A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Archive for home inspector

A Tour of African American History and Culture in Houston

In honor of the month, I thought it would be nice to write a post that was similar to the one on the New Chinatown. Like that post, I cannot give you a complete picture of everything to see, but I think that this may be a nice one day tour to do. I thought that I could improve my description of the tour by giving you links this time around, so I hope that you will try it out.

Houston has always been a culturally diverse city, and many of us forget that there were non-slave African Americans in our community from those early days. One community that developed was Freedmen’s Town. Driving through this part of town you will get to see some of the older homes in Houston. Houston has had a mixed bag when it comes to preserving its past, but there is an organization working on keeping the history of this area alive: http://www.houstonprogressive.org/FTAbrief.txt.

After driving around to see these homes, you could drive over to the TSU campus. I had the privilege of knowing professors there at one point, so I used to tour the campus with them. Around the neighborhood, you will find some murals by local artists. However, if you really would like to see some art, head over to Project Row Houses: http://www.projectrowhouses.org .You will be able to walk through restored homes which have been converted into an art gallery. The project has several programs to help the children in the community, and it will give you a view on contemporary African American art.

By this time, you may be getting hungry, so why not try some Soul food. Coming from a German family, I have always enjoyed oxtails, which I know not everyone will care for, but it is a delicious meal. Bunky’s Soul Food Cafe at 7265 Scott St is a good place to take your lunch. Be forewarned, Soul Food is not for those of you on a diet, but you should go ahead and break your diet to try out some of the meals here.

Houston is fortunate to have some wonderful museums, but we do not always take the time to visit them. You should visit this one of a kind display of history, the Buffalo Soldiers Museum. After the Civil War, the Union Army used African American soldiers to patrol the plains of West Texas. The Native Americans called them Buffalo Soldiers because of their hair. This is an interesting look on Texas’ past. Http://www.buffalosoldiermuseum.com

I am going to detour from this area to give you a taste of my favorite African cuisine. Would you like to see a bit of the contemporary African immigrants into our city? For dinner, I would suggest you head over to the west side of town on Richmond (between Fondren and Gessner) to try out an Ethiopian meal at the Blue Nile. Ask the waitress for her recommendations, but there is one platter that will give you a variety of tastes.

If you have any ideas of where to go, leave your comments down below.

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Home Inspector Marketing Part 2

Most business that inspectors receive come through Realtors suggesting your service to their clients. A good Realtor may provide you with eight jobs per year. However, word of mouth plays a big role in your success as well. The real estate industry is changing. Consumers are becoming more savvy about what they want, and what they need. Most homes sold in the United States still are found through Realtors, but the internet is catching up fast. How people are finding inspectors is changing, so you will need to keep up on trends to find out how your marketing will need to change.

In my last post on this topic, I went over my current internet campaign (maybe skirmish would be a better word), but traditional marketing still plays the biggest part for inspectors at this time. For new inspectors, most of your business is developed through direct customer contact, while older inspectors have more business because of their Realtor contacts. Some older inspectors boast of how they do not rely on Realtors, and there is a website dedicated to this group, but I know for a fact that the inspectors listed in my area are favored by Realtors, and these inspectors cater to them. As an inspector, you want to develop close ties to the best Realtors, but this is hard to do. Here are the means that I have used to generate business.

I network at parties, company picnics, or any place that has a crowd of people were I am invited. I am not hard selling my services, but I do let people know what I do. I answer questions about their homes, and I give them advice on where to find services. I make myself useful. If I find that someone is in a related business, I ask them for their contact information to pass along to my clients, and they will do the same. On most occassions, the person that you speak with will not hire you, but they will pass your name along, and this eventually leads to work. I do not push people to use me, because it is probably their friend who will use my service. This method has led me to real estate investors, who consistently use my service, which means steady income. Sometimes one client recommends me to another, and sometimes the seller uses me. I treat everyone that I meet with respect, since they may be a potential client or their friend could be one. This has actually been my best marketing tool. I joined a chamber of commerce for this same networking opportunity. The people in the group might not use me, but they will give my name to others.

I go to various meetings where Realtors will be present, and I introduce myself. With Realtors, I really take a low key approach. Texas has a law in place which discourages a Realtor from saying you have to use a certain provider, because this could be used to scam the consumer. Good Realtors appreciate good inspectors. Introduce yourself; be helpful to them; but do not push. As Realtors consistently see my face, they begin to use me more. I directly market to Realtors by two means. I send a package in the mail with beneficial information for their clients, to which I include coupons for my service. I also send out e-mails with links to this blog and my website. I inform them that they might find information for their clients here. They get information for free, and I eventually get business out of it. I do my best to make them look good to their clients, even if they are not using me. In time, this good will pays for itself. I have found that this marketing can be hit or miss. Many Realtors seem to be on the move from firm to firm, so your efforts may go unnoticed. The return in responses is around ten percent of what I sent out.

I have done some print advertising, but this has brought me the least amount of business. Currently I am reworking my campaign to include my website, which my original campaign did not do. I think that the data on the site would produce some good will on the part of the consumer, so this may cause the print ads to work better than they did before. I will let you know. Pick magazines or newspapers that will be seen by twenty five to thirty five year olds or those over fifty five. The younger group is looking for the first home, and the older group is looking for their vacation home. Check out the publications in you area that might appeal to these people.

Since I have a good deal of material for Hispanics, I am developing marketing schemes where I can effectively each them. For example, the local soccer games draw crowds. You may find a group that is interested in buying a home, and you might discover where they gather. Offer them free advice along with your business card. I think a singles group at a church would be a good place, or maybe a social club like the Masons. Some place or group can work for you. This type of marketing is an extension of the social networking that I mentioned above.

I hope this gives you enough to get started. Again, if you have any comments or suggestions, leave a comment to help me and others.

To conclude, I would say be consistent. Keep the same look on all of your marketing materials. This gives a professional look to your business, and it helps make you recognizable. Keep sending out marketing materials each week. The materials may be different things, but by keeping it up, it will pay off.

Home Inspector Marketing Part 1

I noticed that some people have been coming to this blog for marketing information, and I have had some people analyzing my site for keywords or other marketing data, so I thought that I would make it easier on you, and give away what I do.

Well, firstly, you have picked the wrong person to research. I am not that accomplished. I will go over what I am doing on the web here, and the next post will go over my other marketing attempts. I have been doing my own SEO (search engine optimization). My nature has led me to figure out how to do it on my own, rather than hiring a firm. I just wanted to understand how it is done, and then I will probably hire someone later. I have been in business for awhile, but my internet presence started in August of this year. I created a website and then this blog.

Before these sites, I had advertised on a local search engine, which did not produce a good return on investment. When choosing to pay for an ad on the net, ask the provider if the figures on searches are national or local. I was led to believe that national numbers were for local searches. Consumers are using the internet in greater numbers for real estate searches, but the numbers are pretty dismal for consumers looking for inspectors. This may change, as buyers start relying less on their Realtors to find better value service providers. For this reason, I maintain my web presence, even though it has not generated much income for me. Most of my business has come from other sources.

Most people who come to my site type in my URL into their browser. I use my other marketing means to promote my site. All of my marketing material, which is any item coming out of my business, has my website listed. They come back to the site, because I try to make it useful for them. About fifty percent of the people come to my site by this means. The remaining 50% breaks down to people coming to my site through search engines (25%) and through links (25%). About ten percent of those coming from the search engines are actually looking for an inspector. Most come looking for some type of other information. The most successful links that I have which bring people to my site have been websites that deal with real estate in my local market. HoustonTexasRealEstate.com and InvestorNationBlog.com have been great for this. However to make these links work, I produce material for them. I am actively involved in posting to their blogs and answering questions. Another link strategy is to post comments on other blogs. These comments lead back to your site. If Realtors in your area have blogs, this could be a good way to introduce yourself, while also having other people find you. I only post comments on blogs that interest me, and I only make a comment when it is appropriate. A comment for a comment’s sake is useless, and it probably be deleted, so my comment strategy makes my presence known, but it is not really marketing.

I do have listings on Active Rain (which is a social networking site for real estate professionals), LinkedIn, and Naymz. To be honest, I do not get social networking, and I do not see how these sites can help my business. I have made some contacts though, so I guess that I need to put some more effort into this medium. Facebook or MySpace could also be a means for marketing, but again, it is not my cup of tea. I think that YouTube could be great. You could show people what you do. I am an ugly man, and no one needs to see me crawling through an attic, but I offer this idea as a good tool. I am a member of the Houston West Chamber of Commerce, which links to my site. Being the only inspector listed has caused interest in me.

My site does not show up high in the rankings for inspection services, but search engines rank my site high for information about the home and the process of buying and selling. There seems to be a Catch-22 for new websites. You need links to be recognized by the search engines, but the penalize you if you are new site who is building links. I noticed that the inspector sites that rank high are ones that have been up for around two years. I did pay for links on sites like Joeant, Gimpsy, Sitesift, and WOW directory, and this has led to minor interest in my website. Writing articles for Ezine Articles has been good. The first ten articles are free, and good posts will get you noticed. I am currently experimenting with Adwords, but this has not brought in business for me. I will continue to play with it to see if I can make it work.

The all important keywords. The term “home inspection” seems to be the most common search phrase. I just use phrases that are used for the profession, like home inspector, real estate inspector, or phrases that describe the service, like home inspections. Other keywords for my different web pages describe those pages. The two best tools that I have found for analyzing other inspector sites are my web browser and a plug-in for that browser. My browser is Mozilla Firefox. It is a free download from Mozilla. Any browser will have this option though; look at websites with the page source option, where the HTML code is given. Keywords are on the top of the page. There is a plug-in for Firefox called SEO for Firefox. This is a great tool for understanding how your competitors have built their links. There are many free tools out there, but these are the ones that I use on a regular basis.

I also subscribe to the e-mail letters from MediaPost Publications. These are free, and they have good marketing tips. Posts and articles are collected in one easy place with some great ideas. The number of e-mails can be overwhelming each day, so pick the ones that you want. I have picked up a few books from the library to skim through. I would not buy one of them.

Well that is it for my internet marketing. In the next post, I will tell you my other marketing means. I am not pursuing a clear cut SEO strategy at this time, because I think that the search engines are of no use to me at this point. The most useful purely internet marketing has been other local websites and the Ezine Articles, so I am concentrating on them for now. My main marketing focus is still outside of the internet. If you have any tips or suggestions please feel free to leave them as a comment. If you have a good inspection blog, tell me about it, and I will give you a link from this blog. Hey, Google may not like you for it, but maybe it will help you.

Further Thoughts on Becoming an Inspector

Since I posted a look into becoming an inspector, I noticed that there was more interest in the topic, so I thought I would follow it up with a bit more.

I know many inspectors who will paint a rosy picture of our lives, and others who will do their best to dissuade you from pursuing them into competition. The amount of effort you put into marketing yourself will drive business your way, so I cannot provide any new insights into your earnings. I did want to mention the fact that most inspectors that I know earn incomes from other sources. I think it would not be unreasonable to say that between 66% to 75% have some means of earning income to help support them. Those who do not have other jobs or enterprises have found work by associating with other firms as contractors. Working for another inspector is frequently not profitable to you, but there are other firms that want inspectors. Engineers who work with residential buildings will have inspectors on hand to provide this service to their clients. Since the main work brings clients in, suggestive selling to use their inspectors is easy. The engineers obtain a percentage of the fee from the inspectors, and the inspectors obtain steady work. Insurance companies also hire inspectors to examine homes for applications. This is usually just examining the roof. Lenders hire inspectors to examine foreclosures, but this work is not often regular. This work has to be sought out, since large firms go to other firms to locate inspectors for them. Independent operators have to be diligent in their pursuit of this work.

Another group of inspectors who do not often have other income producing ventures are those working as franchise owners of a nationwide inspection company. The firm will be specific as to where you can perform inspections, so you are not invading another affiliates turf. This can be good or bad. If your area does not have a great many homes being sold, you will not earn much income, so you want a popular section to earn enough money to cover the costs of the franchise. The tactics that you learn and assistance of being part of a franchise can be truly beneficial.

Some inspectors earn extra income by working on the homes that they inspect, but Texas is making this harder to do, since it presents a conflict of interest. Did you tell your client the framing was wrong, just so you can fix it? Some states have similar policies to Texas in this regard, and more inspectors have moved away from this income, because of concerns over their objectivity. Pest Control has been one field that has seen inspectors joining. Fields that offer other services outside of repair to homeowners have seen an increase in inspector representation. Several inspectors have Realtor licenses. The idea is to have multiple streams of income, that popular phrase of our day. I do some home staging, business consulting, and investing. I actually started out as a business consultant when I left a senior management position. Some of my clients, who were small retail store owners, asked me to look at their homes, which were undergoing renovations, which led me to inspecting. With the current market, I am looking into property management and real estate investing. Even when the housing market is doing well, you will have slow periods, where you will need to find other income sources, when you go this route.

You may hear about inspecting for the VA or FHA, but these agencies require you to have some experience under your belt, before they will use you, but this can be lucrative work, once it is available to you. There may be inspectors in your area, who could give you a better idea of what to expect in your locale, but I would speak to a few to get a reasonable picture.