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Six Tips to Reduce Your Liability as a Home Inspector
By Kate Ivey, HomeGauge
You can have the best marketing and be the most efficient home inspector around, but if you aren’t taking steps to limit your liability, you could wind up in BIG trouble. Here are six tips to help you stay out of trouble as a home inspector.
1. Don’t let liability concerns intimidate you
In the entire history of baseball there has never been a batter so good that he didn’t swing and miss once in a while. What makes the great players great is their ability to minimize the mistakes they make and keep the fear of failure from getting in their heads.
As an inspector, it’s important not to let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game to the best of your ability. Are you going to make mistakes? Sure, we all do. But there are ways we can manage those mistakes and steps you can take to avoid them in the first place.
Basically, there are two issues here. One is minimizing actual mishaps, misunderstandings, and miscommunications. The other is keeping yourself from obsessing over the possibility of a business-related issue with a customer. You can’t be biting your nails the entire time you’re working—you have a house to inspect! It’s about focusing on what you’re good at—inspections— not on what might go wrong. In other words, it’s about keeping your eye on the ball.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. As an inspector, reducing your potential liability while still doing your job can be a tricky balance. You need to be sure that you’re capturing and presenting the property’s true condition, but you also need to protect yourself.
Here are some ways to limit your liability before, during, and after the inspection.
2. Set expectations
If you were to ask a random person walking down the street what they thought a home inspector did, you probably wouldn’t get much more than “Uhh… inspect homes?” That’s because people outside of our world don’t understand what home inspectors actually do during an inspection. It’s up to you to educate and inform them—both for their sake and your own.
Whether your clients understand what you do or just have some uneducated guesses, they likely have certain expectations about their upcoming inspection. It’s important to inform clients about their inspection ahead of time so they can be prepared. So step one in avoiding trouble down the road is making sure you’re both on the same page.
3. Communication is key
After you schedule an inspection, you should follow up to confirm the date, time, and location. You should also inform your clients about how to prepare for the inspection. For example, be sure to let them know if the home needs to be dewinterized and that the attic and crawl spaces should be accessible.
Who you are talking to matters. If you’re doing an inspection for a seller, send them a pre-inspection checklist so they’re not blindsided when they see a report riddled with easy repairs like blown out light bulbs or dirty filters. Letting them know what to expect ahead of time helps eliminate misunderstandings.
When preparing a buyer for an inspection, the same principle applies. Be completely transparent about what your inspection does and does not cover. The buyer should also know what you’ll cover in the inspection report and when and how they’ll receive it.
It’s smart and easy to put all of this information on your website and then send clients there for the details. You can add a link to a dedicated page on what to expect and how to prepare in your appointment confirmation emails. When you want to update this information, you can make the changes directly to the page at any time without having to replace the link.
With the right tools at your disposal, you’ll be providing a great customer experience with minimal work on your end. Plus you’ll be driving traffic to your website, which is always a bonus.
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4. Make sure they sign on the dotted line
We can all agree that having a signed contract before the inspection happens reduces your liability. Back when you had to get that signature in person or have clients sign and fax documents, getting agreements was often a challenge. Probably more than a few inspections happened without a signed contract and a few unethical clients tried to use that loophole to get out of paying.
Nowadays you can upload your contract once and have your clients sign their agreements electronically. There are a ton of different programs you can use to do this and a lot of the report writing software companies in our industry already have this capability built into their systems.
This is only one way online document processing and delivery can help protect your business interests. You can do something similar to make sure that you’re getting paid. For inspectors running their own business, there are few things more frustrating than running around for weeks trying to get paid for an inspection you’ve already done.
Thanks to today’s technology, you can send clients the invoice online, make it easy for them to pay, and even digitally lock a report until payment is made. Once the payment is received, the report is automatically unlocked and accessible. This way, clients get the report from the inspection they just paid for and you don’t have to worry about collecting money or releasing the report.
Online delivery of agreements and invoices helps protect your business interests and makes your life easier. The same goes for storing and delivering your reports. Secure online storage of reports and all your key documents can reduce your liability risk.
This may come as a surprise to you, but computers eventually bite the dust. Or get stolen. The last thing you want is to lose your business documentation along with the device that’s storing it. If all of your agreements, invoices, and inspection reports are safely stored elsewhere, you never have to worry.
5. Use technology in the inspection, too
Another way to reduce liability is by using technology to document and share the thoroughness of your work and the issues you discover. It’s great to take a lot of photos during the inspection and include them in your report. But there are some things that simply can’t be detailed in a single photo. Videos are a great way to capture issues that are in motion, such as a leak, or something making a strange sound that can’t be “heard” in a picture.
In our last article, Time to Update Your Business Toolkit, we introduced you to a new piece of tech called a 360° camera. Since then, we have seen a ton of inspectors incorporating 360° images into their reports, websites, and marketing materials.
With one click of a button, you can capture an entire interior or exterior environment in a 360° movable image. Depending on the report writing software you use, you may be able to insert these images directly into the report. You can use them as an added bonus virtual “Home Tour”, or you can keep them stored for yourself as a CYA (Cover Your You-Know-What) of sorts.
360° images are the most accurate and efficient way to capture the exact environment at the time of inspection and could quickly shut down a frivolous claim with solid evidence.
6. Account management
The one common theme in all of these suggestions is how technology easily helps you minimize liability. You can set expectations in advance, make sure contracts are digitally signed, give your clients an easy way to pay, and document through images and video what you encountered during the inspection.
Technology also helps with account management. For example, software today lets you see exactly when your report was viewed and forwarded, when an agreement was signed, and when an invoice was paid. So it’s easier to keep tabs on your accounts and to prove you held up your end of the bargain.
Some programs even automatically remind buyers and agents if they haven’t yet viewed a report or that they still need to sign an agreement before the inspection. It’s easy to have your software chase down your clients with reminders so you don’t have to. After all, you have homes to inspect and reports to write!
You know you’re a real pro at inspections and so do 99% of your clients. Don’t let that 1% who have an issue with your work get in your head and affect your ability to do your job or take the joy out of inspecting. Take precautions to limit your liability before, during, and after inspections. And then swing for the fences.
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About the Author
Kate Ivey has been in the home inspection industry for more than five years and currently manages the web services team at HomeGauge. Kate and her team create custom websites and offer a variety of affordable hosting and SEO packages geared toward home inspectors. You can check out examples of their work at www.HomeGauge.com.
Note: The Winter 2019 issue of Working RE Inspector mailed to over 20,000 home inspectors nationwide. OREP Insureds enjoy guaranteed delivery of each print magazine and many more benefits.