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Energy-Expert Inspectors On the Rise
by Brent Loya, ID Energy Program Manager
Ours is an era of great transition, and one of the most dramatic examples of this shift is in the way that we use energy in every aspect of our lives.
The power systems that we depend on are in a state of upheaval across the board—from how electricity is generated to how all fuel sources are used and tracked in our individual homes. New technologies and new policies are coming online every day, each bringing significant changes to the efficiency, comfort, and the overall quality of those deeply personal places where we hang our hats. One key factor toward the goal of increasing the energy efficiency of American homes is based upon the simple idea that if homeowners and homebuyers actually understand the energy performance of their homes, then they will readily move to improve that performance when it makes clear economic sense to do so.
The technical term for this is “energy disclosure,” which is bureaucrat-speak for giving a homebuyer an accurate sense of whether the home they’re considering is an energy “sipper” or “guzzler.” As energy disclosure becomes a more common policy across the country—whether driven by public policy or by smart business—home inspectors in particular will find themselves at the center of the conversation, owing to the fact that there’s no more important time to understand the energy efficiency of a home than when you’re deciding whether to buy it.
Any inspector who pays attention to the industry doesn’t need to be told that there’s a different sort of transition occurring in today’s housing market as well. Signs of a housing “correction” after a ten-year growth cycle are unmistakable now, and inspectors may soon be competing for relatively fewer clients, who themselves will be more demanding about both the home they’re buying and the inspector they hire. Homebuyers are younger, more eco-conscious, independent, and better informed than they’ve been in the past, and are more likely to shop for a full-service inspector rather than simply take their Realtor’s® advice. Brokers are struggling to stay relevant in the online portal era (think Zillow et al.), and the smartest ones are looking to provide their clients with as much information as possible. The “true cost of ownership” metric is important given the fact that energy costs account for more of a monthly budget than either home insurance or property taxes.
The California Association of Realtors® (CAR) currently is funding Home Energy Scores for buyers by reimbursing the cost to have the service performed. Home inspectors who are Certified Home Energy Score Assessors are actually getting more referrals from Realtors® because the Realtors® want their clients to be provided with this kind of energy information. In over 100,000 Home Energy Scores performed, not one has been reported back to me as a deal killer. In actuality, it has promoted the confidence of a buyer to close and move in!
This suggests the HES program is not only a valuable service to perform for your clients but a superior marketing tool as it differentiates you from your competitors. As agents and Realtors® provide home inspectors with 80 percent of their business, being able to stand out from other inspectors in your area makes a difference. With energy disclosure such a hot topic nationally, real estate offices will soon be clamoring to get you in for a presentation to understand this movement better.
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The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Home Energy Score has been used by utility programs for several years now, but has only recently been improved to become the perfect fit for all energy disclosure purposes—most importantly those delivered as part of a home inspection. State and local governments around the country recognize the key attributes of the Score—its ease of use, simplicity, and highly credible branding— as ideal for showing homeowners how their homes stack up. What’s new, after several years of streamlining program requirements and making necessary partnerships with inspection industry associations and service providers, is that the Home Energy Score is now a viable business-building service for inspectors as well as a reliable public service tool for policy makers. The inspection industry is taking notice of the Score as a viable and in-demand service, across a wide range of business models.
It’s perhaps not surprising that many of the early adopters of the Home Energy Score are younger inspectors, especially those who are keyed into savvy marketing strategies. As buyers get more sophisticated, savvy inspectors have recognized a more demanding mindset in their buyers and the ability of the DOE Home Energy Score Certified Assessor™ to confer credibility, professionalism, and technical competence, especially given the relative affordability and reasonable training requirements of the program. The new release of the iPhone app makes collecting the necessary data a significantly lighter lift than before— most inspectors report spending less than an extra fifteen minutes in the field for this task.
While home-focused energy programs at the federal level can charitably be described as unpredictable, cities and even states across the country have stepped into this void to require that a Score (isn’t this a federal thing?) be delivered at point-of-sale for every home purchase in order to safeguard homebuyers from unknowingly buying energy-hogging homes. Home inspectors are an obvious fit for these kinds of mandates, a fact that has been proven out in places like Portland, OR, where inspectors led that program’s delivery of over ten thousand Home Energy Scores in 2018. Similarly, programs of this kind are underway in Denver, New York State, California, Massachusetts, and dozens of other locales around the country.
The Home Energy Score (this should really be defined) is proving itself a viable tool for inspectors who occupy the mainstream of the profession as well, a group that includes single operators, small multi-inspector firms, and even national franchises. Some of the country’s top-performing one-inspector shops, in fact, have built the Score into every inspection, since the Score’s minimal in-field requirements don’t disrupt established inspection processes. Also, the new onboarding process for inspectors is entirely self-directed and remote-based, meaning no expensive travel or training impacts. Additionally, pressed-for-time single operators are now taking advantage of a suite of marketing services being provided by my company, ID Energy, in addition to our standard services based in training and ongoing compliance with DOE requirements.
A recent development that seems to suggest a watershed moment in terms of HES adoption by the industry is that this past year has seen some of the nation’s leading multi-inspector and franchise firms like WIN Home Inspection getting on board with delivering Home Energy Scores. These businesses are characterized by their diligent research and cautious approach when considering new services to include, so their embrace of the value of energy disclosure in general, and the Home Energy Score in particular, is strong evidence of the wholehearted embrace by the home inspection industry.
Our team at ID Energy looks forward to a day when every homebuyer in the country is able to benefit from the budget-critical information contained in a Home Energy Score report, and we are proud of the gains that we’ve made as industry partners with the DOE to take home inspectors several steps down that path. We see energy disclosure through the HES a win-win for American homebuyers and our larger economy, and will continue to help inspectors build their businesses and strengthen the industry.
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About the Author
Brent received his degree in Interior Design and quickly sought out to find solutions to energy efficiency. Working with the U.S. DOE he became a Home Energy Score Assessor, Mentor, received a BPI certification, and helped to form I.D. Energy as the Home Energy Score Program Manager. Brent was awarded the U.S. DOE Leadership Award for “Championing the Home Energy Score” and continues to work with professionals nationally.
Note: The Summer 2019 issue of Working RE Inspector is mailing now to over 20,000 home inspectors nationwide. OREP Insureds enjoy guaranteed delivery of each print magazine and many more benefits.