New inspectors have a choice to make—to get their business off the ground as quickly as possible, is it better to buy into a home inspection franchise or simply go at it alone. Kathleen Kuhn, President of HouseMaster, a home inspection company with 169 franchises across the US and Canada, and Curtis Niles, the current President of the National Association of Home Inspectors who started his own inspection company, Armored Home Inspections, LLC in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania 12 years ago, present both sides.
Round One: Getting Started
If you can pass the introductory interviews and get your paws on a home inspection franchise, many of the decisions young entrepreneurs struggle with won’t be a problem. Home inspection franchises provide everything you need-from a business plan to marketing materials to continuing education courses-without requiring managerial experience from your end.
“So much of the leg work is done for you,” says Kuhn. “There’s a proven business model, your accounting systems are in place, there’s information on how to budget your company and position yourself in the marketplace. It’s an incredible shortcut to get up and running.”
Franchises also provide new inspectors with one invaluable commodity-a nationally-known reputation. While other new inspectors sit by the phone waiting for calls, those who take the franchise route have an automatic in with both realtors and home buyers. Of course, all of the perks will cost you says Curtis Niles.
“The biggest hurdle is the cash,” he says. “There is a financial outlay that may not be feasible for many.”
While HouseMaster franchises cost anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000 to start (and that includes all franchise fees, travel costs, training and start up materials), other companies price franchises substantially higher. The good news is that you’ll (hopefully) get back some if not all of your initial investment. Once inspectors are ready to leave a franchise, they can sell it off to the next owner.
Round Two: The Culture
If you don’t fit into your franchise’s company culture, think carefully before buying in says Kuhn.
“One of the biggest things we look for [when choosing new franchise owners] is are they interested in following the system? Do they like being part of a team? We want the person who says ‘I want a proven system with proven methods and I really like being part of something bigger than myself,’” she says, adding that the average franchise owner stays with HouseMaster for a full decade.
Franchise owners get the benefit of legions of corporate support at their feet, but those who go the solo road get to make their own rules.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Curtis Niles says when asked if he would take the franchise route if he had to do it over again. “Crazy nut jobs like me jump out [on our own] because we think we have the skills necessary. The right decision really depends on that person’s mindset and abilities.”
Before purchasing a franchise, both Kuhn and Niles advise inspectors to carefully evaluate whether they fit into the corporate culture and to ask both current and former franchise holders about their experiences.
Round Three: Closing Shop
If you own your own shop, you can open and close for good, move down to part-time, freelance for other companies and make your own boundaries. If you own a franchise, you’ll probably have to sign a non-compete agreement.
“Buying a franchise is kind of like a marriage; getting out is certainly difficult,” says Kuhn. “If we have someone leaving [their HouseMaster franchise], they basically want to get out of the home inspection business.”
Curtis Niles says that small business owners always have the option of setting their companies up to be franchise-able in the future.
“That’s the way I did it,” he says. “If I wanted to, I could pay the fees and get an attorney to draft up a franchise agreement and Voila! I have a franchise of my own.”