Surviving the Recession: Expand Energy Services- Energy Auditing
By Arthur S. Lazerow, ASHI Certified Home Inspector
Editor’s Note: While this story was written in the depths of the great recession, the advice still holds.
Do we all agree that 2009 has been a challenging year so far for home inspectors? Most home inspectors I have talked to have found that work levels and incomes continue to decline. During a recent ASHI Mid-Atlantic Chapter’s monthly “Candidate Education Hour,” which I moderated, we explored in depth what services some members currently offer that could be adopted by others to raise their income potential.
Environmental testing was my first suggestion. I was thinking mold and radon and up selling services as opportunities present themselves. Our MAC-ASHI members, as usual, had a broader view. Why limit oneself to up selling when you could entertain a dual career, they asked? Although the ASHI Code of Ethics prohibits inspectors from performing repair work on the homes they inspect within one year of the inspection, there is no prohibition to marketing to previous clients after one year. Many experienced home inspectors have hundreds and even thousands of previous clients, so that potential market is both available and enormous.
One inspector, worried about economic conditions, has started a non-related business, performing safety inspections in homes with expectant parents or young children. He makes the requisite safety alterations, such as installing safety fencing over older rails whose pickets are spaced more than four inches apart, childproofing cabinet doors and installing gates at the top of stairs. There are numerous other housing-related nontraditional “real estate transaction” inspection work opportunities available to home inspectors with construction skills and creative ways to use them.
The subject of code inspections was raised. Becoming ICC, IRC or BOCA certified and becoming trained in dispute resolution opens possibilities for new construction dispute inspections, expert court testimony, arbitration and mediation work. Expanding into commercial and industrial inspections after fine-tuning an inspector’s knowledge base is another alternative. Where state law permits, home inspectors with the requite qualifications are able to write certifications for real estate transactions to resolve concerns raised by title companies and lenders during the processing of sale transaction documentation.
There is also the growing field of energy conservation inspections, known more commonly as performing Energy Audits. This field has been slow to develop but with the change of administration in Washington D.C. and the enormous pot of funds focused on weatherization and energy related jobs, anticipation is growing that property owners will become more interested in improving the energy efficiency of their building and homes, and this will lead to an expediential growth in energy conservation inspections.
Two housing related energy conservation organizations are focused on developing more comprehensive inspection protocols and training energy auditors to work on the existing housing stock. This is happening coincident with the federal government’s increasing interest in residential energy conservation. The new standard, known as the National Home Energy Audit Standard, has been adopted and can be found as Chapter 7 of the Mortgage Industry National Home Energy Rating Systems Standards (WorkingRE.com, sidebar, National Mortgage Industry Standards).
RESNET, a national standards making body for building energy efficiency rating systems, and the Building Performance Institute worked on this standard jointly.
Steve Baden, executive director of RESNET, and Kelly Parker, then president of RESNET, taught the first course for home inspectors to become Home Energy Survey Professionals at January’s ASHI 2009 InspectionWorld conference. The course was based on the recently adopted Standard and prepared the attendees to take the on-line, open book certification exam. Home inspectors can easily augment their skills with energy audit skills with this RESNET course, designed for energy surveys of existing homes. Energy inspection equipment, such as infra-red cameras and blower door test apparatus, are becoming more affordable. Energy audit inspections will be a discipline attracting home inspectors as more clients and Realtors learn to appreciate the value of this service.
Within the next few years, if not sooner, I believe property owners will acknowledge the proposition that every home will benefit from an energy utilization and conservation inspection, and this field will blossom financially for the energy auditors who are there first. The company of which I am a principal, HomeEnergyTeam LLC, participated in this year’s InspectionWorld and is providing a full-scale business platform for home inspectors to enter the energy audit business in a cost effective manner. Guidance is provided for home inspectors who are currently untrained, and experienced energy auditors can begin to obtain leads almost immediately. Inspectors learn to utilize existing relationships to support marketing efforts that promote home and energy inspections. For more information on how you can grow your business and leverage marketing dollars, information is available at HomeEnergyTeam.com.
Ultimately, the current economic climate will force home inspectors to become better business people. By budgeting and understanding costs better, by managing advertising funds, developing new skills, and by appreciating that every contact must be maximized both in the quality of the services provided and, equally as important, in the quantity of different services offered, home inspectors and their businesses will survive through this recessionary period and come out at the end stronger and more prosperous.
About the Author
Arthur Lazerow, president of Alban Home Inspection Service, Inc., is a certified ASHI inspector. He has been MAC-ASHI membership co-chairman, a member of the Board of Directors and served on the ASHI Public Relations Committee for the past three years. He is also Vice-President of Home Energy Team LLC and can be reached at email@example.com.
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