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Specialized Environment Testing: A Profitable Way to Increased Revenue
By Dylan McIntosh, CIH
Although colder months usually mean a dip in home sales, there’s more to the current situation in the home inspection market than just the weather. With mortgage rates climbing to over six percent, many are feeling the effects of inflation and fear the onset of a recession. According to the National Association of Realtors, as of July 2022, existing home sales were down six percent from June and down twenty percent from a year ago. As the housing market shifts, home inspectors need to adapt. With fewer homes selling, getting more money per job is essential.
Home inspectors can increase their revenue per job by adding more services to their offering. Environmental services like mold, indoor air quality, radon, meth, asbestos, and lead testing can increase your profit margin while providing homebuyers peace of mind about their new purchase.
Mold & Indoor Air Quality Testing
First, let’s look at mold testing. Mold is everywhere, seen and unseen. No matter what state you reside in, there’s mold. Even in the driest of climates, a water leak can lead to a mold issue inside a home. These issues are often not visible to the naked eye, but can still cause health and financial problems for homeowners. Finding a mold issue during the home inspection can help homebuyers avoid costly remediation down the road.
However, the perceived high cost and stagnate nature of mold testing technology has made mold testing seem out of reach for most home inspectors. It is true that traditional methods require costly and bulky equipment and expensive lab analysis. But new advances in artificial intelligence are also revolutionizing the mold testing industry. With this technology, home inspectors can get started for less than $99 and carry out professional mold inspections with very little training.
The most common mold test during a home inspection is testing what’s in the air using air sample cassettes and an air pump. Testing the air can help identify if there are possible mold issues affecting the indoor air quality of a home. Another sample type is surface, which can be collected using a swab or tape. Surface testing can directly identify if discoloration on building materials is mold or not. No matter which sample you choose, it will need to be analyzed by a mold lab.
Historically, this analysis has been done by lab technicians looking through a microscope to identify mold spores. However, only thirty percent of mold samples are reviewed because of the time it takes to review a whole slide manually by a human. Now laboratories, such as Sporecyte, are utilizing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to perform these analyses. The AI analyzes one hundred percent of the slide while providing more efficient and accurate results. Then, the results are sent to a certified mycologist to confirm the results. By using AI, labs are able to turn around better results, quicker, and at a lower cost.
This advance in technology is making mold testing more accessible and affordable for home inspectors and homebuyers. With the ability to get started for less than $100, you can instantly begin reaping the benefits. According to Forbes, homebuyers are paying, on average, $650 for a mold inspection.
Don Harding, a home inspector in Utah, charges $295 for most of his mold inspections. With AI-powered mold testing and just 15 extra minutes at each inspection, he can bring in an average of $185 additional revenue per inspection.
Next, let’s look at radon. It is estimated that as many as eight million homes have elevated radon levels, especially states like Alaska, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington, Kentucky, and Montana, which have particularly high radon levels. However, it is present in most states, as only five have low radon levels. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. It’s worrying because it has no immediate symptoms, but it is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. Radon levels in one home can be completely different from the home next door, so the only reliable way to know if it is a problem or not is to test for it.
Organizations like the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Surgeon General, and American Lung Association all recommend having homes tested for radon. Testing is crucial because it is the only way for a homeowner or buyer to know if there is radon in their home.
Regarding radon testing, starting with education is best, as each state has specific stipulations. Twenty-five states have certification laws for radon. However, educating yourself on best practices is still good, even if your state doesn’t have particular stipulations. Home inspectors can look to organizations like the National Radon Safety Board, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), or others for radon courses and certification programs.
Next is deciding on what type of equipment to invest in. There are two primary devices, passive and active. Many home inspectors prefer active devices over passive ones. However, passive devices are much less expensive. However, any expenses you incur from equipment and training can quickly be recouped after just a few radon inspections. A radon inspection can range from $145 to $700, with an average inspection costing $411.
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Clandestine Drug Testing
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration estimates that approximately 1.6 million Americans used meth in 2017. If someone has used or produced methamphetamines in a home, those areas are left contaminated with potentially dangerous levels of toxic chemicals. If exposed, those living in a contaminated home can experience a runny nose, throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and breathing difficulties.
Meth remediation can cost upwards of $30,000. It’s best to identify the problem before a home is purchased. During an inspection, there are a few signs that a home inspector can look for in order to recommend a meth test. Those signs include yellow discoloration on walls, drains, sinks, and showers; blue discoloration on the valves of propane tanks and fire extinguishers, and removed or taped-off fire detectors. Although meth itself is odorless, its ingredients can often have pungent odors of solvent, paint thinner, or ammonia.
To test for methamphetamine contaminates, a home inspector can choose to do the sample utilizing immunoassay (semi-quantitative onsite results), laboratory analysis (numerical, processed at a laboratory), or a combination thereof. All sorts of testing kits can be found online.
There is also a misconception that all meth labs and properties need to be demolished because decontamination isn’t possible. While that may have been true for many years, it’s not today. Many of these homes can be saved thanks to advances in science and technology. In fact, ninety percent of contaminated properties can be decontaminated successfully.
Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber found in many common building materials. It is strong, durable, and water-resistant. When the microscopic fibers from asbestos are released into the air, they are hazardous. While asbestos, in general is dangerous, if these materials are in good condition and are not disturbed or touched, they are safe. Before doing any repairs or renovations, doing an asbestos test is crucial.
Testing includes a visual inspection, inventory of the suspected materials, bulk sample extraction, and laboratory analysis. An onsite inspection will usually take a couple of hours, and results can be returned in as little as three days, depending on the lab. The EPA requires that anyone performing asbestos testing be adequately trained. Some states also have regulations requiring licensing for asbestos testing, so be sure to research the requirements where you live first. There are several EPA–approved programs if your state does not provide one. In this training, you’ll learn about the proper methods for doing testing and the equipment needed. After you’re properly trained, you can start offering asbestos testing to your clients for upwards of $790, according to Home Advisor.
After 1978 the United States government banned consumer use of lead-containing paint. But before 1978, lead-based paint was very common. Many homes built at this time contained lead-based paint.
Lead can be found in more areas of the home, like soil, dust, plumbing, and tap water. Lead is a poisonous metal that presents a health hazard to everyone, especially children.
A lead inspection can be performed with an x-ray fluorescence machine, a lab test of paint samples, surface dust tests, or a visual inspection. To do any of these tests, you’ll need to be trained appropriately. Similar to asbestos, some states also require licensing before conducting lead inspections. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors offers either a 6-hour learn-at-your-own-pace course or a 2-hour quick and easy course to become lead-safe certified.
There are three types of EPA–approved lead testing kits, the 3M™ LeadCheck™, D-Lead®, and the state of Massachusetts lead test kits. Depending on which kit you choose, the cost could be anywhere from $12 to $220. Depending on the cost of the kit you select will determine how much you want to charge for a lead inspection. According to Home Advisor, inspections can range on average from $238 to $437.
Making the Sale
Now you may be concerned that if you start performing any of these tests and inspections, an unfavorable result could impact the sale of a home. This can seem daunting, with real estate agents being a primary source of referrals. However, these tests and inspections are essential for the buyers’ finances and health. A home inspector’s job is to ensure that any property being sold is up to code and safe to inhabit. These tests allow you to do just that.
Making sure a home is safe should always be the number one priority. For instance, if mold is discovered during an inspection, it doesn’t mean that the house is uninhabitable, and the buyer needs to move on. It’s quite the opposite. A mold inspection helps homebuyers discover a problem before it becomes a bigger problem. For example, the test can help locate an unidentified water leak. The agent can bring this issue up to the seller’s agent and get a concession to fix the issue. A concession can be written up for any environmental issue, and the issue can be fixed before a buyer moves in.
Another aspect of making the sale is encouraging homebuyers to add these services to their inspection, even when paying higher interest rates for the home. The more you know about these services, the better you’ll be at discussing the benefits with homebuyers. As mentioned before, the safety of a home is your number one priority, and it will be with the homebuyers as well. Knowing about anything that can adversely affect their health and the health of their family members will never not be important to them. With the median home price across the nation near $440,000, an additional few hundred dollars during the inspection could be just the thing that protects the most important purchase and people in their life.
Prepare for the High Season
Now is the time to prepare for the upcoming spring busy season by adding services, testing the waters, and getting educated. Pick one or two of these environmental services to get started with. If your business has slowed during this time like many inspectors, now is a good time to get training done. Having a quick call with your insurance agent is also recommended. They can check for gaps in your coverage before starting one of these tests. Adding the appropriate insurance might cost a little extra, but it is essential to protect your business. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to start offering the service and making more money on many of your inspections.
Increasing your profit margin with environmental services like mold, indoor air quality, radon, meth, asbestos, and lead testing takes a bit of effort in the beginning, but you’ll start reaping the benefits before you know it. By spring, you’ll be an expert.
About the Author
DDylan McIntosh is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) who has performed hundreds of mold assessments in residential, commercial, and healthcare settings. He is also a PAACB Certified Spore Analyst who has analyzed thousands of airborne and surface mold samples. Dylan is currently the Product Manager for Sporecyte, the leading AI platform for fungal analysis.
OREP Insurance Services, LLC. Calif. License #0K99465