Home Inspector: Looking "Professional"

You notice that the basics you need to inspect a home can add up fairly quickly. But beyond that, there are expenses necessary to run almost any business, and even other expenses beyond those that are best placed under the category of “professionalism.”

For instance, you are going to need a modern computer with access to the Internet. Two of the tools of your business are going to be your Web site (where you will post those glowing references from previous clients) and your ability to send and receive e-mail (and do try to respond to your e-mail promptly). Add on top of that a good quality printer for producing reports for your clients. Don’t forget the cost of the software that will include templates that will help produce those reports.

Many modern home inspection services also are using computer tablets these days—small, handheld computers with “check list” software installed so that you can “check off” issues on the computer form as you move through a house. Those tablets may connect to a portable printer ($250), so that the entire report can be prepared, printed, and delivered to the client before you leave the premises.

Once you are in business, you are going to want to tell people you are in business. Advertising in the local newspaper can be expensive, depending on the size of the newspaper. You may want to advertise in the Yellow Pages, the cost of which can mount up quickly, or just give flyers to local real estate companies or even consumers. Remember, you’re not really in business unless other people know you’re in business.

Also, don’t forget that you are going to need a cell phone. Good quality cell phones have become an indispensable tool for making appointments, breaking appointments, and working out issues (before they become issues) with clients and real estate agents. (Question: Do you turn off your cell phone during an inspection, or leave it on? There has been some debate concerning this issue.)

If you have a cell phone, you may be able to get along without a pager. (People will call you rather than page you.) Some inspectors say they like to have both.

You will likely need a business phone in your office. If you have a home office, as many home inspectors do, you probably will want a separate line dedicated to just business calls. Extra lines cost extra money. If you use your home phone line as your business line, you run the risk of your teenager tying up your phone while your clients are trying to contact you. (Some inspectors try to get away with using their cell phone as their “business line.” You might be able to do that, but only if service is very reliable.)

With any luck, you are not usually going to be in your office answering the phone. You’ll be out doing jobs. That means either an answering machine or a person to take your messages. (Rule of thumb here is that machines are cheaper labor than humans, but people would rather talk to humans than machines. What does your budget allow?)

Fax machines can be built into computers or can be bought as a standalone piece of hardware. You may need a fax machine so you are able to send reports to clients.

Don’t forget there are three-in-one devices that fax, photo copy, and print. These three-in-one devices can save you some money.

There also are expenses that you will need to undertake that are as much a part of the business as an electric screwdriver.

If you are serious about your profession, you will want to join at least one of the home-inspector organizations (discussed later). Figure as much as a couple of hundred dollars for some of those memberships.

There is a constant need for education and training and a constant need to keep yourself abreast of what’s happening in the industry, so add a couple of thousand dollars per year in travel to professional meetings and conferences.

Back home, if you want to be seen as a professional, you’ll want to dress like a professional. That may mean wearing khakis instead of blue jeans on the job. It also may mean shirts monogrammed with your name and company logo. And, of course, not just one shirt and pants combination. Odds are you will be get ting dirty at every home you inspect (there is no such thing as a clean crawlspace), and the job can be plenty hot and sweaty. You are likely going to want to put on clean clothes before going to each new job. And if you don’t want to wash your clothes every night of your life, you are going to have to lay out some serious money for multiples of shirts and pants. Consider it your business wardrobe.

So how much can you expect to spend just to stay in business? Well, there certainly are ways to economize, and the longer you’ve been in business, the more efficient you become and the more you are able to amortize the cost of your tools over the number of jobs you have.

Nevertheless, some inspectors believe their overhead comes to $2,500 per month—money spent before a single dollar comes in.

Bottom line (literally): Start stockpiling cash.

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Monday, 2008-12-29 16:57 PST