently did not attend the entire inspection – arrived at end.
· Contract signed after inspection and report was written, before presentation to client.
· Signed by one client but not other (different last name).
· Contract included a clause limiting liability to the fee.
· Apparently client remembered being told by inspector that there were major and significant structural problems.
· Client also remembered being told that there was nothing that should impede them from buying the home.
· Report summary indicated structure problems – rating halfway between below average and average.
· Structure page of report indicated Settlement (Moderate and ongoing?) and Soil erosion as problems,
· Recommendation to check with professional engineering/pest control contractor or ________ for complete information (This was checked off on pre-printed form with no other markings.)
· Testimony by an expert witness (with a home inspection background) indicated the inspector should have examined more structural members after finding some that were damaged.
· The expert witness also indicated that while the inspector recommended an engineer do further evaluation, he did not clearly present the significance of the problems and should have recommended a geotechnical review.
· It was alleged that the inspector verbally indicated the cost of the repairs would be in the order of $15,000.
· The expert witness said if the inspector did indicate $15,000, that amount appeared to be insufficient.
· The contract says the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics were attached, but the judge did not find evidence that they were included.
· The judge says either way, meeting the Standards might still result in a negligent report.
· There was a room with access to rotted beams not identified by the inspector.
o The room apparently was accessible from outside the home by a door, but not from the inside.
o The Inspector could not open the door; he was not sure why, but assumed he would be able to get to the room from inside.
o It seems he did not. This limitation was apparently not addressed in the report.
o The judge felt it was the inspector’s responsibility to inspect the room.
· The inspector found two rotted beams but was inconsistent between the Discovery discussion and Trial discussion about whether he inspected all the beams in that area, or whether he only inspected these two as a representative sample.
· The inspector argued at trial that the rot at some of the beams progressed considerably since the inspection. (Trial was 2 ½ years after inspection.) The expert witness’s photos, however, clearly showed the rot less than 3 months after the inspection.
· The judge was convinced the words “fix-up structural deficiencies” was negligent in that these lulled the client into thinking these were minor issues, and that the recommendation to get an engineer was not clear enough.
· The inspector did not give written costs, but gave a verbal indication. The judge was persuaded the inspector regularly gave costs by the fact that the contract had a clause saying if costs were given, they were only ballpark.
o Cost estimates, if provided, are “ballpark” estimates only and are not intended to be relied upon by any person for accuracy. The CLIENT should obtain written bids from qualified licensed contractors in order to determine the possible cost of repairs.
· The judge believed the inspector was inconsistent between Discovery and Trial about whether he gave costs for the settlement of the building due to the lot slope.
· The client indicated he asked the inspector three times whether there was anything that should keep him from buying the house. The inspector apparently said, “No” and later said, “You can go ahead, there is no problem.” The inspector said he did not remember this conversation, but did not deny it. The judge found that significant.
· The judge did not accept the limitation of liability clause, saying the inspector made recommendations about the advisability of buying the home, although the contract said that was not the intent of the inspection or report. If the inspector goes beyond what is required, he is bound by those statements.
· The clients were rushed in signing the report, although they were intelligent, experienced, university educated people.
· The judge said the inspector should have drawn the clients’ attention to the onerous terms of the limitations of liability clause.
· The report and contract were separate documents, and the judge found nothing incorporating the report into the contract.
· Don’t advise clients whether or not they should buy the home.
· Don’t say things that are different than what you put in your report.
· Don’t offer opinions on things outside the scope of work.
· Get your contract into people’s hands before the inspection and give them a chance to read it and ask questions.
· Include a copy of the contract with the report.
· If you have a limitation of liability clause, understand this is an onerous and unexpected clause. Draw the client’s attention to it.
· If you cannot get access to an area, document the limitation clearly.
· If you find damage during sampling, point out that there may be additional damage and recommend further evaluation as needed.
· Make your client aware that where surface damage is visible there may be also be concealed damage.
· Make your recommendations clear.
· Do not use reassuring language to minimize issues.
· Tell the client about the possible implications of defects.
Some folks love the PDA solution, There is no denying its convenience and with our Horizon report writing software, it is fast and easy to use.
However, it looks to us like compact laptops are taking over the market, and are priced as competitively as PDAs. There seems to be more research and development and considerably more product choice in the netbook (compact laptops) space than PDAs.The full Windows operating system, more power and storage, and convenience of a full keypad appeal to many.
The laptop version of Horizon has an abundance of convenient features including
· Fast syncs
· Flexible zoom and font size setups
· Data entry screens that are very similar to the web screens
· Quick data entry and editing through Quick View/Edit
· A wonderful photo management system
· The ability to create a PDF preview quickly
· A better looking report output than the PDA
· A much nicer work order interface than the PDA
Looking to the future, our efforts are going to focus on development of the laptop version, becauuse that’s where we see the world going.
There are no wrong choices, as long as you have all the information you need to make the right decision for your business.
What happens when you inspect a house on Monday for one client, and then get a call to inspect the same house on Thursday for a different client? Should we tell the second client that we inspected the house before? Should we tell the first client that we are inspecting the house for a different client? Should we say anything to the agent for the second client or the first client?
It’s a difficult situation.
There is probably no perfect answer to this, but we do not say anything. Let me explain why.
If you say something, it may be adversely affecting someone’s negotiating position. If you tell Client 1 that you are about to do an inspection for Client 2, you may be giving Client 1 a heads up that there is competition on the home.
Similarly, Client 2 may have no idea that another inspection has been done and there may be another interested party. Telling Client 2 that you have recently inspected the house may hurt Client 1, because Client 2 now knows something that they do not - there is or may be another interested party.
It is not our place to interfere with the transaction
You have the same problem if you tell Agent 1 that you are going to do an inspection for Agent 2.
We will never know all the circumstances, and may cause some damage.
The other side of the coin is that we have been accused of failing to say something and are greedy in accepting a second fee for the same work.
When we are accused of this, we explain the negotiating sensitivity, mention the fact that we do have to go through the complete inspection and spend the same amount of time with Client 2. It means we cannot be doing another inspection and earning another fee, so we need to charge the same amount. We cannot hand Client 1’s report to Client 2, because the report belongs to Client 1. We have to create a new report. We typically find that different clients have different interests, different plans for the home and different needs, so the two reports are rarely identical.
It’s a difficult situation, but this is where we have landed after 30 years.
I hope this helps.
When people are looking at Horizon, our web-based report writing system, they often wonder whether their work will be secure.
That is a great question. Many of our users ask us about security at the beginning. Our security is very high, not only for our customers’ benefit, but also because we have our own inspection records stored on these servers as well. Our servers are hosted in what is arguably the most secure data center in Canada. Access to the facility is protected by security personnel 24 hours a day. Entry is blocked by biometric scans and access is reliant on a clear background check by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Your data is secured behind multiple hardware firewalls and housed on an enterprise class redundant disk array. Data is backed up hourly.
The reports that are generated are PDFs. You can simply download and save these to your computer. Your clients can also download, print and save the reports to their computer.
The reports are posted to a URL containing a unique and encrypted ID number that is not subject to search engines. The encrypted code cannot be “guessed”. This provides very convenient access for your clients, and a secure environment. There is no need for any username or password to access the report. The URL is sent to the client in a plain text e-mail to minimize the risk of being rejected or caught in the client’s spam filters.
Our commitment is to keep the reports on the site available for at least one year from the date of the inspection.
I hope this helps answer the security question.
Do you send a copy of the report to the client and the agent? When you check to see who has read your report, it is tough to tell whether it was the client or agent who read it, if there is only one IP address. Here’s a little trick to make your life easier.
Send Version 1 of the report to your client.
Click Generate to create Version 2 of the report.
Put the agent’s name in The Salutation box.
Send Version 2 to the agent.
Your log at the bottom of the Report Publishing screen will show you whether Version 1 or Version 2 has been read. The client will read Version 1 and the agent will read Version 2.
The home inspection world has certainly changed over the last two years. After several years of constant growth, everything is different. I’m seeing home inspectors adjust their scope in several different ways.
Most of the inspectors are cutting back in several ways. One of the cost-cutting measures that many have instituted is the elimination of delivering a binder, book or even a folder at the end of the inspection. Many inspectors appreciate the cost effectiveness of delivering reports by e-mail, or posting them on the web. Some inspectors deliver CD-ROMs on site. This is faster and more cost effective than printing. Clients still receive terrific value and great information. The delivery format is less expensive for the inspector and better for the environment - a smaller carbon footprint!
The other thing I am seeing is lots of diversification. People are providing new and different services, both inspection related and non-inspection work. Radon and termite work has always been popular with some home inspectors. Others are beginning to offer these services where appropriate. Many have diversified into mold inspections and specialized inspections of vacant homes. Some will winterize and de-winterize homes. Vacant houses typically have the utilities shut off. High-pressure air is sometimes used to test supply plumbing pipes.
In some areas, home inspectors are performing energy audits and providing related consulting services. Some markets have a lot of homes with synthetic stucco issues (EIFS) and many home inspectors provide investigation and consulting services focusing on this building system.
Tests for natural gas leaks and carbon monoxide spillage are other services offered by some in the home inspection profession.
Some home inspectors are diversifying as litigation consultants, working on construction related disputes. Some people who have previously not provided well, septic and water testing inspection services are branching out into these areas.
New homes have become a focus for some, who provide phase inspections during construction, an inspection at the time of possession or inspections during the warranty period (typically within one year) after the home is completed.
Renovation consulting and problem solving work for homeowners is also on the rise for many in the home inspection profession.
The reality is that home inspectors have a broad and deep knowledge of homes, and are wonderful resource for home and property owners. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this young profession.
What we have done
In our market, there are significant government grants for energy related home improvements. You have to get an energy audit done to qualify for the government grants. We became a licensed service organization and have been delivering the audits since mid-2008. It has been a real help for us.
We’d like to hear from you! Maybe you’ve tried or are thinking of trying something different.
· What have you done differently?
· Do you promote more?
· Have you added services?
…or What didn’t work for you?
I had to smile today when I was speaking with someone. Sometimes you get so close to things you lose sight of reality. With Horizon, you can write reports online or off-line. We refer to the online report writing environment as the web version, and we call the off-line version the laptop version. Most people think of the web version as the office version, and the laptop version as the field version.
One of our users was telling me that he had to use the web version when he was working in his office, because he works on a desktop computer. It was kind of embarrassing to explain that he could put the laptop version on his desktop computer and work off line, even sitting in his office.
Why does it matter? The laptop version is standalone software that has some advantages over the web version when it comes to fast report writing. Easier photo manipulation and the Click Edit tool are a couple of good examples.
So, in case you were wondering, you can write reports in your office online or off-line. I like the off-line or laptop tool or faster for writing, but you can suit yourself.
I’m here in Chicago with a home inspection networking group, or more correctly, a group of friends in the home inspection business. We get together a few times a year to share experiences and ideas. We are from diverse parts of North America by design – we are not competitors.
This time we have folks from Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia Minnesota, Georgia, and Ontario, Canada.
Today we talked a lot about our respective markets, successes and failures, diversification and marketing ideas. Tomorrow we will hear stories from others, look at web possibilities and discuss innovative ways to differentiate our businesses and ourselves.
It’s always stimulating and rewarding, and the opportunity to spend some time together over a few meal s and maybe a drink makes it very special.
It’s good for our businesses and for our well-being.