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Published by OREP, E&O Insurance Experts | August 2012

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One of the many benefits of getting away from agent referrals is that you will have more control of your fees and be able to charge appropriately (more) for your services.

Marketing Without Real Estate Agents

By Dennis Robitaille

I will be the first to admit that it is difficult for a new inspector to obtain enough business without the assistance of real estate agents. Although, now in Massachusetts, every inspector is equal from a marketing standpoint, since real estate agents are prohibited from directly referring inspectors. Inspectors who work in the best interest of their client do not have to look over their shoulder worrying about what the agent thinks and can concentrate on performing a beneficial service for their client, the home buyer.

There are many things a new inspector or even a veteran can do to market his or her services to avoid or reduce the dependency of agents. For new inspectors, unfortunately, it may take a year or two for the marketing to produce profitable results. This is some of the advice I give to new inspectors who want or have to work without real estate agents; most of these suggestions, I have used myself with success.

As a new inspector you should be prepared for:
1. Days without work.
2. To spend a lot of money on advertising your business.
3. Work very long and hard hours.

One of the first things to do, if you haven’t already done so, is to create a website for your company.

A well done website is one of the fastest ways help steer prospective clients to you. You can reach more people with more text for less money than any other advertising media. Seek out professional assistance in building your site. Do a search for “home inspectors” and a search for “(your state) home inspectors”. Look at the top 10 returns. Get some ideas from these sites.

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To build for the future, the following should be considered.

1. Join your local and regional Chamber of Commerce.

2. See if your local cable TV station offers any type of programming geared towards consumer protection. If so, offer your services, if not, suggest such programming to the station management.

3. Drive around your neighborhood checking out houses for exterior problems, such as aging chimneys, roof defects, poor grading, etc. (Whatever is visible from the street or sidewalk) When you come across something put a card hanger on their door knob (or anyplace the owner will see it, except don’t put it in the mail box) that has an informational letter telling the homeowner what you saw while driving/walking by. In the letter suggest they visit your website for further information. The letter should also tell them that you are trying to build your inspection business by word of mouth, without soliciting real estate agents, and that if they know anyone in need of an inspection to please pass along your name. Include a brochure and some business cards.

4. Look for "open houses," drop off a brochure to the homeowner or mail one out. (Many of these sellers will be buyers as well.) Send post cards to new home purchasers offering warranty inspections. Send post cards to every house you know of that is for sale (FSBO or otherwise). Most of these people will be potential inspection clients for other properties.

5. Produce a monthly or quarterly newsletter.
a. Send it to every attorney in your area.
b. Send it to the addresses on the open house advertisements.
c. Ask your clients if they would like to be e-mailed a copy of it.
(Keep a database of your client’s e-mail addresses.)

6. Look for "for sale by owner" magazines, place ads in them. Be sure to state that you work independently of real estate agents.

7. Conduct homebuyer seminars. Invite an attorney and mortgage person to join with you in the presentation. You could rent a hotel room for it, or you could obtain a hall from a civic organization. Your hometown / city may also have a first time homebuyers program that might give you the opportunity to make a presentation.

8. Write a column for the newspapers (such as "ask the inspector") it may cost you a few dollars, however, if it is not too self-promoting they may run it for nothing.

9. Your inspection vehicle should have your company name, phone number and website address on it. (I use to use the magnetic type)

10. Go to your City/Town Hall and get the addresses of people who just took out marriage licenses, and the ones who just got a divorce. Do a mailing to those people.

11. Offer to do "free" inspections for friends and relatives to start building up your client base or offer free phone consultations for first time buyers looking to avoid buying a problem house. Turn every friend and relative into a salesperson for you.

12. When you get paying clients, turn them into salespersons for you. (I like to think of my 6,000 plus past clients as my sales force.) Take a look at my own client comment page here. In addition to getting testimonials reward them for referring your service. Send them movie passes or gift certificates.

13. Keep your name in front of your past clients. When you come across an article on the Internet that your past clients would find informative / helpful pertaining to their home, e-mail them the link to the site. (People have become a bit intolerant of unsolicited e-mail, so I would limit this to fairly important articles and would limit the number of e-mails to no more than 2 per year.) If you have the time, print out the article and mail it. There is always at least one good article every year in major newspapers pertaining to home ownership.

14. Not marketing to agents can be an advantage. You can let everyone know that you believe it is a potential conflict of interest for real estate agents to refer home inspectors. Let the home buying public know that you do not solicit real estate agents for client leads.

15. Don’t reject real estate agent referrals. Just don’t let the source of your business influence how you do your job. A small percentage of real estate agents appreciate honest, full disclosure type home inspections without the sugar coating. You will also discover that agents who don’t refer you, calling you for their own home inspections or for their family members.

One of the many benefits of getting away from agent referrals is that you will have more control of your fees and be able to charge appropriately (more) for your services.

About the Author
Dennis Robitaille is founder or Independent Home Inspectors of North America. Being a member of IHINA is one way to get you recognition from the educated homebuyer.


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