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Greg Johns WIN Cookeville

People of Good Conscience

November 2022 Blog Photo

In a 2018 TED Talk, political candidate Stacey Abrams used a phrase toward the end of her speech that has stuck with me as a professional within a service industry – People of Good Conscience (PGC). In context, she was rallying her audience in terms of needing more PGC in our societies and expressing that difficulties can be overcome.

Strange Bedfellows

Our home inspection industry is bedfellows with the real estate industry. In some states, like Texas, the real estate industry actually governs the home inspection industry. When I entered the realm of home inspecting more than a decade ago, one of the most important components to being “successful” as a business was to meet, greet, and befriend real estate professionals. These were the individuals from whom we were to receive our business. Ergo, any home inspector that wanted business had to find means of keeping real estate agents in their favor. 

By and large, over the short arc of the home inspecting industry’s life, this was discernible by such phrases as, “Our reports don’t scare people,” and, “We only give our clients what they need to know.” And, for many years what they needed to know was just the facts (Dragnet, anyone?). As a matter of fact, the existing standards of practice for our two national associations and several state licensing entities were based on just the facts – facts being items found to be deficient. Nothing else was needed.

Such limited information kept the reports simple, the clients less likely to cancel a transaction based on the home’s condition (by the way, the home inspection NEVER is the cause for a failed transaction, and the same is true for the home itself – at the right price, any home will sell), and the real estate agent(s) happy. Happy agents recommend you more because, like Pavlov, you are associated with good feelings and we humans will trend toward that which repeatedly makes us feel good.

Shifting Tides

Now what we are seeing is a transition in report writing software that trends less toward deficiency lists and more toward fuller documentation of the structure and its components. In my opinion – and this is an opinion piece, folks – one of the major impetuses for this transition is liability. The legal industry, inclusive of in-house lawyers for E+O providers, has been very proactive in telling the home inspection industry what is needed in our reports to reduce our liability (elimination of said liability likely is not possible, especially in states like TN where inspectors are afforded very few protections). And, we as professionals have listened. Third-party report writing companies also have listened and continue to cater to the trends. Hence the growing field of report writing software that affords for stock and lengthy comments, oodles of pictures, and even video.

Narrative Reporting Is Better And Creates Consumer Protections

What this means is that our industry has evolved to a point where we can be People of Good Conscience and provide a better level of service to our clients. Deficiency lists are lame. True story. If you are buying a home for several hundred thousand dollars, a list of boxes and check marks that tells you little about the actual home is not very helpful or appreciated. Comprehensive, narrative reports that are more inclusive of all home components – deficient or not – are much more helpful and valuable to our clients and consumers.

Now, the looming issue is that with more information comes more opportunity for clients to decide against buying said home. And such is their right. Whether it is because they determine the deficiencies are too many or too great, or that the value of their money does not reflect the purchase in question, or that what they thought the home was actually turned out to be more complicated (we as homeowners really don’t know much, but that’s another editorial). All of these are legitimate reasons for consumers to look elsewhere. All of these are exactly why we should be inspecting and furnishing comprehensive, narrative reports. We are consumer protection, folks.

Seemingly unbeknownst to many a real estate agent, a consumer’s due diligence within the confines of a real estate contract does not mean the transaction must go through. Part of the transactional proceedings is the implicit right to terminate based on information gained during due diligence. Who else in this process of home purchasing is better positioned to arm the consumer with information that can afford them to make educated decisions for themselves? We as home inspectors don’t make thousands of dollars on any home sale/contract, so the transaction's success has no place in our business model. We make a modest industry average price  (usually less than a real estate appraisal) that is further scalped away by insurance, operating costs, and possibly franchise fees if you are a franchise -- our motivations are exclusively that of our clients' needs.

So What?

People of Good Conscience could be our industry moto. But, it would require a deeper separation from real estate and real estate agents. Such separation places our businesses in jeopardy as many rely on those relationships, and some even gain business by pitting themselves against already operating PGC inspectors. Again, people love the path of least resistance and real estate agents have a lot of sway and power in our industry. Our industry needs more PGC. We need less pandering for business and more consumer protection. Such protection comes from more comprehensive reports vs deficiency-list reports and from willful choice in acting as a layer of consumer protection. To get here, our industry needs to continue to evolve past the teat of the real estate agent. We need to evolve into an industry of people of good conscience.