Kevin O’Malley is founder of the first licensed home inspector school in the nation and author of the book “Marketing & Operating a Profitable Home Inspection Business, 2nd Edition.” The 32-year home inspector veteran has since sold Inspection Training Associates to Kaplan and today thrives as an entrepreneur focused on building the Home Owners Network, a home services business with half a million members and growing. American Home Inspection Training Institute asked O’Malley about his career, tips for being a successful home inspector and his thoughts about home inspection’s future.
AHIT: How did the home inspection industry propel your career?
O’Malley: If I were thinking about myself in general, I’d say I’m more of an opportunist. Not an opportunist in the negative sense, but, rather, I look for opportunities — things that are trending and that are going to move and become important. When I first recognized the inspection business, it was nothing in the U.S. There were very few inspectors. But what I recognized was that there was going to be a change in the way that the real estate community created their contracts with home buyers. They were going to add the question, “Do you want to have a home inspection?” to every purchase agreement.
In California, alone, there are about a half million homes sold every year. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand that was going to create a business, and I started the school.
I’m an educator. My school was my passion for a long time — just teaching people the business of home inspection. I’ve never been the greatest home inspector ever. There are many, many, many more qualified than me. But I think the thing that I recognized was that it was a really valid career for people. I mean, in what other career can you start from any professional background, become a home inspector and potentially earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year or more?
AHIT: What are top positives and negatives of the profession?
O’Malley: Among the positives: You can create income immediately. You do an inspection and get paid right there. If you get a job with a company, you might wait two or three weeks before getting a paycheck. I love the flexibility of it. I love the customer service aspect. It really is helping people at a very important time in their lives, purchasing a home.
On the negative side, it also can be a horrible detriment if the inspector doesn’t know what he or she is doing. And that happens.
For the home inspector, negatives would be potential liability. You do a home inspection and are (and should be) liable for your opinion. It’s impossible though, to know everything when furniture is covering things. You’re not digging into walls. You’re not going underground or going under carpet. So, there are a lot of hidden things that sometimes home inspectors are asked to be responsible for, which they shouldn’t be. So, that’s a negative. Setting expectations for your clients is important.
“In California, alone, there are about a half million homes sold every year. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand that was going to create a business…”
AHIT: Is this a good time for a home inspection business?
O’Malley: Oh yes. Let’s use California as an example. Let’s say a good year is half a million (homes on the market); a bad year might be 20% down, so you’re at 400,000. There are still 400,000 jobs. You just have to be smart and creative enough in your marketing to compete. That’s something that (home inspectors need) to understand and some of them don’t. They get their businesses going. They get a certain number of jobs going, and they fall off on their marketing. If the market tails off or starts to decline and others are marketing heavily those who aren’t marketing will lose.
Then, any new entrant into the business is going to take a certain share of business away from you. So, you have to always be present and top of mind with Realtors in the community and online. You have to be clever online. So, marketing is critical. It’s a good time. There are 2 million to 4 millions homes for sale a year in the U.S. That will never go to zero, but competition is always going to be coming. There’s always attrition and there are always new people.
AHIT: What is your best advice for home inspectors to be successful?
1. Always be top of mind with the real estate community. That could mean a lot of things. That could mean being at real estate offices regularly or being part of real estate boards or other meetings. Always make sure that you are visible, so people know you are in the community, you’re an inspector and you’re there.
2. Become proficient at social media and online marketing. I think that’s critical right now.
3. Learn manipulation of SEO (search engine optimization), so that if you are searched by a home buyer that your company information is coming up.
4. Get to be liked and trusted in the community. It’s a big deal. First off, for a real estate agent, they’re going to hand off their client to you, so, if they don’t know you, they’re not going to do that. If they don’t like you, they’re not going to do that. And if they don’t trust you, they’re definitely not going to do that. You never get trust until you get known; until you get liked.
AHIT: What is your advice for people who are thinking about becoming home inspectors?
O’Malley: There’s a lot of information about what the job entails and what the expected income is. The best thing to do is research and maybe attend an association meeting to get a sense of the industry. It’s a good business, but it’s probably not for everybody. For example, if you don’t like crawling under houses, it’s probably not for you. It is strenuous and sometimes dangerous and you really have to know what you’re looking at when you open a furnace or open an electric panel. You can’t be guessing, so education is important.
Kristin is the Marketing Director at AHIT. She has authored content for numerous real estate brands, and managed corporate communications for a public real estate company. She is passionate about the home inspection and real estate industries, and loves digging into research to provide insights that empower home inspectors and real estate agents in their businesses.