Q: Due to large cutbacks, I have become unemployed after 25 years with the same company. I want to start a home inspection business. Do you know if there are any programs to help cover training costs for older displaced workers?
A: I'm sorry to hear that you became a casualty of our poor economy, but I'm happy to hear you are getting back on track by thinking about starting your own company--particularly one that won't soon go out of style. In a recent study conducted by the National Association of Realtors and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), 77 percent of all recent home buyers said they'd obtained a home inspection prior to the purchase of their homes. Indeed, nearly 4.9 million home inspections were performed in 2000 alone, bringing in total sales of more than $6.7 million.
So if you have a background or interest in construction or a related field, or at least have the desire to learn the needed skills, you should have no problem getting started in this business once you've got the proper training. One option to consider is franchising; many franchisors offer training programs, ongoing support and third-party financing to franchisees. If you like the idea of buying a package deal rather than starting from scratch, a franchise might be for you.
However, if you would rather remain completely autonomous and not pay any royalty or other fees to a franchisor, there are several training programs that will help you get started on your own. The ASHI offers them, as does the National Association of Home Inspectors Inc. (NAHI). Some community colleges also offer extension courses in building inspections, or you can look into private home-study courses. And Entrepreneur Media offers a start-up guide, How to Start a Home Inspection Service, available at www.smallbizbooks.com or by calling (800) 421-2300. Look into these resources to find out what the costs are and whether there are any special financing programs for people like you.
Here are some basic steps to keep in mind as you get you started in this industry:
- If you're completely new to the construction or real estate industries, spend some time reading up and even shadowing an inspector to find out what it's like to work in the field of home inspection. Remember, starting a business is a lot of work, and you want to be sure this is what you really want before investing any time or money.
- Once you're sure home inspection is for you, join a chapter of a national organization like the ASHI or NAHI. Go to their meetings to begin making valuable contacts and learning all you can about the industry. Locate a mentor within your local chapter who can help guide you throughout the process of starting your business and point you toward training courses and other resources.
- If possible, gain experience doing inspections under someone else before you venture out on your own. Learn the ins and outs of solving various problems (determining the causes of cracks, leaks, water stains), and prepare to get your hands dirty (climbing up on roofs, shimmying through crawl spaces).
- Hone your communication skills so you're prepared to clearly convey information to clients and other parties, both verbally and on paper.
- Obtain errors-and-omissions insurance to cover yourself in the event of oversights and mistakes. You'll likely need to go through training before you can obtain this insurance, which you can typically get through the national organization you join.
Probably the most important thing you can do before starting your business is to get the proper training and begin making industry contacts. Not only will this help you learn all you can about home inspection, but it will also allow you to find a support network you can turn to throughout your entrepreneurial career.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.