Archive for March, 2009

HOME INSPECTION TRENDS - early 2009

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

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?

Horizon - Use the laptop version on your desktop computer!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

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.

A Couple of Days in Chicago

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

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.

How we use Horizon at Carson Dunlop - The Scheduler and the Daily Map

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Lots of people ask me, “How does Carson Dunlop use Horizon?” The answer is long because we use it many ways, and because we built it to meet our needs. We improve it regularly based on input from our customers, including our people who use Horizon every day.

 

In the office

Let me start with some of the ways we use Horizon in the office. We use 3 separate Horizon companies to manage our two home inspection businesses and our energy auditing business. Our people who book our appointments have 3 Horizon companies open on their computer all the time.

 

That may of interest to some, but most of you probably have only one company to worry about. Let’s look at things that way.

 

Our default screen is the Today view of the scheduler. That’s where see at a glance what openings we have. If we are fully booked today and tomorrow, the default is the day after tomorrow. Some wonder why we don’t use the Week view as the default screen. The reason is simple - we want to book inspections as soon as we can. An opening left unfilled at the end of today can never be recovered.  It is lost forever. An opening for the day after tomorrow may be filled tomorrow.

 

Besides, clients and agents want quick response, and we work hard to fill our schedule to give great customer service. We also use the Daily Map with the Scheduler to see where people are geographically. We like to minimize travel time and with several inspectors in the field, we try to make their lives efficient while taking good care of customers.

 

Next time we’ll look at booking an inspection.

Licensing Home Inspectors - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Canada’s first licensing requirement for home inspectors has recently emerged in British Columbia. More than half of the states in the USA have some form of licensing for home inspectors. Is this licensing of home inspectors a good thing? In my opinion, Yes and No, but mostly No .

Let’s look at what we’re trying to accomplish with licensing. At the highest level, the argument for licensing is consumer protection. At a less noble level, some would say that licensing is a revenue source for government, a competitive edge for some practitioners or a political tool for empire builders.

Let’s stay at the high level. Consumers deserve protection from illegal and unfair business practices. That includes protection from paying for services delivered by unqualified practitioners. Three questions come to mind -

1. Are consumers being adequately protected now?

2. If not, who should provide the protection?

3. Does government licensing work?

1. Are consumers being adequately protected now?

There is no doubt that there are some consumers who are unhappy with their home inspection results. On the other hand, there is no doubt that there are some consumers are unhappy with virtually every product and service available. Are the numbers large enough to warrant licensing or some other type of regulation? We have not seen evidence of that in our market. In our discussion with provincial regulators, they have not indicated a level of consumer concern that would warrant licensing.

When it comes to unhappy clients, home inspection is particularly troublesome, because in our experience over 30 years, many dissatisfied customers had unrealistic expectations of their home inspector. One might argue that this is a communication failing on the part of the inspector - it is up to the inspector to define his or her scope of work. However, this is probably not a performance failing that suggests the need for regulation.

Who should provide the protection?

On the second question about who should provide the protection, there is a strong argument to say that if the profession can regulate itself, that frees the government from the burden of immersing itself an arena in which it has no expertise. Self-regulation has been a good solution in many professions. Does it fall to the home inspection profession to keep its house in order? That makes a lot of sense to me.

Coming back to consumer protection, if home inspectors are adequately insured for their errors and omissions, perhaps that is all that is required.

In Canada, a strong national certification program has been established, with a credible National Occupational Standards document created through a defendable, collaborative process.

3. Does government licensing work?

In some cases licensing probably works just fine. In other cases, we have seen licensing be little more than a fee that generates revenue for government. We have seen weak licensing that floods the market with unqualified practitioners. We have seen overly restrictive licensing that reduces the supply of home inspectors available for consumers. We have seen significant and sometimes dishonest posturing by groups with different interests as licensing is considered. We have seen the clumsy introduction of licensing, and many governments struggle with the issue of grandfathering. We have seen licensing that provides entitlement and opportunity for various market segments with respect to education and training, insurance and so on. In short, it is difficult to get licensing right.

With the possible exception of Texas, we have never seen licensing that provides what we consider a key element in education and certification. That is the concept of internship or apprenticeship. In our opinion, education delivered by classroom or distance education, including online, is essential and can be very good. However, there is no substitute for experience and practice. Every other profession - doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, accountants etc. have some form of internship. Building trades have apprenticeships. Why would home inspection not have something similar?

Summary

Looking at this, my impression is that there is not a strong immediate need for additional consumer protection in the professional home inspection world, and the argument for licensing is not compelling. Secondly, there are tools and a good foundation in place for meaningful self-regulation. Responsible work within the profession could provide reliable consumer protection at no cost to government or taxpayers. Improvements could be made, and if a strong self-regulatory model were in place, that would reduce the risk for the profession, consumers and government of costly and potentially ineffective licensing.

This is a call to the profession to build such a model. In Canada, the National Certification Authority is a great building block, but there is more work needed. When it comes to licensing, as my colleagues in British Columbia have told me throughout the process, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Converting a panel from fuses to breakers

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

This is an interesting approach! Would you be able to recognize this in the field?

http://www.schneider-electric.ca/www/en/products/stab-lok/html/inserts.htm

 

At Carson Dunlop we are lucky to have a great technical team that keeps us up to date. That allows us to keep our education programs and our reporting systems (Horizon and the Home Reference Book) current for you.

When you don’t want to be above the crowd!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Home inspectors are generally proud of their equipment.  They are often even more proud of their ability to use it effectively.  It not only hurts our self-image, but can destroy our credibility with clients and agents when things go wrong. Many of us have suffered while struggling to re-secure a balky furnace cover or electrical panel. But one of the greatest indignities of all is having your ladder fall down when you are up on the roof.  Yes, it has happened to me.  It was a windy day, and I was alone at the house.  I was using a medium-sized extension ladder, and failed to tie it off to the gutter.

The crash of the falling ladder was the first indication of a problem. There I was, stuck on the roof with no one at home and no client or agent to lend a hand.  I waited for about 15 minutes until I was able to catch the attention of a passerby on the street. They were kind enough to help, and polite enough not to laugh.

What did I learn? Tie off your ladder, especially on a windy day.

Here is a good website on ladder safety. http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/construction/falls/4ladders.html

Making a point - Rambo style!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Everyone likes to feel they are strong. Sometimes it gets us into trouble. Standing on the rear deck about 5 feet above grade, a new inspector and I were explaining to the client the importance of guardrails around a high deck like this. We spoke about how people often lean against railings and there can be a lot of force on them, especially during a party with lots of people and a little alcohol.

My associate grabbed the railing and applied some force – more than the railing could withstand, as a matter of fact. The railing gave way and he would have fallen after it, had the client and I not grabbed him. The point was made, but the damage was done. We were all a little shaken up.

It was very difficult to make the seller understand that the railing was unsafe and not our responsibility to replace. We ended up splitting the cost of replacement.

What was the weak link? In this case there were several, but the most significant was where the railing was (barely) secured to the house wall. We often can’t tell by looking where the problem may be.

What did we learn? Test progressively and carefully. Don’t put yourself in danger. Have you ever done anything like this at an inspection? Let me know.

Footnote: From an insurance standpoint, this is where Commercial General Liability insurance is useful. If you damage something at an inspection, you can be insured.

Feeling a liitle better about the Great White North

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Here is an article from Newsweek that may be of interest to Canadians in these  uncertain times. Many professional home inspectors in Canada and the United States are struggling, and we look forward to a significant recovery where everyone can focus on, and be compensated appropriately for, providing incredible value to home buyers and homeowners throughout North America.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/183670