Remembering Whom The Real Client Is
A few weeks ago, a fellow who makes his living helping home inspectors find ways to market their business posted a question to an inspectors' internet forum. He wanted to know what everyone felt were the five most important pints (the unique selling proposition) to make to a real estate professional, in order to get that real estate professional to refer clients to one home inspector over another.
To seasoned home inspectors, this question must be as vexing as sand in one's underdrawers. Nearly every home inspector has been mentored by old timers in this business who taught them that the only practical way for any home inspector to market this business effectively is to market primarily to real estate professionals. In fact, the old timers all point to National Association of Realtors(c) (NAR) studies that indicate that most of the home buying public in this country (more than 70%) reaches inspectors through an agent's referral. Therefore, inspectors need only to market to real estate professionals to be successful.
Maybe this is true, but should it be the norm? Hardly a day goes by without some home inspector posting an appeal on one of the internet inspectors' forums, asking for other inspectors to assist him/her devise methods through which the inspection business can be marketed directly to the end user, the buyer, without relying on referrals from those in the real estate business. Most of these discussions eventually denigrate into either diatribes against manipulative real estate agents or become polarized debates between inspectors who actively solicit business from those in the real estate business and those who do not.
Personally, I have no problem accepting referrals from real estate 'professionals'. It's the other real estate folks I've got problems with - the unprofessional ones. Many of whom seem to view home inspectors as toadies beholden to those in the real estate business. If home inspectors must speak to the real estate industry about referrals, here is what I think should be said:
1. When I arrive on site, I'm in charge. The buyer is no longer 'your' client. Until the inspection is over, the buyer is 'my' client. Don't presume to think otherwise. I appreciate the fact that you refer buyers to me, but don't expect my appreciation to mean I have a ring in my nose and will allow you to manipulate me. I don't think of you as the 'referral customer' - I think of you as a professional real estate agent who sought my services for a client and one who should understand that, as a professional, I am to be left alone to do my thing with 'my' client. If you can't respect that, refer somebody else.
2. I don't 'handle' clients. You can expect me to report every deficiency I find and to explain it plainly to 'my' client. The report will be the same way. If the client begins to panic and shows signs of walking away from the transaction, as a result of an issue being explained, don't expect me to 'sell' the issue by minimizing its importance and 'putting it in perspective'. If you can't accept that, refer somebody else.
3. Don't ever try and put words in my mouth during one of my inspections or convince me to minimize an issue by making statements like, "Well, I've been doing this for 20 years and so-and-so inspector, who I've worked with for most of that time, says this is nothing to be concerned about." I resent being compared to unprofessional inspectors who sugar-coat deficiencies - no matter how minor. If you habitually do that to inspectors, refer somebody else.
4. Don't ever stand behind the client and use body language to send me signals of approval or disapproval when I am doing an inspection. The inspection is done when I say it is done. There is no set time, so expect it to take whatever time is necessary to satisfy the client and that he/she knows all there is to know about the home. Do not start looking at your watch behind 'my' client's back, look impatient or make slicing motions across your throat with your hand, to indicate your don't want me to say anything else about an issue when you think I have told them too much and want me to move on. Especially don't try to suddenly distract the client from the issue by stepping up and saying, "Oh, excuse me for interrupting. _____(to client), I just remembered, we have to sign some papers before we're done here today, Do you think we could do that right now? I'm sure the inspector won't mind if you catch up with him later." If you can't restrain yourself from doing that, refer someone else.
5. I'm a professional. I'm good at what I do. I'm honest and I won't play any of the wink-and-nod games so many have grown accustomed to since home inspections first came on the scene. The buyer will get the best damn inspection I am capable of providing, regardless of whether it will blow the sale or not. When I'm done, 'our' client will be very satisfied with the inspection received and know they got their money's worth. It's very possible that you may end up losing the sale. If so, be glad I was there to uncover those issues for your client, because they might have come back to haunt you later if they'd gone undiscovered. Understand that there are others like me in this industry and we're working hard to affect a sea of change in the way home inspectors do business. Maybe you don't like that fact. Too bad. Get over it. Expect it to be the wave of the home inspection future and learn to accept it. Otherwise, refer someone else.