Bill talks about Open Access, a new project, and a training program where they learn more about houses. Open Access is a venue where inspectors answer questions from real estate agents. He mentions the session is appropriate for real estate agents with the same climate zone.
Tessa explains the training process design and highlights that they break down a house into different systems and discuss them. She shares that they handle overwhelming details and data points about plumbing, electrical, structure, framing, roofing, windows, water management, heating, and more. Further, they conduct a mock inspection flow and practice the use of inspection report software.
Reuben compares clicking where canned comments are available in their software and clumping where custom comments are written in reports. The latter is more advanced report writing and does not rely on the generic comments in the inspection software. Tessa shares that they provide the inspectors with the tools and shape them to think critically and be curious.
Rueben recollects learning from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Ideal Team Player. Tessa shares about the importance of hiring the right person and the qualities of a new home inspector.
Join Open Access every Tuesday, 1 PM to 2 PM. Call us at 952-915-6466 or send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome everyone, you’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our heads.
BO: Well, on today’s episode, what we wanted to do is deconstruct Tessa a little bit, she is in charge of our training process, and we were just talking about this hiring cycles ago. We instituted a new training process where modules were introduced for learning about houses, people went out into the field in a different way than they had ever gone out before, and Tessa is just kind of winding down the fourth group of trainees to go through and we really wanted to just pick your brain Tessa and see how things are going with it. What have you learned?
Tessa Murry: Yeah. My gosh. Where do we start? What have we learned? We’ve learned so much from the first… Like you said, the first round, we actually… We hired one person. This was back in 2020. Reuben, you remember this? We hired Pete Anderson, and he started and then right as soon as he started, the pandemic hit and it shut everything down. And since that point in time, we’ve hired basically three other groups of people to go through this training program, and it has changed and we learn so much from each group that have gone through the training process, and I think we’ve been improving it and tweaking it. But you asked me this before, Bill, right before the podcast, and I was trying to articulate some of the most important things I’ve learned. One of the most important things has been understanding how important it is to hire the right person, and in order for someone to succeed at this and kind of fit what we’re looking for at Structure Tech they have to be someone who is curious, wanting to learn, willing to learn, and humble and hard working too. And if they check those boxes, then we can work with them.
Reuben Saltzman: This just makes me chuckle. I just recently finished listening to a book called The Ideal Team Player, I think it’s by Patrick Lencioni, and the whole book could really be distilled down to what you wanna look for in a new hire, is almost exactly what you just said, Tessa. [chuckle] And you haven’t even read this book, have you? ‘Cause if you know…
TM: No, I haven’t.
RS: You’re just plagiarizing him.
TM: [chuckle] I haven’t, but I could vouch for what he said in his book then kind of first hand.
RS: Well, and that kills me ’cause it’s so close, and the three they say in this book is; humble, hungry and smart.
RS: So that is so very similar, it’s almost exactly what you just said, maybe a little different words, but that’s it. I just had to interject with that, sorry.
TM: It’s okay.
BO: I wanna ask why you think humility is such an important part of this.
RS: Okay, I can say that we have hired people in the past, and the people who did not make it through the training process lacked humility, they thought that they already knew how to do it, they had a better way to do it, they would not spend the time learning how we do it, and they wouldn’t ask questions, they would make this assumption that they already knew how things were supposed to go, and the training process was a mess, it just didn’t work out well for them. And it’s always the people who are not humble who didn’t make it through training.
TM: Yeah, and to add to that too, I think as a home inspector, there is a liability that we don’t discuss a lot in this industry of being too cocky, of pretending that you know the answer to everything, and you can really get into trouble if you say something to a client or put something in a report that may not be factually correct.
TM: And so one of the things that we train our inspectors on, it’s like, okay, we’re giving you all this information, we’re teaching you how to look at a house, how to report on it, how to talk to a client but it is always okay, if you don’t know the answer to everything, and if you articulate that to your client because in my personal experience of doing inspecting, I think you get a lot more trust and respect from your client if you can answer them honestly and say, “You know, this is something that I haven’t seen before, I haven’t seen a lot of and I wanna make sure that I’m telling you the correct information, and so I will get back to you on that.” Or, “I’ll follow up with you on that.” And it’s very disarming to say that to somebody, and if you have an inspector who doesn’t even acknowledge that they may not know something, they’re creating additional liabilities for you when they go out in the field.
TM: Pretending to know something that they don’t, or saying something that may not be true. And how do you unteach that?
BO: It’s interesting, one of the great people in my life who I learned a lot from many, many years ago, Ray Hunter’s his name, Ray is a great guy, passionate guy, and he was showing me the ropes in the back of the operating room one day, and he said, “Don’t you ever answer a question you don’t know the answer to.”
BO: He said, you say, “One second and I’ll get that answer for you.” He said, “Better yet, learn your product and know all the answers and go through every possible scenario that you might need, but don’t you ever say that you have the answer to something that you don’t.” I’ve never forgotten that.
TM: It is great advice. And one of the things that we work on building here at Structure Tech is just a helpful team environment where people feel safe asking questions. And we use Facebook, we use Basecamp, but we’ve got these different internal communication platforms where inspectors can post questions and you don’t ever have to worry about being berated or put down or made to look like an idiot for not knowing the answer to something. You will get a supportive, helpful response, and it makes everybody on our team that much stronger of an inspector and that much more knowledgeable if we can all just learn from each other. And so we encourage that with our trainees, it’s like, it’s okay if you don’t know what something is or you’re not sure about it, post this picture, asks the question in the team, text somebody, call me, call anyone, and we’ll help you through it. Because to this day, I’m still learning something new every time I’m out at a house or an inspection. There’s never a point in time where I’ll have the answer to everything and we don’t want people… Our inspectors that we’re hiring to think that we do.
RS: Tess, that makes me think of something. And Bill, I don’t know if this is appropriate for me to throw this out on a podcast or not. You’re the host of the show and you’re the genius behind this new project that we’re working on. Maybe you won’t want me talking about this. But what about our Open Access calls that we’re doing for real estate agents? So real estate agents can ask those questions now. Can I promote that here, Bill?
BO: I would love to see 150, 250, 500 agents a week showing up just to ask questions and expand their knowledge of houses. I did have the idea but I don’t run it on a regular basis. I sometimes am able to help out, but creating a safe environment for people to learn is… It’s hard to set it up because everybody’s a little guarded at first. But once the communication really starts happening, there’s something really special that begins to take place. And then all of a sudden, you have this thing that Open Access becomes less of that and more of a community and when it gets good, as we’ve seen through some other forums where we’ve done similar things, people will be direct chatting with each other and you get a lot of just back and forth and you learn from other people’s experiences in a way that it’s not threatening. And that’s one of the rules of jumping into that environment is you don’t get to tear anybody down. It’s not allowed. And so everybody can ask what they want, it’s a safe place, we don’t record it. There’s nothing that’s gonna… There’s no gotchas anywhere in the future. You just get to learn.
RS: Well, and let’s back up a step, Bill. What is it?
BO: Well, Open Access is… The thought process behind it is once a week for an hour, we bring together three or four people from the team at Structure Tech and just meet the inspectors who are able to join that hour. They’ll answer any question that any real estate agent has about anything in a house, nothing’s off the table. If you wanna learn about houses, the whys behind some of these mechanical things, or what alerted me to the bigger problem when I saw that stain there, that’s what we’re hoping to do. It’s just, really, to bring people in and be able to learn, because I think there’s a lot of not confusion, but sometimes people don’t always understand the why. And it gives real estate agents to, maybe, understand a little more why we… Behind what home inspectors do.
RS: This is a one-hour Zoom meeting, Open Access for real estate agents here in the Twin Cities, and the people that are answering the questions are home inspectors at Structure Tech, we moderate the calls. And when are we doing these now?
BO: Tuesdays from one to two. I’d love to see it turn into a massive thing. But the conversations that we have, I think would be appropriate for any real estate agent who’s selling houses, probably in a similar climate zone that we live in because our experiences are based on the extremes of Minnesota; the hot, the cold, all that. We see the houses through that particular lens, but I would hope that any agent who wanted to jump on would certainly jump on and ask some questions. But there’s a lane that we drive in and I think the lane we drive in is for the… In a smaller climate.
RS: And so if a real estate agent wanted to jump on one of these, how do they do it? Do they gotta send us an email and then we send them an invite?
BO: If you wanna know, just call the office, 952-915-6466. They will connect you with Lisa. Lisa can get them hooked up for the Zoom link.
BO: So she sends out a link once a week, a reminder link that, “Hey, Open Access is gonna be on.” And we’re four weeks into this… Five weeks into this. So just like Tessa is learning with the training, we’re learning. So once a week there’s a note that’s sent out that it’s on.
RS: So for real estate agents, if you wanna get hooked up, you can call our office or they could always just send an email to the generic email address for our office. And then Lisa can get back to them. Right?
BO: Yeah, totally.
BO: I’ll plead the fifth on the communication on the back end of the sausage-making but if you ask the office, they’ll tell you how to get on.
RS: Cool. All right, cool. We’ll put a link to that email address in our show notes as well.
BO: All right, well, I want to get back to Tessa because she had… I know we’re through the modules now.
RS: All right. Sorry. Sorry, total sidetrack.
BO: Tangent alert.
RS: I know. I’m the worst.
BO: But Tessa, you guys just got done with 10 weeks of module training so you’ve learned about houses, chimneys, plumbing. All that good stuff. And now you took the new class out into the field, and you guys have been doing inspections on houses. What does it look like at this point in the process?
TM: Yes, I’m sure we’ve talked about this on previous podcasts. If anyone wants to hear more about our training program we have on Structure Tech, they can check out that earlier podcast we recorded. But what we’ve tried to do is kind of break down a house into different systems and focus on those systems through the modular training, and kind of take it system by system. And there’s a ton of reading that they have to do, some studying classroom time that I’ve developed curriculum for that we go through together. And then they also go out into the field during that period of time. And once we’ve completed that, then what we do is we take them out into the field, and we try to put all of those different pieces together and see the house more holistically and go through our home inspection process that we have at Structure Tech. From top to bottom, inside to outside, putting all these different systems we’ve learned about together.
TM: And so we do just a bunch of kind of what we call mock inspections, and it’s also an opportunity for them to really practice using our report writing software while they’re inspecting, they’ve kinda played around with it week to week on each system before, but now they’re actually inspecting something and putting it into the report writing software while they’re there and moving through the house, and so it’s practicing the flow of everything, practicing the timing, practicing the actual art of inspecting, and the software. So it’s a lot of stuff kind of coming together at once, and it can get… As you can imagine, it can get completely overwhelming.
BO: Pretty wide eyes during those first few mock inspections?
TM: Yeah, yeah. For sure. After we get through this week or two of doing these mock inspections with them, kind of depending on where they’re at and their comfort level with everything, then the next step is we’ll send them out with inspectors we have on our team who are involved with the training process, and they’ll basically kinda be their mentors while they fine-tune everything and we get them to the point where they’re ready to go out on their own.
BO: Can we just focus in on this mock time? Where are you getting these houses and…
TM: What does it look like?
BO: Yeah. Well, I’d be curious for you, ’cause you’re an observer at this point, right, and you’re helping them understand, what do you think is the greatest challenge for folks at this stage of the game?
TM: That’s a great question, too. Well, I think one thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of the people that we hire are very detail-oriented people, which is a good thing if you’re gonna be a home inspector to be able to look at these little pieces and these details and see them and report on them, but when you are learning about home inspection, the details can get overwhelming because you have to know the details on plumbing, the details on electrical, the details on structure, and framing, and roofing, and siding, and windows, and water management, and heating and cooling, and all these different systems, and as you can imagine, there’s like thousands of data points that your brain is trying to see and think about and calculate, and so like I said before, when we get into these… Kind of these mock inspections, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed, and so I think one of the biggest challenges that I see the new inspectors dealing with is how to kinda take a step back and put it all together, and so that’s the key, and I love… I think that’s probably my favorite part of the whole training process is helping them look at the house as a system and see the big picture and think critically.
TM: Okay, so we’re seeing all these little different pieces of what’s going on, let’s put it together. Let’s take a step back. What does this actually mean? What’s going on here? And let’s put it into some context, too, right? You can go through a house and you can see a whole house humidifier on the furnace, and you can see dark staining in the attic, and you can see condensation staining on the windows, and you can report on all that stuff, but let’s take a step back and let’s think about the house as a system, and here’s kinda my little building science rant for the day, but really, it’s about heat, air moisture flow in a house, and we’ve got all these sources of moisture, we’ve got a whole house humidifier that could be producing a lot of humidity, we’ve got attic bypasses that allow that moisture to get up into the attic, and we can see all the condensation on the windows and the staining. And so really, what does this mean to whoever’s buying this house?
TM: So I would say, you know, monitor your humidity levels in the house, here are some things you can do to help prevent the moisture from causing problems, air-seal the attic and reduce the humidity, add ventilation if you need to, keep your blinds up in the winter, remove the screens and help them kind of understand what these symptoms mean. This is going above and beyond really the ASHI SOP, but I try to help our inspectors look at all these little things and be able to take a step back and see the big picture.
BO: Sure, so you’ve got all of that rattling around in your brain, but only a few words are coming out that are going to give a clear picture that this isn’t an issue, that’s not an issue, it’s just if it continues to go on this way, it will become an issue, here’s what I’m seeing. And so just cleaning up that communication seems like would be a real challenge as a teacher, getting the student to understand, leave it at that, or take it all in…
TM: Yeah, yeah.
BO: Understand it all, but don’t communicate it all because you’re gonna crush somebody’s dream of owning a house.
TM: Exactly, yeah, exactly. And for example, just one of the houses we were at today, looking at… It was a 1985 build house, let’s just say that it wasn’t very well taken care of, and there are some other things going on there, too, not just kind of lack of maintenance and care, some other bigger issues going on there, but you know, our inspectors in training are very detail-oriented, they’re not wanting to miss a single thing, and they’re noticing that the windows have lots of issues, original casement windows in this house, wood frame. And one of them was asking the question, well, I can’t find this comment, that I’m seeing this defect here, and I can’t remember, maybe it was condensation staining or a rot or something like that.
BO: There were certainly rot in that 1985 house with those windows. I can tell.
TM: Definitely rot happening. And I thought, well, this is a question that leads to kind of a bigger discussion of how do you report on something when you’ve got… Let’s just say you’ve got all these issues happening with windows, are we going to call out 20 of these defects on windows all separately and have a report that has like five pages dedicated to the window defects that we see either the crank-outs not working, the window itself is rotted, failed seals, dark staining, chipping, peeling paint, broken glass, or are we going to condense all these things that we’re seeing into one comment and say, you know, here are all the defects we see that are included, but not limited to these things; boom, boom, boom, throw in all the pictures and then recommend that these windows ultimately probably need to be replaced.
RS: Instead of having 20 recommendations for repairs, you just say, “Look, here’s the big picture. They’re in pretty bad condition. Conditions include, but aren’t limited to… Consider having them replaced.” Like, yeah.
TM: Yes, and I think that’s what we…
RS: One comment.
TM: Yes. And like you said before, Reuben, it’s… What did you say, click versus clump?
RS: Yeah, clicking versus clumping.
RS: And clicking, it’s like we’ve got software where we’ve got canned comments for just about all of these conditions. You can click a box and say, “The windows… Where there was cracked windows. There was condensation. There was cracks,” like all these things you just listed, and we could just click a whole bunch of different comments, but… And this is actually Bill’s term he used many years ago, clicking versus clumping. Clumping would be, you take all of these conditions and you just write a custom comment in your report saying, “I found all this stuff, and here’s what you ought to do about it,” instead of having somebody read through 10, 12, 20 comments individually. That would be called clumping, and I might say, this is like advanced report writing, is what I would call this.
RS: And it’s what we’re trying to teach our home inspectors to do, the day they go out and do their first home inspection, is not rely on generic checkboxes found in home inspection report writing software, but take it to the next level and learn how to write your own custom reports and steal some of the language that’s already in our software, but we’re teaching them how to write good, solid, easy-to-read, helpful reports, not these generic-looking checkbox things.
TM: Yes. Amen. Amen to that.
BO: Well, I think that’s an industry problem. People are concerned about speed and it’s easy to click and to go, but to be an effective communicator is something entirely different. When the greats do it, it’s like watching an amazing quarterback or Wayne Gretzky, who went to where the puck is gonna be instead of… Just all of that diagnosing that takes place, and it comes out in this tight little sentence, creating that in a person who’s doing this sort of work, takes time. And I laugh when I hear other home inspectors say, “Well, we trained for 30 days or 60 days at night as well.” Great, good luck to you. I’d put somebody who Tessa trains up against anybody in this country, and I can just about guarantee they’re communicating on a level that’s just far superior.
TM: Thanks, Bill, I wish I could take the credit, but really it comes back to, again, the person that we’re hiring. And Reuben, like you said with that book, intelligence is one of them, and we’ve got a lot of really smart people on our team who are able to take in all this information and process it and put it together and deliver an accurate inspection and communicate it clearly to people. So just kudos to the people that are a part of the team and have been through our training process. I know it’s not easy, but they’re all extremely hard-working, very intelligent people. And they’re doing great inspections.
BO: It allows Reuben to sleep well at night. You don’t have to…
RS: It does. [laughter] It does.
BO: We joke, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and I think that that goes for this business as well as any business or any part of life, right? You can gurgitate a bunch of details and confuse them, or you can be like, “Okay, here’s what matters.”
TM: Yeah, exactly. And part of this whole… The modular learning is like, okay, we gotta teach you these thousands of data points of what could be wrong and how it should be, so you can identify these things, but then this part of the training is more of the… I think it’s like the more artistic side of things, where it’s not always right or wrong. We actually have these discussions, after we’re going through the house, and I guess during the mock inspections, of, “Okay, what are we seeing here? What does that mean?” And then at the end, “How would you explain this to a client? What would you say? Summarize for me what your takeaway has been from this inspection.” And I like to break it down with them too, it’s like, okay, once we finish the exterior, let’s recap. What are the takeaways from the exterior? Once we finish the interior, what are the takeaways? And then we’ve kind of built up this kind of a priority cliff-note version of these thousands of different data points that we’re seeing and documenting while we’re there. That’s the part I think that that’s the hardest to do and takes the most experience and time, to be able to go through a house, see all these problems and put it into context and summarize it clearly and concisely to the buyer, to the client. So we’re practicing that now.
BO: And you’re almost to the peak of Mount Everest right now, in terms of learning, and then a couple more weeks you begin that descent back to basecamp.
BO: I mean, you laugh about this, and I know it’s a lot of work, but it must be a little bit like raising children to a certain degree, and that’s with all due respect to everybody involved in this process. It’s not a simple process, it takes a lot of brain power to delve through this.
TM: Yeah, well, I’m not a parent, but I have respect for parents, and I… Just the way that my parents raised me too, it’s like, we can give you the tools to be a successful person, but we’re gonna let you be who you are. And that’s kind of what we’re doing at Structure Tech. It’s like, here’s the foundation for how you can inspect a house successfully and what you can do, but once we give you those tools, then it’s up to you to kind of use them, and so we’re shaping these inspectors to kind of think critically, be curious, put things into context, and then we have to send them out there and allow them to do that. And it’s more than just a simple checkbox that they’re doing when they’re going through the house. It’s way more than that, and that’s why this training process takes longer.
BO: I’m glad you’re doing it.
TM: Oh, I love it. Yeah.
BO: And it’s just so funny because you get into this business, and I know you got in and you were inspecting and then there was this itch to teach, and it just feels like you fell into a really good spot here, and I can just about imagine that everybody who comes out of training is happy that they had you kinda help in the process, so.
TM: My apologies to the people… Thank you, Pete, for being our guinea pig, and for all the other people who have been through this training process as it’s evolved, we’ve learned a lot. But it really isn’t… It feels like we, as home inspectors, kind of speak a different language, and we have to learn how to translate our language for our clients, and how do we do that effectively. And that’s really what we’re doing. We’re coming in, we’re reading the house in one language and then we’re speaking it, communicating it, in a different language, concisely. And it’s fun, it’s fun, and I think there’s so many… There’s such a need for people who can translate this language. There’s so many people out there buying houses that don’t know anything about their houses, and really putting a lot of trust in us for the biggest decision of their life, to know what they’re getting. And so I take that very seriously, and I think everybody on the team that’s a part of this company really, ultimately, they care about their clients and they want to be able to help them make that decision that’s right for them at that critical point.
BO: Yeah. You’re here. Wow, that’s awesome, that’s awesome. And soon, a couple more chicks will be getting pushed out of the nest.
TM: [laughter] Yeah.
BO: Have to fly through a busy summer season and catch their breath next Thanksgiving.
TM: Yeah, yup.
BO: Well, that’s awesome. I think maybe we should put a wrap on this, but it’s fun to see everybody again after a long layoff. Thank you everybody for tuning in. We appreciate it very much, and we hope you enjoyed the show. Thank you everybody, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech Presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman. Thanks for listening.