The Hungry Home Inspector by P Nathan Thornberry :: Why Some Inspectors are Always Hungry for More While Others Just Go Hungry

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The Hungry Home Inspector

Why Some Inspectors Are Always Hungry For More
While Others Just Go Hungry

Chapter 1


Of all the chapters in this book, this is one of them.

I remember two things distinctly from when I was six.  The first was a one-time event.  I was in my room toward the back right corner of our home in Carmel, Indiana.  There was a bunk bed and matching dresser and desk, and on top of the desk there were two items- a RCA black and white television, with its own set of rabbit ear antennae, and a standard brown desk lamp (the kind with the flexible neck like you would buy for your six-year-old).

Having been a ride-along guest on home inspections with my dad, an electrician turned home inspector, I felt very competent in diagnosing the electrical problem I was faced with  one day.  Sitting alone in my room this fateful afternoon, I was playing the Sega Master System for so long that day turned to dusk, dusk turned to night, and I turned the switch on the back of the lamp but the light didn’t come on.  I removed the bulb, and checked it out.  There may have been a slight rattle, but no significant discoloration, so I started to ascertain what could be going on here.  The light bulb may or may not be bad, but I didn’t know.  

So I proceeded to check the light switch that controlled this outlet, it was on.  No problem there, and even if there were a problem with that, my parents would certainly inquire why I needed a screwdriver if I went to get one to fit those two tiny screws above and below the switch.  This would, of course, result in my dad resolving the issue, not me, and that was a scenario I was not willing to accept. 

So I put the bulb back in the fixture, thinking maybe I did not turn the switch for those “two clicks” that it needs to make before it turns on.  I knew I had turned it for at least one click, so if I turn it for one more click and then a second click, the light would turn on if the bulb were good at some point.  So I turned it one click…nothing.  One more click…nothing again.

So now there’s only one other possibility, one other variable, before I could be pretty darn certain that this bulb is, in fact, bad.  So I removed the bulb, and inserted my right index finger directly into the socket.

This was the first of many times in the decades to follow that I would feel alternating current flow through a finger or hand, something that hardly bothers me today at the right voltage and amp levels, but something about that first time is just really exciting, you know?

When I got back up off the floor, I quickly checked to make sure my arm was the same color and that it had feeling, and then I picked up the light bulb, walked to the other end of the house where part of the garage had been converted into an office, and told my mom with absolute confidence, “This light bulb has gone bad.”

It would take something as significant as electrical shock to make the list of things I remember from such a young age as well as that office.  The office consisted of a metal desk with a laminate wood top, a typewriter, and files piled up all around the room.  The ASHI Code of Ethics was framed neatly and hung on the wall, and then there was that phone. The phone was a constant presence.

The other thing I remember from when I was six years old the office and the phone, and the phone rule. It gets answered within three rings, period. Why? If we didn’t answer the phone, a competitor would.

What I couldn’t fully understand and really didn’t until much later on is that my parents were NOT home inspectors. That’s what they called themselves, sure.  That’s what they did, of course.

They were not simply home inspectors. They were business owners.

They were building systems that they could replicate, over and over again.

The rules weren’t for them to follow. They were for everyone else to follow. From the way they answered the phone and took an order, to the inspection format and even the standardized comments: “EOPM W/N @ SE CRNR CS,” this was the short code that my dad would write on his field form that would then come back to the home office and my mother would type it out: “Evidence of prior moisture was noted at southeast corner of crawl space.” It was the start of a system of short codes and standardized notes that remained in use until the day they began using software that allowed them and all of their inspectors to quickly, efficiently, and accurately begin delivering the inspection reports on site. “On-site” is the modern equivalent of the “typed and bound” report of the 80’s, when most inspectors were still handwriting their reports.

As a teenager I began taking orders, typing reports, and even looking up codes in the NEC and other code books.  I later became the marketing manager, even handled complaints and performed miscellaneous inspection duties, never a full inspection by any means. After typing around 15,000 inspection reports, booking about as many orders, and handling hundreds of “complaints” (the quotation marks are there on purpose- I’ll explain later), I’ve definitely had more customer service and report- writing experience than 99% of inspectors out there and probably dealt with more unusual structural and mechanical situations than most as well. I don’t say this to build myself up, but rather to gain credibility. You’d be surprised at how many inspectors truly believe that anyone who isn’t walking on a roof or getting in an attic every day has nothing valuable to offer, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

My parents have also fired me not once, not twice, but a total of three times. Well, my mom specifically. Overall, a quite unique set of experiences for someone in the home inspection industry.

By the year 2000, I was running a home warranty company and a construction and development company, simultaneously shortly thereafter.

In 2001, after being fired by my mother three times, I was hired again...sort of. Having run Residential Warranty Services, Inc. successfully, she suggested a product to me for companies like hers to utilize: a 90-Day Warranty.

It was an interesting concept, so we wrote it up and Security Home Inspections (my parent’s inspection company) began using  it almost immediately. I had no idea at the time that this would be something that would change the home inspection industry forever- but I really knew nothing about the “industry.” What I knew came from being in a home inspection business. I grew up around it. I was there when home inspections were incredibly basic and almost everyone doing it was also a contractor of some sort with few exceptions, like my parents. I had been there when they got their first office-a two story, hundred-year-old house built next to the train tracks (now a walking path called “The Monon”-considered beachfront property in Carmel, Indiana!). I was there when they were the first home inspection company, probably throughout the Midwest, to occupy a commercial office space. I was there when they built a 10,000 square foot office building and expanded their reach to every major metro area throughout the state of Indiana. I was there for the company outings, I was there when they bought a fleet of Ford Rangers, I was there when they hired a uniform service, and when they added health benefits and section 125 health savings accounts, and I was there when my mother worked closely with our state legislators to get inspector licensing passed.

While dinner conversation was frequently clouded by talk of when GFCI outlets became a requirement for installation in the basement of new homes and the proper size of an egress window, more often we talked about business matters like hiring a sales rep and how they should be paid or what the next marketing piece would look like.

So when we started offering a 90-Day Warranty with every inspection from Security Home Inspections, it just made sense. I had answered the phones for years and sold people on using the company, I knew what Security Home Inspections was about, and I also knew that they weren’t the cheapest or most available by far. They were in high demand, and getting that client to book eight days in advance and ask for an extension on their inspection response instead of calling the next guy in the phone book required much more than saying that you are a “good inspector.” Longevity stands for many things- we’ve been in business for 25 + years, we have over a dozen full-time inspectors, full-time mold and radon staff, the first in the area to offer color digital photographs, an office you can call any time and get a live person...all sorts of things like that. People like to hear those sorts of things, but none of them are compelling reasons to consider none other than Security Home Inspections. All  people have to do is pick up the phone, call any inspector in town, and they’ll hear them something like... we’re “certified”  inspectors, we do a “thorough” inspection, we offer a color digital photo page with every report, etc. With the 90-Day Warranty, there was suddenly a dilemma the other inspectors couldn’t handle, because their level of service and product offerings had never really been called into question. The client would call, ask if they offered a warranty, and the responses would do nothing but convince the client even more that they should go with Security Home Inspections. A few of my favorite responses;

“No we don’t.”

“That’s not a part of our [minimum] inspection standards per [fill in name of organization here].”

“I can’t tell you anything about what will happen to the house in the future, I’m just there to inspect.”

“But we’re cheaper.”

It was one of Security Home Inspections’ best growth years ever- not only by volume, but also by inspection revenue as well. Prices were increased that year, and the total number of inspection appointments went over 7,000. Their market share was around 22%. In a marketplace with about 80 other licensed do the math.

It wasn’t long before other inspectors were inquiring about the warranties, and that was when I got my first taste of the real world, so to speak. An inspector would call, ask me some questions, figure out I knew what I was talking about, and since at the time I was dealing mostly with local people, I would offer to meet at their office, except they didn’t have one. (I didn’t think of havingthem come to meet me at my office until I wrote this book!)

This was mind blowing to me. How can you have a business and not have a business address? The more I learned, the more I was convinced that my parents’ business was quite exceptional. Most inspectors don’t have an office staff, don’t have multiple inspectors, don’t have marketing reps. They wish they could afford health insurance but it’s nearly impossible without a group plan.

As it turns out, Security Home Inspections was uniquely situated at the front of the heard and had become about the 5th largest single location inspection company in the country, and by far the largest in the Midwest. It wouldn’t be until much later that I’d become acquainted with the other top inspection companies and you’ll be surprised as you read on about how simple it is to be successful in this business, and how much other inspectors will help you along the way (unintentionally, of course!).

Now, before we go much further, I want to make sure to make some things perfectly clear;

1. There’s nothing wrong with small! In fact, there are a lot of great things about it, and there’s a whole chapter to cover this, so don’t be turned off if you don’t want to be that 5+ inspector firm because that is NOT what this book is about.

2. This is not a sales pitch. For those who know me, they know I work with a lot of home inspectors. I work with mostly successful home inspectors, as the unsuccessful ones or the ones with the unsuccessful mindset won’t ever consider even looking at many of our products like RecallChek, 90-Day Warranties, or The Alarm Leads Program.  Trying to sell you stuff in a book would not only be lame, but it would be ineffective. I’d rather make you more successful and give you that successful mindset. Then if and when you ultimately make the decision to work with us on some level, it will be because you decided to and because it was a good business decision, not because you were “sold” something.

3. There are many ways to accomplish the same thing. Spin was invented for a reason, and when I say “spin,” I mean the kind of spin that cable news channels put on political issues. Spin should absolutely be used in the way you sell yourself.  You should always be confident and know you have the best product. Here’s a great example:  some inspectors deliver reports on-site, others the next day. You can give clients the sense that convenience is key, and that you’re good enough and have the systems necessary to deliver the report on site where others fall short. Or you could promote the virtues of reviewing the report thoroughly to make sure the client is taken care of by releasing the report the next day. Either way works pretty well when  executed properly.

4. Nothing in this book negates the need for knowledgeable and ethical home inspectors. In all my travels, meeting and speaking to literally thousands of inspectors, it never ceases to amaze me how many believe that good marketing equals haphazard inspections. A few stubborn, unfortunate, self-sabotaging individuals will likely read into this book something nefarious that they conjured up themselves. I am of the opinion that 99% of inspectors out there are really good people and well-intentioned, and most of them do a great inspection. Show me an inspector pointing to another and saying, “That guy doesn’t focus on quality like I do!” and I’ll show you an inspector who is either A.) Lying to himself, B.) Getting his butt kicked and not making the money he wants (or needs) to make, or C.) Both.

So let’s just clear the air right now. I don’t know a single home inspector in North America who wakes up in the morning, puts on his uniform, steps out onto his porch and thinks to himself, “You know, today I aim to provide poor service, perform my duties unethically, and miss as many defects as possible.” Sounds silly doesn’t it? It’s the myth of the “bad” inspector and he’s just as real as Bigfoot, the Lockness Monster, and the Boogie Man.

Many inspectors pride themselves on doing a thorough job, not realizing somehow that just about everybody in this business has the same level of pride in their own inspections. There are levels of anality, but at the end of the day inspection reports differ mostly in our own minds. (Yes, “anality” is a word.)

They (the inspectors that focus only on quality) put out fliers and business cards that say, “I’m a good home inspector,” and then proceed to list all the home systems they inspect, which was a novel concept in the late 70’s and even through the 80’s, when agents and buyers alike really didn’t know what a home inspection was.

Then there are the other type of home inspector, the ones that ignore their competition, create a message that can be understood and appreciated by home buyers and agents alike, and they give clients tangible reasons to choose them. You can’t turn around without seeing their message. They have logo-ridden trucks and business cards with content on both sides. You can find them weekly at sales meetings talking to agents, delivering fliers and other marketing material. When you call them, they answer the phone consistently and when you ask them why someone should get a home inspection with them, they give you an answer, an actual answer. What you won’t hear them say is “because we do a thorough inspection.” (The actual  answer is the central focus of this book.)

It’s the difference between being hungry for more and just being hungry, and that is what this book is about.  Open your mind, sit back, and enjoy the journey, because we’re going to question everything. By the end, you’ll be eating steak every night and hopefully you’ll still be hungry for more!



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