COVID-19 Update: Structure Tech Home Inspections is still open for business. To see what we’re doing to help keep everyone safe, please see COVID-19 and Home Inspections.

Andy Wojtowski

New home inspection software and new attendance policies (with Eric Houseman)

One of Structure Tech’s very own inspectors, Eric Houseman, joins the show to talk about the major changes the company has made since Covid-19 took effect back in March.

The show starts off doing a deep dive into where the company came from, then covers the following topics:

Process:

  • Why Structure Tech started out as a be-with-us-every-minute-of-the-way inspection company.

  • What happened in March of 2020.

  • What changes have occurred with inspections this year.

  • What was done to keep the inspectors, agents, and clients safe during the inspections.

  • How the new implementation has been going.

Software:

  • Why did Structure Tech abandon the existing home inspection report-writing software in favor of a new one?

  • How did the new software help the company grow and become more scalable and efficient?

  • How does everybody feel about where we’re at right now?

  • How did the software change happen?

To see a home inspection report written with Structure Tech’s new software, please see our sample home inspection report.

TRANSCRIPTION

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.

Reuben Saltzman: This is the answer that I hate more than anything else, I’d say, kinda ’cause that’s the way we always did it.

[chuckle]

[music]

Bill Oelrich: Welcome everybody. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Reuben Saltzman and Tessa Murry, as always, the three-legged stool in the world of Structure Talk. On today’s episode, we are going to have a special guest, one of our very own inspectors, Eric Houseman. He’s leading the charge on some major changes we’ve made in our company since COVID-19 took effect back in March. And we thought we would do a deep dive into where we came from, what changes we’ve made, how the implementation has been going and… ‘Cause we’re getting a lot of feedback from inspectors around the country, apparently a lot of inspectors listen to us, and they are wondering why we left our old software behind in favor of something new. So we’re gonna dive into that a little bit. And so Eric, please introduce yourself, say hi so everybody can put a voice with the name.

Eric Houseman: Hello. Good morning.

BO: Awesome. Excellent. You’ve got good tone there.

EH: Good inflection, good tone.

BO: There you go.

[chuckle]

BO: So let’s talk about this. We were a company that used to always encourage people to be alongside us every step of the way when we did a home inspection. So when we arrived at the property, we asked they arrive at the property at the same time. Then this virus thing and the subsequent pandemic came along, and we completely reverse course. So Reuben, I’m gonna throw this at you and tell me why Structure Tech started out as a be with us every minute of the way inspection company.

Tessa Murry: This is the answer that I hate more than anything else, I’d say, kinda ’cause that’s the way we always did it.

[chuckle]

TM: I thought it was ’cause you like to just teach people about everything. You’re a teacher.

RS: Well, I love that, and that’s why we kept doing it that way, but I didn’t start this company, I didn’t start this process. Originally, we started out doing it that way when my dad bought Structure Tech in ’97, that’s the way our inspectors would do it, is we’d have the clients there the whole time. And we came to just love that method, we liked having our clients there ’cause we liked being able to educate them about the house, tell them how this works, how that works, heres ideas for improvement here. We’d go through the whole thing together. So we enjoyed it, we liked talking house. I could talk for eight hours straight about houses. [chuckle]

BO: So when Neil picked up the company from previous generation, Rick Noling, was Rick and all of the people working for Rick? Were they doing a similar client there the whole time?

RS: I’m pretty sure. We’re going back 21 years now. And when you say all the people, it was Dwayne that… [chuckle]

TM: Shout out to Dwayne if you ever listen to this podcast. [chuckle]

RS: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that that’s the way they were doing it at the time, was they’d have the client there the entire time.

BO: Okay.

RS: Yup.

BO: All right. So what happened in March of 2020?

RS: Well, we almost got shut down with COVID. There was a question for a while whether we could even do home inspections with the quarantine. And we learned that we could, but we had to put a lot of stuff in place immediately because people were absolutely freaked out like, “Hey, maybe we’ll let you into the house to do the inspection, but what are you gonna do to keep people safe?” So we had to come up with a lot of stuff right away. We’ve covered this on our podcast; masks, washing our hands, wearing gloves, not having clients attend the inspection was a big one. And we did that for a while where we weren’t having our clients showing up at all during the quarantine.

RS: And then once we changed and we started allowing clients to show up, we didn’t want clients bumping into us trying to cram into a utility room at the same time with us. You go in the bathroom, then I’ll go in the bathroom, we’ll pass by the hallway. It felt weird. And so we said we’re not gonna have a client show up until the end of the inspection essentially and our inspectors started really getting used to doing it this way. And they found they could really focus a lot more on just inspecting. Not having to inspect, then explain, inspect, explain, go get the client, go over this. It was just uninterrupted inspecting. And after doing that for a couple of months, our team, they all said it loud and clear. Well, I shouldn’t say all. No team, 100% agrees on everything.

[laughter]

RS: It should be everybody, but the majority of our team spoke up and said, “Look, this is a way better way of inspecting houses, we can actually provide a better service to our clients when we do it this way. We’re not getting distracted and… ” This is a weird one to explain, but I had a lot of our inspectors say, “We don’t end up freaking people out during the inspection the way we used to.” Because when people would be there during the inspection and they’d be there for three, three and a half hours of listening to all the stuff that they gotta do with the house or things that we’re recommending and it would start to weigh them down. I can’t tell you how many times I get clients who… They get that glossy look, the deer in the headlights look, or it’s too much and it almost looks like they’re starting to get depressed while they’re there for so long.

TM: Yeah.

RS: And we don’t have that anymore. Now we’re just hitting the high points with the client. So it’s been a good change for us, and our clients and the agents seem to appreciate it.

BO: Okay, so it was a defense mechanism move in the beginning. Now Tessa and Eric, you had an experience about the same time as COVID was beginning to ramp up and both of you were beginning to feel like we needed something different in our company. At the same time that we asked the client to back out of this, what were you all thinking about the process?

TM: Well, Eric and I, we had a pretty awesome experience. We went down to Texas for this training through IEB, which Bill, you talk about this all the time, Inspector Empire Builder.

BO: Inspector Empire Builder.

TM: Yes. So we had this training called rapid growth training. How many days was it, Eric?

EH: We were down there for three days, if I remember correctly. It’s interesting, and I’d like to throw this in there. You and I were sitting in the airport when they came across on the news. I don’t remember what channel was on, but they came across on the news and they finally labeled what we were walking into as a pandemic.

TM: Yes.

RS: And you and I both looked at each other and said, “I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to make it home.”

TM: Yeah. Yup. I remember that. Yeah, quite an interesting time to take a trip. But anyways, we learned a lot during that trip. And one of the things I think that Eric and I were thinking about are ways that we can grow our company and make it more scalable and make it more efficient. And so that led us to talking about just the software that we use.

BO: Okay, so we’ve got this conversation of maybe there’s some distraction in the inspection, but then we also have this conversation of, well, we’ve got the software system that we’ve used for a long, long time, and it’s been very robust and served us well. But Reuben, I remember a meeting where we all came together and were like, “I think we should take a look at a different software package.” And your initial thought was what?

RS: I thought there’s no point in doing this. I remember I wasn’t in love with the software that we moved from. We’ve been using the same software since 2012 and I’ll tell you, we were using version 5.0 of the software in 2012. To date, the most current version is version 5.1. So I had not been super satisfied with our piece of software that we had. I’d been growing more and more dissatisfied, but I swore that changing softwares is not going to make our inspection writing process any more efficient. It might add some more bells and whistles and do some nice things for us, but it’s not going to save us any time writing the reports. I was positive of that. That’s what you’re after with that question, right Bill?

BO: No, not necessarily. Let’s fast forward to September of 2020. How’s everybody feel about where we’re at right now?

EH: Well wait, hold on Bill, before we get there, I wanna talk about the process though. I wanna share that ’cause it’s me admitting I was wrong here.

BO: We’re not after that, Reuben.

RS: Well, yeah, but I wanna talk about it anyway ’cause I was quite certain that this wouldn’t speed anything up. But I had a number of people on the team who said, “You know what, we really wanna try this. We wanna be able to write reports faster. It’s taking us like three hours to produce an inspection report or hearing about other home inspectors are doing it in a lot less time.” And I said, “Yeah, it’s ’cause we produce a lot better reports.” But I had people on our team saying, “Yeah, but we still wanna try it.” And I said, “All right, let’s try it. I’m not gonna stop you. If you think that this is the way to do it, by all means, let’s buy the software, let’s buy it for however many people we need to, and let’s spend some time digging into it and see how it goes.” And we formed a task force of people on our team, and they met weekly during COVID when things were really slow. And they kind of brainstormed what the software would be, how we would roll this out and spent a ridiculous amount of time testing it and working through all the kinks. Eric was on that. George was a huge part of that. I mean…

EH: Yes.

RS: Oh my goodness. George has spent, I’m sure, hundreds, maybe even approaching 1000 man hours working on this new software. It has been so much work. It’s been a labor of love. But in the end, it ended up being faster and I just kinda went, “Huh, didn’t see that coming and good for the team.” Like, “I’m so glad you guys saw it.” And I don’t know, there’s a leadership lesson in there somewhere, I guess. It’s trust other people on your team. And if your team is made up of just people you can’t trust and you’re the smartest person on the team, I don’t think you’ve put together a very good team. Just trust that you don’t always have the best way of doing things and that’s kind of what I did here. I wasn’t convinced you guys were right, but I’m glad you were. It’s been a good change.

TM: Well, and I don’t even know. Did we clarify too that the old way of doing things required our inspectors to take pictures with a digital camera on site and then go home, sit down, upload the photos and write the report from home? So that would take… Depending on the house, anywhere from two, three hours per inspection. So if you’re inspecting two houses a day and you’re spending four hours at each house and you go home and you’ve got another four to six hours of writing a report, that’s a really, really long day.

RS: Yeah.

BO: Let’s talk about this long day business because I think it’s important to understand, I don’t want anybody to confuse us wanting to move faster with providing less quality. That’s not the point. I’ve been advocating heavily for a very focused conversation for a while where we can be like no phones, no distraction. It’s just you client and me inspector and we’re gonna talk this thing through, and you’re gonna walk out of here with your compass pointing straight north of what’s important and what’s not important. So fast is great, but it doesn’t replace intentionality of conversations that matter versus you’re gonna learn through osmosis or you’re gonna learn through this great conversation. And I think that’s where we’ve arrived now with a different process, some different software. So Eric, let me ask you, you’re the most hands-on right now, have the most experience with this new software, are you seeing that as a by-product of the whole thing or no?

EH: Yeah, I think it has benefits across the board with everybody in this process. And I’ve always explained it to everybody when they attend the inspection, the client and the agent, there are benefits to everybody here. For one, as home inspectors who write the report on site, which allows us, because the client is not there, it allows us to inspect and connect these dots from the inside and the outside of the house more efficiently and more effectively without distraction. And I don’t mean that as a client is a distraction. I’m not trying to say that, but we have an opportunity to internalize these things and really connect these dots. And then when the client gets there, we can give a much more succinct presentation of the key highlights that they need to know going forward, and it also gives us an opportunity to then address any concerns that the client might have one on one.

EH: For the agent, the report is, in my opinion, much less daunting than what our old report was. Our old report was PDF-based. It was dozens and dozens of pages, in most cases. This is much more comprehensive. You’re not losing any data. It’s just much more compact and all of the photos can be clicked on and they expand nicely and all of this. So you’re not losing any data, you’re not losing any information, but it’s just a nice, neat, tight little package. And that looks good for the client, it looks good for the agent. It’s a lot less overwhelming. And for the agents that maybe don’t know this, they also have the ability to create a purchase agreement amendment right out of the reporting software. So they don’t have to sit there with our report on one computer screen, hand typing something on another computer screen. They can actually use our software and the report to create those amendments to send off if they need to.

RS: Super cool. Did we mention the software we’re using yet?

EH: I don’t know, did we?

RS: Well, big shout out to the folks at Spectora. It’s a software. We haven’t mentioned that. Yeah. We’re using Spectora now. And I’ll tell you, I’ve been fans of this company for a long time. The guys who run it are just awesome. I did their podcast probably a year ago or so, and I’ve listened to a ton of his podcast. We’ve had the chance to meet them at different conferences and they’re just great people. And the people who are on the user group, on their Facebook page user group, the raving fans, and the support is just amazing. It’s good people, good support, good product, not such a good price. [chuckle] I’ll throw that out there. If anybody is looking for a home inspection software, I think this is about the most expensive thing you could possibly find. But you know, that’s not a deal killer for us, we’re not the cheapest home inspection company you can find either, quite the opposite.

BO: I was gonna say, it sounds like our selling points are being reversed ones right now.

RS: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. But we’re not after cheap software, we don’t deliver cheap home inspections. I’d rather go with the best, and that’s what we did here.

TM: And so now, one of the big changes, Eric, when you are leaving an inspection, are you going home and sitting down and typing a report for another two or three hours?

EH: Heck no. Initially, when I started using the software ’cause I was really the first person on the team to start using it on a regular basis, I would probably spend an hour to an hour and a half finishing things up, adding some things at the end, sending it off to the client when I got home. And now that I’m comfortable with the software and I’m comfortable with the report writing on site, I’m 95% done with the report when I leave the job site and I maybe spend 20 to 30 minutes finishing and cleaning up the report and reviewing it before I send it to the client. So yeah, with the old software, I was doing two a day. And I know there are people on the team that were very efficient at doing two a day with the old software, but those people were few and far between. And there were a lot of inspectors on our team that weren’t comfortable doing two a day because of quality of life. And really only doing one a day is a lot of people look at it as more of a part-time job than a full-time job. But this will allow all of us to do two inspections a day and it will also allow our newer inspectors who are coming out of training to be able to do two inspections a day faster or earlier on their own portion of their Structure Tech career.

BO: And a great by-product for this is, in the summer high season, instead of booking eight or 10 days out, we have suddenly… We can turn things around faster for people. So more people can have the Structure Tech experience, which is the best part about this. Having a better quality of life, that work-life balance thing, that’s super, super important. We got a lot of fans out there, and if they’re in a time pinch because of a contingency period, you’d hate to have them have to move on to somebody else because we don’t have capacity.

TM: Right.

BO: This is a win-win-win.

RS: Yeah. And let’s admit it, the number one complaint that we get is capacity. It’s like, “Hey, I’d love to use you guys, but I just can’t. You’re always booked out seven to 10 days and nobody… ” We can’t get home inspections done in that timeline. So I don’t know who is using us. Obviously, somebody is. But the people who want the inspections done in less than a week just typically don’t work with us. But that’s… This is gonna solve that. I hope, I hope. We’ll see.

TM: Gonna help, help for sure.

RS: It will help.

TM: Yeah. [chuckle]

RS: Yeah.

BO: Eric, can I ask you a question about these crime conversations now? There’s a running joke in the inspection industry is clients get there and they’re concerned about a little crack here or something there. And we as people in the industry are like, “That’s nothing. You should be concerned about that as boiler that’s there from 1914.” And they never knew that. But what kinds of conversations are you having now or are clients still coming with a lot of what we would consider sort of marginal concerns or do you have this great conversation about what you’ve found before they get to all of those things that we would kinda see as less important?

EH: I go back to when we went into the COVID-19 era, if you will, and we started making all of these changes simultaneously. And I think anybody that’s been through a science class or remembers back to high school, they always tell you, you only change one variable at a time. If you change more than one variable, you have no idea what the outcome is going to be and you can’t necessarily pinpoint what actually made the change happen. So we walked into this and we changed a lot simultaneously and it has all worked out for the better, all these pieces are just kind of falling into place. Another thing that came out of this was because of the fact that the client was not coming at the beginning of the inspection, we started making pre-inspection phone calls to the clients, either the morning before or the night before. And I really use that time just to kind of put a name and a voice to the person that’s gonna be doing the inspection for the client, and make that conversation about them and ask them what concerns they have, make a note of those concerns. And then you get on site as the inspector, and you look at those things, and you verify those things, or you take a look at them, and you can use that information that the client gave you and address those.

EH: I like to address those right away before I get it into what I found and kinda set their fears at ease because I do really think that there’s some of the concerns that clients have, minor step cracking in a concrete block foundation. It’s normal settling. It’s fine. But those are the things that clients look at and they may think that they’re a bigger deal than they actually are. Setting those fears aside does definitely make the client a little more receptive to the things that we find. And I find that just hitting the high points for anybody that is familiar with our reports and they’ve seen it, those summary page items or those critical or important items. Those are the things that we really talk about first. Those are the things that we find that maybe the agent doesn’t see, they don’t have the potential to test the stuff that we test.

EH: But those are the things that should be addressed right away and right off the bat. And being that we have that time to inspect now, we can make those items stand out a little bit more and we can really give a nice succinct presentation. And then walk through the house with the client, and educate them, and show them different things. Personally, I guess I’m kind of a huge fan of first-time home buyers because I was in that boat not that long ago, so it’s nice for a first-time home buyer to get the information that we give them. They get to download it, they get to read the report later. But then we still have time to walk through the house and kinda show them the ins and outs of, “Hey, this is where this is, this is where this is.” It’s all good. It’s a good wrap-up.

BO: So the same level of teaching is occurring and it allows a homeowner at different stages in their journey to just opt out. They’re like, “Yeah, this is my 17th house, I know how furnaces run, you don’t have to… ” But then you have that opposite end of the spectrum, like you say, first time home buyers who… It’s quite overwhelming.

TM: You guys all said it really well, it’s a win-win-win-winwin.

[chuckle]

BO: Okay, all right. So Tessa, we’re gonna do an episode on these marginal buyer concerns. That’s something we’re gonna be doing in the near future because I know you and I were talking like, “We gotta talk about all the things that aren’t something to be worried about.” So I’m excited about… [chuckle]

TM: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a whole another podcast.

BO: All right, folks. Well, that’s a wrap on today’s episode. Thank you Eric for spending some time with us. And I always thank you Reuben and Tessa for being part of this three-legged stool. It’s awesome. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. Thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next time.