The perception of
professionalism equates to confidence and without the client's confidence,
the inspection process is over before it even begins.
Home Inspection: When Perception Becomes Reality
By Jerry McCarthy, CREIA Fellow
the majority of cases the client’s perception of professionalism is the
key ingredient for the success of a practicing home inspector. Here’s
how you can increase your success by being more “professional.”
Exactly what is “professionalism?” Dictionaries define a professional
person as “skillful, proficient, knowledgeable, prepared, talented,
competent, and experienced” or in other words, a master of their craft.
The perception of professionalism equates to confidence and without the
client’s confidence, the inspection process is over before it even
begins. Home inspectors who exude confidence in their abilities earn the
confidence of their clients and the agents who represent them.
Confidence has its own particular odor that can be sensed by most people
but one must be very careful because there is a very fine line between
self confidence and arrogance.
homebuyer’s initial perception of their home inspector usually sets the
tone for the inspector’s ensuing performance. Studies have shown that
upon the initial meeting between those who are about to perform a
service and their clients, it usually takes less than two minutes for
the clients to form an opinion as to whether or not they feel confident
in the service person’s ability to do the job. It’s really all about
trust, which is vital in purchasing a home. Homebuyers are investing
their life savings in many cases so their home inspector had better earn
Therefore, it follows that the client’s perception of their home
inspector regarding his/her knowledge, experience, honesty and skill at
detecting and reporting defects is tantamount to the inspector’s success
or failure in a highly competitive industry. Can we trust this person?
Does he/she know what they are talking about? Will they find anything
wrong and will they be thorough? These are the common concerns of most
homebuyers when first meeting their inspector. Never lose sight of the
fact that homebuyers have already found the positive things they like
about the home. They have opened escrow and now you’re there to detect
and disclose the negative things about their new home. In other words,
your job is to help them make an informed purchasing decision.
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client’s perception can occur almost immediately in that personal impressions
are made by visual means such as the condition of the inspector’s vehicle,
personal appearance, dress, the assortment of tools they carry, their attitude,
and most important, their communication skills. It doesn’t matter how
experienced or knowledgeable the inspector may be in construction technology or
the building codes because without excellent communication skills they’re in the
inspector on time for the appointment? I was taught early on that if you didn’t
arrive at least ten minutes early, you are late. I have found this to be
generally true of many successful old-timers who have shared with me that they
always arrive early to their inspections. This allows them the time to check the
lay of the land, get set up, alert the property owners (contain their pets) and
perhaps even complete their roof and chimney inspections before the arrival of
their clients. Never leave your ladder up after you have inspected the roof,
especially when your clients have brought their kids along.
important that you put the homeowner at ease and always treat them with great
respect even when they act defensive or have the manners of a goat. If they
question you about any of your findings, assure them their agent will share a
copy of your report with them. If they have any questions let them know they may
call you. Remember, home sellers may become a future client. Also, they or the
listing agent may call you anyway if the deal goes south. Then you will join the
illustrious ranks of “Deal Killers Anonymous.” How many times have you heard the
expression, “Please pardon my messy house?” We don’t care about the mess but we
do need to get into the napping baby’s room and the owner’s “friendly” pit bull
requires being properly secured.
Trust Trust does not come easily and can be fleeting. Telling jokes, complaining
about local traffic, sharing your political views, becoming overly familiar, and
certainly announcing you just came from the “house from hell” are not wise
choices. Your clients are not your friends nor do they want to be. You are
there to provide a service to them, no more, no less. Credibility must be
carefully nurtured and is fragile at best. If you don’t know the answer to a
question, admit it but counter with, “I will find out and let you know.” Then do
it! Pay absolute attention to your client’s questions and concerns. Keep focused
on the job at hand. If your clients don’t follow you every step of the way and
elect to start smelling the roses while you’re explaining several defects in the
electrical service panel, be patient.
If the seller decides to join your little group and keeps chattering about what
a great house he/she is selling, stop and explain to them that you prefer to be
alone with your clients as you need their complete attention. I used to say, “I
cannot focus on performing a really thorough inspection with distractions and
you certainly wouldn’t want me to miss anything, would you?” This generally did
the trick and if it didn’t, I went to plan B. “This inspection is a contractual
arrangement between my clients and me and the sharing of information is
privileged.” Or, in other words, get lost! Never assume anything. The young
lady accompanying an older gent may not be his daughter but rather his newly
minted trophy wife. Same sex couples are now quite common homebuyers. Direct
most of your explanations to the wife because women usually make the purchasing
find my client’s attention wandering I tell them, “Look, I’ll proceed with my
inspection but every now and then we need to have a short private meeting so I
can bring you up to speed on what I have found.” At the end of each meeting I
would always say, “What I just told you will be in my written report so when you
read it, it will be familiar to you. If you have any additional concerns about
it please call me.” I always encouraged my clients to ask questions and try to
make them feel part of the inspection process. “Do you have any young
children?” I always inquire, not to be nosey but to see if I have to emphasize
occupant safety hazards that particularly applied to small children.
no inspection goes on very long before the question arises, “How much will that
cost to fix or replace?” The best answer is, “I don’t know.” Anyone who quotes
prices, even “ballpark” prices is asking for real trouble. You tell them a new
roof should cost about $5,000 and later you get a call that their roof cost is
double that figure. They will want to know when are you sending your check for
the balance. Remember, the only valid estimate for work is in written form
called a “contractual bid,” submitted by a qualified person who is going to
perform the work. Qualified in inspection industry lingo means: state licensed.
By the same token, never recommend contractors by name as you are opening the
litigation gate for a frivolous referral. Encourage your client’s agent to
assume that responsibility.
At the conclusion of your inspection a short summary is called for. This should
always be arranged off site, such as across the street or near your truck if the
property owners are present. This conference should only include your clients
and their legal representative, their agent. If it’s a dual agent, so be it.
The very last thing you want to do is to share your findings in front of the
homeowners who have long labored under the illusion their home is in absolute
perfect condition and the longer they have lived in it the more perfect it has
become. When I first got into this profession, I had an older agent who
invariably would announce, “Jerry, when you’re finished, I want you to come into
the living room and tell everybody what’s wrong with this house.” Yeah right!
The very last impression you want to leave your client with is your availability
to communicate anything they don’t understand in your written report or
was later discovered that you may have failed to address. Receiving a call from
a client after your inspection and close of escrow sure as hell beats getting
one from their attorney.
accept refreshments and don’t sit down. You’re not exactly a welcome guest. Keep
everything on a totally professional level because that is what you must be
perceived to be, a professional at all times to all parties involved in the
transfer of property. They are not your friends nor do they want to be. You are
a facilitator of information of which much may be negative. Maintain a
professional attitude at all times. Never become unnerved and blow a positive
perception it took you four hours or more to establish. A final word about what
has become oh so common in our current society- “perception” often becomes most
About the Author
Jerry was awarded CREIA’s Inspector of the Year in 2000, one of the 25 Most
Influential Members of the California Real Estate Inspectors Association (CREIA)
since its founding, was elected CREIA Fellow in 2003 and was awarded the John
Daly Award, CREIA’s highest honor, in 2007. Jerry also holds an ICC professional
inspector membership and is ICC certified as a Residential Combination
Inspector. He was an instructor at the College of San Mateo and has been a
member of ICC’s Residential Plans Examiner Exam Review, Residential Plans Exam
Development Committees, and chair of the National Home Inspector Examination
Review Committee. Jerry is qualified in the California Supreme Court as an
expert witness in the standard of care for California home inspectors,
residential construction defects and landlord/ tenant litigation.
Reprinted with permission
from the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA),
800-848-7342 for more information about the non-profit association.
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