Housing sales are rising all over. Now is your chance to help would-be homeowners and build a new profit center.
The residential housing market has been picking up steam in recent years following the real estate-induced recession that rocked the U.S. almost a decade ago. This creates more opportunities for expert services needed by buyers and sellers as they step out and make the biggest purchases of their lives.
An area that remains underserved is qualified septic system inspections, and I’m sure you’ve seen evidence of this vacuum of expertise firsthand from the homebuyer’s perspective. No doubt at some point you have been the bearer of bad news to an unsuspecting new homeowner facing a costly system failure.
There’s nothing quite so heartbreaking as a young couple, excited to move into their first house, only to find out they’re going to be another $10,000 in debt to replace a drainfield or crumbling septic tank. A recent Q&A story from syndicated House Detective columnist Barry Stone showed a great example of how homeowners need the help of septic service professionals.
SEPTIC PRO NEEDED
“Last summer we moved from the city to the country and bought our first house with a septic system,” wrote a reader. “A month after we moved in, both toilets overflowed onto the floor. That’s when we learned the septic system was installed without a permit, and replacement … would cost $8,000. We asked our home inspector why he did not discover this problem and he said septic systems are not included in a home inspection. How can something as basic as sewage disposal not be part of a thorough inspection?”
Stone explained that septic systems are belowground and inaccessible to the general home inspector, and therefore not evaluated in a standard inspection. Because the septic tank must be pumped and other underground components must be carefully examined, Stone said a proper onsite inspection can only be performed by a septic service contractor.
“Homebuyers from the city are often unaware of this, being accustomed to the convenience of municipal sewers,” he wrote. “Buying a rural property without a thorough septic evaluation is a major gamble and can have costly consequences. When a septic system stops working, the only thing that goes down the drain is money.”
Stone was speaking to this befuddled homeowner and the general readership of homebuyers and sellers. But the message should be coming through loud and clear to pumpers as well: If you’re not providing real estate inspections, you’re not offering complete service to septic system users and you’re not maximizing your revenue potential. As it turns out, homeowners are sorely in need of your expertise and, in turn, you could always use more income.
And as a side benefit to pumpers, educating customers and preventing disasters are great ways to build solid business relationships that pay off big over the long haul. You want consumer loyalty? Help sellers get out in front of a failed septic system to preserve a transaction and ease hard feelings. Or give buyers the leverage they need to get a septic issue fixed before they sign on the dotted line. In either scenario, you may develop customers for life.
CRACK THE MARKET
This is not the first time you’ve heard about the value of providing time-of-sale septic inspections. But it’s a reminder that the real estate market is on a positive trajectory and opportunities exist to make inspections a valuable profit center and marketing engine for your business. You have the skills and the equipment to do the job. Now, how can you most effectively crack the market?
Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
Reach out to established home inspectors in your area
Home inspectors should be your ally, not your adversary, in better serving buyers and sellers. Call and meet with them, offering your expertise as a subcontractor when they encounter a situation where they are concerned about a home’s onsite system. Share information about various types of septic systems and routine maintenance best practices that come from trusted wastewater industry sources. Encourage them to be more proactive in talking to their customers about septic inspections and proper care of these expensive systems. If you are going to expand your real estate services, maybe you could recruit one of these home inspectors to become a member of your team.
Start a homeowner education program
If you haven’t done so already, add an education component to your website. Contact an area university extension service office, the local health department, your state’s wastewater trade association, the National Association of Wastewater Technicians (NAWT) and National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) to develop valuable content for brochures, mailings or other marketing materials. In order to better serve would-be homeowners, you need to reach and inform them first. Once you’ve developed education materials, approach homeowner associations and local governments, and offer to present seminars on septic maintenance.
Partner with real estate professionals
A movement to require real estate inspections by state, provincial and local governments is slow to gain momentum, and we’ve actually seen some backsliding on this issue. Realtors are big influencers when time-of-sale inspection rules are discussed, and an important conduit to homebuyers and sellers. It’s critical to show your local real estate professionals why these inspections are good for their industry. Keeping both sides of a sale happy is good for the reputation of Realtors. An unsatisfied buyer facing a septic failure this time will not be their client when selling the home down the road. Realtors often say that inspections will slow or kill hard-earned sales commissions. This is a short-sighted attitude and your service can help smooth over rough situations. Do whatever you can to convince Realtors you are on the same side.
Dedicate a staff member to inspection work
To get a successful real estate inspection service off the ground, you might assign someone to work exclusively on the effort. The team member might concentrate on both reaching your customer base and providing the inspections. An inspector may not simply be your regular septic service technician called on to provide a new service. The inspector may dress differently, drive a different type of vehicle and carry different tools than your pumper/driver. They may need to develop deeper customer service skills, get trained to be more of a teacher, and spend hours rather than minutes with each client. Think of the inspector as a unique position on your team rather than a jack-of-all-trades.
Get out there and sell, sell, sell
Finding success with inspection work, just like pumping and any other related service, comes down to sales. You may really get stoked to overcome a challenge in the field, but you wouldn’t be flipping that tank lid and hauling out the hose if it weren’t for someone making the sale. When getting into inspections, put together a business plan, talk to others in the industry about their programs, and research all best practices. Then go out and find the customers who desperately need your service.