Today, the three-legged stool talks about Reuben’s new project and side hustle.
Inspection Services is a one-stop-shop solution to the service needs of home inspectors in the Twin Cities area.
Reuben shares that they can do radon, sewer inspections, level 2 chimney inspections, stucco testing, and mold testing. They also plan to offer pool inspections and engineering services in the near future.
They also talk about the importance of getting inspections aside from home inspections. Reuben also highlights that their inspectors are certified, licensed, and follow various standards and codes. He mentions that that goal is to inform the homeowners what to do next.
To learn more, visit inspectionservicesmn.com.
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: We’re reuniting for the first time in several weeks, and what we wanna talk about on today’s episode is a new project that Reuben has been working on. And, Reuben, we just want everybody to learn about the side hustle that is…
Reuben Saltzman: Inspection Services.
BO: So what’s going on? Inspection Services, what does this mean to anybody who might be listening to the podcast? Why would they even care?
RS: Well, it’s a new company that we have launched. It’s kind of a sister company to Structure Tech, but it is completely independent. And this is a company that offers a whole bunch of these services that a lot of home inspectors get asked to offer, but most don’t offer all this stuff. And we do things such as radon testing. Now, I know most home inspectors in Minnesota, they probably already do radon testing, but we’re also doing sewer inspections, level two chimney inspections, which means you take a camera, you put it up the chimney, or down the chimney and you evaluate the entire thing. We’re doing stucco testing and we’re doing mold testing, and we have a bunch of other services coming soon. We don’t offer them just yet, but we’re going to be doing engineering services, like, “Hey, I need a structural engineer, can you help me with this?” We will be doing that at some point, we’re gonna be doing pool inspections, just all these extra things that home inspectors get asked to do. This is basically a white label company where this company will do it for other home inspectors here in the Twin Cities area.
BO: Yeah, allow me to paraphrase, but what you have done is you set up a one-stop shop for real estate agents through Structure Tech to get home inspections and people buying houses or selling houses, and now you’re doing a very similar thing for home inspectors to be able to make one phone call and get all of these ancillary services that they may have in the past helped arrange or referred people to, but now they can just go right here, make one call and set the whole thing up.
RS: Yes. Yes, exactly. And so for John Smith, the independent home inspector, when he gets a call from a real estate agent, the agent says, “Hey, I need a home inspection. By the way, I need a sewer inspection too. Can you do that?” And John will say, “No, I can’t, but here’s a company that can.” And he’ll give out the name of a drain cleaning company, and then the real estate agent is responsible for arranging the sewer inspection and the home inspection. But now that Inspection Services exist, we will be that person for John. So John gets a call, “Hey, John, can you do a home inspection and a sewer?” John says, “Yep, I sure can.” “Do you need a chimney inspection too or a radon or mold? I can do all of them.” And the agent says, “Yeah, give me three of those.”
RS: And then John simply goes to our website, fills out a quick little form, or gives us a call at Inspection Services, and then we arrange to get it done either before his inspection takes place or during his inspection or right after. And we don’t need to be there at the exact same time that he’s doing his home inspection because all of our techs have electronic key access. It’s the e-key that realtors use to get into houses. All of our technicians have those keys and they can all get in and get their inspection services done. And our office arranges those inspection services with the listing agent. So we make home inspectors’ lives way easier ’cause they can offer all these services that they never used to do. So they can become one-stop shops just like we are.
BO: I love it, I love it. And tell me about the logistics of some of these services. Do they all have to be ordered upfront or can you tack them on at any point in the process? I mean, that’s a lot of choices on the menu right off the bat, and I think some people would be like, “Yep, that for sure, that for sure, that for sure.” But maybe you get in and you want something else. For example, let’s just use mold. They’d be like one concern at all the time. You visually saw something and you’re like, “Well, maybe we should get this tested.” Can they tack on more services or how does that work?
RS: Yeah, for sure because it’s usually going to be a different technician for each one of these services. We don’t really have anybody cross-trained on our team where we got one person doing a bunch of stuff, so it doesn’t really matter if they select one service or three, and it doesn’t matter when they select it, we’ll get out there and we’ll get these services done as quickly as possible.
BO: Is this up and running right now?
RS: It is up and running right now. We launched this program late in 2021, and we only had one customer at the time, which was Structure Tech. [chuckle] And we made a lot of mistakes with Structure Tech. [chuckle] There was a lot of kinks, a lot of problems, little technical glitches and things to figure out with launching a new company, but we’ve worked through all the kinks that I can think of. I mean, we’ve worked through a lot of them, and now we’re onboarding other home inspectors in the Twin Cities. And I’m in the process of calling and texting and emailing other home inspectors throughout the Twin Cities area, letting them know about this. And I gotta say, every one of these calls is a very easy call to make ’cause I call people up, I say, “Hey, it’s me, Reuben.” I know most of the home inspectors here in the Twin Cities. And I just say, “Hey, I’m calling to let you know about a new service we launched to support home inspectors. I’m calling to solicit your business.”
RS: And, of course, everybody is just a little wary like, “Wait. Alright, what are you trying to sell me?” But as soon as people understand exactly what this is, they’re intrigued and they’re like, “Yeah, send me an email. Where do I sign up?” It’s such an easy call to make because this is something that I really wish would have been around 10 years ago, and then I wouldn’t have had to figure out how to do all this stuff, how to get into sewer inspections and chimney and do all of this stuff in-house, because we’re doing a service for home inspectors the way it should be done. Our reports look very similar to a home inspection report.
RS: I’m not knocking anybody, but I’ve seen people in some of these other areas, these other fields where they’ve got a little triplicate form that they bring with them and they write something, and they hand write something, and they tear off a copy and give it to the client on-site. And it reminds me of what we were doing with home inspection reports back when I started with Structure Tech in ’97. It was super, super basic, and that’s where a lot of people are at when it comes to… I don’t even wanna pick on any specific trades, but when it comes to a lot of these ancillary services. But we’re doing a report that looks just like a home inspection report. It includes color photos, it’s well written, it’s in digital format, and it’s available right away. And it just streamlines the entire process. And we do all of this at a price point that’s very competitive with what everybody else is offering. So we’re not charging any more, and it’s a far superior service to just about anything else that’s out there.
Tessa Murry: Well, it seems like a really interesting idea, Reuben, having this white label company that offers these services to home inspectors. It’s an interesting concept because we know that there’s so many home buyers and real estate agents out there that need these services, and that’s why we’ve grown this part of our company, but to white label it so you can market it to other home inspectors, I think it’s such a brilliant idea. And now you’re allowing this industry to have some sort of, kind of, hopefully, quality, standardized services that they can rely on, that before… I know we probably struggled at Structure Tech, and you can speak to this. Finding good quality sewer inspectors and going through the mold testing ourselves and getting certified and understanding that there’s a wide variety of chimney inspection services out there. And we kind of went through that learning process, and now, we’re offering this service that provides a good quality inspections across the board, with, sounds like, detailed quality reports too.
TM: And it’s a one-stop shop. So, that’s a really, really great idea. Where did you get that idea? Can I ask?
RS: I think I was probably dreaming about it one day.
TM: It came to you?
RS: Just woke up with it. Back when Minnesota went into doing licensing for radon testing, my wife and I talked about this, like, “What if we were to go out and just do radon testing for other home inspectors? Because it is such a pain to get licensed.” And we talked about it for a long time, and we just decided it could not be profitable enough. Every way we did the numbers, we thought, “This is gonna be a break even, it’s not gonna be worth our hassle.” But I started thinking about it again recently, and I was just thinking, “We’ve got all these different services, and it’s a shame that other home inspectors can’t offer all this stuff,” because these are all really important things for anybody to get. If you’re buying a house, it’s become standard in Minnesota to get radon testing. Here at Structure Tech, a full 50% of our home inspections, people select radon testing. But what’s more important, radon or a sewer inspection?
TM: Oh my gosh, a sewer inspection, hands down.
RS: Yes. And they both cost about the same. We charge 225 for either one of those, but if you’re gonna get a sewer inspection and it turns bad, you’re looking at like a $10,000 dig to…
TM: Or more.
RS: Or more to fix your yard. Radon, what is it? Like 1,500, 2,000 tops? It’s not that big of a deal to fix radon. It’s so much more important to do that. And today at Structure Tech, we do sewer inspections at a full 50% of our home inspections. And it’s not because we’re pushing it, we’re not cramming it down on anybody’s throat, it’s, when somebody calls to get a home inspection, we just say, “Okay, who’s doing your sewer inspection?” It’s as simple as that. And, “Oh, well, my realtor told me I should do it. Do you guys do it? ‘Yeah, we do it. You need it?’ Yeah, let’s do it.” It’s as easy as that. It’s simply a matter of asking our client, “Do you wanna have this done?” And I realized, other home inspectors would be selling the heck out of this themselves if they simply had an easy way to get this done. So, I was just thinking about trying to make life easier for people.
TM: And can you put it in a context? What percentage of the home inspection industry here in Minnesota is like one-man shops?
RS: If I were to guess, I’d say somewhere around 80% to 85%.
TM: Wow, that’s a huge portion of the industry that they struggle to provide these services.
TM: And even some of the multi… Yeah. The larger companies here too, they don’t provide all these services, do they?
RS: No, no. There are other multi-inspector companies here, and all of them do some of these services, none of them do all of them.
BO: I think when you’re talking about all these ancillaries, yeah, there might be more risk with one than the other, but when you get this inspection, like when you go through and you list all, you introduce certainty to understanding about your house. So if your radon comes back high, whether you fix it or not, or whether it’s really expensive or not, at least you know what you’re dealing with. Cause if you turn around and sell it in the future, it’s so high, and then maybe you have to do something with it if you didn’t previously do something.
BO: Or just understanding what you have before you own it, is really important because they always say the buck stops with somebody, right? Do you want it to stop with you, or do you wanna have a conversation about a sewer line that’s in top shape now before you own the house, or you wanna have it after? And you can say the same thing about chimneys. A lot of people in Minnesota like burning wood, and a lot of these chimneys are kind of in rough shape sometimes. And it’s not that, that chimney makes the house bad or good, you just understand what you have, number one, and number two, what’s it gonna cost to fix? Well, I’d rather have that answer upfront than after the fact. And so I just think it puts you in a cost certain situation. So once you close on that home, your eyes are wide open and you can move forward and fix what’s important to you when it’s most important to get done.
BO: Reuben, one thing that I think is long been chided for some companies doing inspections is always, “You’re doing that, so you can sell me the fix.” Right? That’s our loss leader to get you into my house, so then you can tell me about all the other things you wanna fix in the house.
RS: Oh, of course.
0:13:29.8 BO: You do not fix anything, you do not clear drain lines. There’s nothing here, but inspections, right?
RS: No, inspection services might as well steal Structure Tech’s tagline.
RS: Delivering the unbiased truth, that is not our tagline, but we might as well steal it because it’s the same thing, we’re not offering any other services other than inspection services, we are an inspection company, and we don’t fix anything, we have no incentive to inflate stuff or to do the opposite, we’re just there to report on the accurate condition of anything that we’re inspecting.
BO: Do you have similar standards, I mean ASHI has got standards for home inspections of… What’s the formula you use, you say what’s wrong, or and?
RS: We follow the same reporting format that we do for home inspections when following the ASHI standard of practice, and it basically means what’s the condition, why does it matter? And what do you need to do about it? Those are the three things that we put in all of our reports for all these different conditions.
TM: And what guides those recommendations and the identification of deficiencies, is there some sort of standards of practice that we follow?
RS: It depends on what you’re talking about. Now, when it comes to radon, there’s radon licensing, and the state is pretty specific about how our reports need to be written. When it comes to sewer inspections the person who oversees the sewer inspections division and inspection services is a guy who has been in the drain cleaning and inspection company for, I don’t know how long, about a decade or so, he has his own drain cleaning company, but he also oversees that division at Structure… How in the hell have I said Structure Tech? [laughter] At Inspection Services. And when it comes to chimney, we follow NFPA 211, National Fire Protection Agency, we follow their standards. And our chimney inspectors are certified by The Chimney Safety Institute of America.
TM: CSI certified?
TM: What about the mold inspectors?
RS: Mold, we follow another standard. My dad is the one who oversees that, he’s gone through extensive training to get in the mold. We had him on a podcast recently, and I don’t remember the certification off the top of my head but…
TM: I don’t either.
RS: It was a very difficult one for him to get. This was a lot of training, this was not simply your little one week course and take a test at the end. This was in depth, this was pretty serious.
TM: He’s got a degree in mold after that.
RS: Pretty much, yep.
TM: Yeah, wow.
BO: Okay, when the inspections are done and the reports are handed over, is it fair to say that a real estate agent is going to… It is gonna read like the home inspection report, it’s going to feel like it, there aren’t gonna be a lot of questions about what to do next.
RS: That sure is the goal. And we don’t get a lot of callbacks with what to do next, it’s usually quite clear.
BO: And turnaround time on this where you’re at right now, if somebody called the office and said, I need the sewer, the radon, and I have one fireplace in my house. Can you turn those services around pretty quickly or?
RS: Well, I believe this show is gonna air on Monday, March 7th, and if you’re listening on Monday the 7th, we could probably get your service done by Tuesday the 8th. [laughter] Now, if you listen to this in June, well, I’m crossing my fingers that we’re gonna be out a couple of days, we’ll be that busy, but today we’re sure not that busy, we can handle a lot more volume right now.
BO: Okay, can you talk a little bit about mold and radon? I know it takes a little more time to process those reports or to process the data that goes into the reports, what kind of turnaround time are those taking?
RS: Sure. For radon testing, we gotta set the test at the house and it’s gotta be there for 48 hours or… You know, actually, I was corrected. Do you guys know in Minnesota it’s actually… It can be 44 hours?
TM: I did not know that.
RS: I saw a test, it had been set for like 46 hours or something, and like Bethany, what’s going on with this one? I think you may have messed this up, and she’s like… Well, she schooled me. She’s like, “Well, actually in Minnesota, they blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I can’t quote what she told me, but whatever it is. The radon test has to be there for two days, and then we can pick it up and we get the results instantly, we use electronic monitors and we read the results right on-site. We’re emailing the results while we’re on-site for radon now. I mean we’re sending them out right away.
RS: And then for mold, I don’t know off the top of my head. All I know is we gotta go out there, we take the samples and we need to FedEx them to a lab, and I think we get the results the next day, but don’t quote me on that. I know it’s pretty quick.
BO: Yeah, but these samples, they’re moving up 1000 miles or more before they get processed, so there’s some time associated with travel, before results can come back.
BO: Okay, alright, so obviously, how do people find this?
RS: All they gotta do is go to our website, you go to inspectionservicesmn.com, inspectionservicesmn.com. We’ll put the link in the show notes and there’s a Contact Us button right on the home page, and they could shoot us an email. If there’s a home inspector that wants more information about this, then we can send them an onboarding email. It’s gotta an email that lists all the little details of how this works and it’s pretty slick.
BO: Yeah, I think the only part that wasn’t slick was developing all the reporting templates for all these new services that previously didn’t have a said template.
RS: No Bill, that training new people to do it and setting up a website and getting insurance for it, and setting up a new management system and a new phone number and email just to start, this was such a ridiculous amount of work, [chuckle] way more than I first envisioned. I thought this is gonna be pretty slick. But boy, it took a long time to get this up and running, but we’re there, we’re there. That’s the good news.
BO: That’s awesome. How many people are on the team?
RS: Maybe a dozen, something like that.
BO: You busting out a dozen people into…
RS: Maybe stolen a few people from Structure Tech. [chuckle] We’ve hired a fair number of people who never had any affiliation with Structure Tech. And then there’s some people who work both for Structure Tech and Inspection Services. But something I wanna make clear when other home inspectors, if they’re hearing this, and they’re hearing Structure Tech a lot. I wanna make it clear that even though I own both of these companies, they are completely separate, and the word Structure Tech will never appear anywhere on anything when it comes to Inspection Services. Although I will admit, early on, one of the first home inspectors to use our service we sent out a report and somewhere in the fine print of the report, we had stolen one of Structure Tech’s templates, somewhere in the fine print, something did say Structure Tech [chuckle] that was so ridiculously embarrassing. Yeah.
TM: So all those kinks are worked out. You’re saying?
RS: The kinks have been worked out now, yes. [chuckle] Yeah, as far as I know, as far as I know, we have worked out everyone, we really went through everything with a fine-toothed comb after that ’cause…
TM: So we’re not showing up in Structure Tech uniforms or Structure Tech vehicles?
RS: No, nothing, it’s all very generic looking, and the idea is that we’re going to appear as though we are a part of whatever home inspector ordered the service.
TM: That’s great.
BO: Perfect, the last question I have for you, are some of the team members cross-trained to do multiple services, so you can get more bang for this one visit, like it’s less impact on the homeowner having to wonder who’s coming in and out?
RS: We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.
BO: If you’re in the home inspection industry, please take advantage of it. There’s a lot to learn on all of these things. Each of these trades, you really… You know just from the sewer cleaning and understanding all the materials and all of that too, it’s just a pile of work and I’m glad it’s available for people, ’cause I think understanding what you’re buying is really important before you actually own it.
BO: Cool. Well, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. Thanks for listening and we’ll catch you next.