As the Vice President of the National Association of Home Inspectors, President of NAHI Ohio and owner of By-Lions Home Inspections in Columbus, Ohio, Forrest Lines is well-versed in the home inspection game. A former draw inspector, Lines has run his own inspection firm for the past 14 years and weathered everything from hard times to on-the-job nudity. In an age where inspectors are scrambling to cram more and more inspections in per year, Lines takes his time and spends an average of three hours on each home. Here’s how he built a smarter business.
Tap Inspect: What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Forrest: The biggest challenge in the home inspection business is all of us want to inspect homes. We don’t want to market. We don’t want to do business development things. All of that takes a back seat because we’re really interested in homes. One of the biggest challenges is to stay in a position where you are always marketing your business.
Tap Inspect: In terms of marketing, what works for you and what doesn’t?
Forrest: I’ve found some decent ways that you can reach people and get some reasonable results. One of the big ways is through the internet. People are searching for home inspectors and they’re not looking in the Yellow Pages. They’re much smarter about what they do and by the time they reach you, they know a little bit about home inspecting and they know something about you too. The best marketing tool that we have is doing a good inspection. That is what will get us more business than we ever even know because people talk to people so we just need to stay sharp, stay smart and fresh about what we do.
Tap Inspect: What’s been the most effective tool for you?
Forrest: One of the single most effective things I’ve ever done, and it’s so simple, is just not to leave money on the table, to be able to do ancillary services so that we can be more efficient at each inspection that we do. Ohio is a pretty strong radon state. Right on my [home inspection] contract, I have people accept or deny a radon test. You’d be surprised how many home inspections go from $350 to $475 in a blink because people go, “Oh yeah Radon. I’ve heard about that. Tell me about that.” Get yourself educated about radon and get licensed if your state requires it and you can add that to six, seven, eight out of ten inspections. I’m also educated in termite inspection.
Tap Inspect: What’s the number one thing you’ve learned about the home inspection industry?
Forrest: It’s not what you know; it’s how you say it. We all know about plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s all about relationships. It’s about connecting with people and telling them the story that you read from the house. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who tells people, “Don’t ask me any questions. I’ll answer everything at the end.” That blows me away. I can’t get my home inspections done because I talk too much. I know i spend too much time connecting with people, but when I get done with a home inspection, people love me.
Tap Inspect: How do you handle the inherent conflict between giving all the gory details on a house to a client and keeping the realtor, the person providing your business, on track with the sale?
Forrest: We have to hold onto our standards and ethics and they state quite clearly that we inspect and report. The real estate agent has nothing to do with what we do, even though they sometimes try to be a big part of it. If the roof needs replacing, you have to say it. The home inspection is the last piece of the sale negotiation, so it’s a good thing that I found the bad roof. The buyers can use that as a negotiation tool. If I succumb and say, “Well the roof doesn’t look that bad” and then a couple of seasons down the road it starts to leak, I couldn’t sleep at night. You’ve got to tell the truth and it’s got to be clear. You can’t tap dance.
Tap Inspect: What’s the most surprising part of the business to you?
Forrest: I’m very surprised that the banks aren’t smart enough to figure out that if they would leave the utilities on in a vacant home, they would spend a few hundred dollars to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in mold mitigation. People come in, see the mold and end up negotiating these houses down by tens of thousands of dollars. I can’t believe that someone hasn’t figured that out.
Tap Inspect: We ask this of all our Inspect the Inspectors, what’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the job?
Forrest: I was doing an inspection on a piece of property that the owner was home. The buyer was with me. We started out early on a saturday morning. We did the outside, the basement and the first floor. We were going up to the second floor and as we walked up the stairs, the owner of the home stood at the top of the stairs. He guided us to the first door on the second floor, opened it and stepped aside as if to say “Go on in.” I stepped into the bedroom and there lay his wife on the bed, completely naked. I turned around right away and looked at him and he just shrugged his shoulders like “Oh well.”
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