Bill, Tessa, and Reuben do their first-ever remote podcast, where everyone on the team broadcasts from home. The gang discusses changes that COVID-19 has brought to the home inspection world, which includes things such as restricting buyer and seller attendance at the inspection, wiping down surfaces, and even wearing a mask during the inspection. They also discuss the importance of having a support network to get industry news during this time, and what the team at Structure Tech is doing to help the real estate community during this time.
Note: the mask featured above can be found here: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B01MTTK4BA/ . We think it’s much more official-looking than the handmade cloth masks that everyone is wearing.
And for the next remote podcast, Reuben will get himself a new microphone.
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: The number of precautions we took kept ratchet-ing up every week, didn’t they?
Tessa Murry: Oh yeah. And sometimes we were changing our policies three days after we had set a new policy we’d set another new one again.
RS: And then Minnesota’s locked down order came and all of a sudden all the sellers were home just out of nowhere ’cause they couldn’t be at work. And so then we had to say what about people being at home, what do we do there?
Bill Oelrich: Welcome everybody. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Marie and Reuben Saltzman as always.
BO: Welcome to today’s episode.
RS: And you’re using the term alongside loosely, right?
BO: Yeah, because we are anything but alongside each other, separated by, well, Tessa and I are inside the urban core, Reuben is distant, he’s well outside…
RS: I wouldn’t say well outside, just a little bit Bill.
TM: You’re pretty far out there.
RS: I’m in Mapple Grove.
BO: Well, you’re out in the Cul-De-Sac, ’cause I call you the Cul-De-Sac Cutlers.
RS: That’s right, that’s right.
TM: No judgment there.
BO: No judgement, no judgement at all. Just the place where I get easily confused because all the streets are dead end, which makes me slightly uncomfortable.
RS: No, you know what I heard. See, I grew up on a Cul-De-Sac, but we always called it a dead end. And it all has to do with your sense of your own self-worth. Once you have a better sense of self-worth, you call it a Cul-De-Sac. You don’t call it a dead end. So, I live on Cul-De-Sac Bill, get it right.
TM: Is the glass half full or half empty I guess?
BO: Where I’m from, yeah, where I grew up, dead ends where where the road literally, ended there, was no bulbous type.
TM: Turn around.
BO: Ending on it and I think that’s what a Cul-De-Sac technically is, it’s that bulbous round thing that sort of dots the end of the path.
RS: Where your kids play in the street without having to worry about getting hit by a car? Yes, it’s horrible, I know.
BO: Well, so, however distant we might be, we gather today to talk to you about a new reality of sorts and we just wanna have a conversation about what our lives have looked like here, since the last time we got down to the studio and sat down and talked. So, we were joking at that time that we weren’t shaking hands and it was kind of all fun and games, but there’s a real hard reality that came crashing down to earth. Not long after we recorded the last episode. So, what does structure tech look like now in the coronavirus, COVID-19 world?
RS: Oh man, things changed so much. At first it was like, alright, we’re starting to think this coronavirus thing is kind of serious. Maybe we should change our policy a little bit, maybe we should say we’re not encouraging our clients to come anymore. We started changing the message a little bit and it got to the point where we said, “You can still come, we’d rather you don’t, but don’t bring your whole family and don’t bring all your contractors and all that other stuff, just let’s limit the amount of people who are gonna be there. And we also said we’re not gonna shake hands anymore. Remember that? And it seemed weird, it was like we talked about it. Well, that’s gonna be so strange. How do you greet somebody and not shake hands with them? But we all agreed, yeah, we’re doing this. And the number of precautions we took kept ratchet-ing up every week, didn’t they?
TM: Oh yeah, and sometimes we were changing our policies like three days after we had set a new policy we’d set another new one, again. I was just thinking about all the sanitizing we were doing in the houses and masks we’re wearing, all of that stuff.
RS: It started out by saying, yeah, no shaking hands, limit the amount of people there. We’re gonna wipe down all the surfaces. And then it evolved to we banned our clients from showing up to the inspection entirely, which was really strange. We’ve always encouraged them to come, but we said you can’t come anymore. And for the first few people who we said that too, there was a lot of grumbling and people were mad. We even had people reschedule, and then after about two days that just all disappeared, and it became the new normal for everybody.
BO: So the CDC recommendations people thought, “Okay, you’re following. That’s all cool. I won’t be mad at you at least, I can be mad at something else.
RS: Yeah. And then Minnesota’s locked down order came and all of a sudden all the sellers were home just out of nowhere, ’cause they couldn’t be at work, and so then we had to say what about people being at home, what do we do there? And we all came to an agreement saying, “No sellers can be at the inspection either, right?
TM: Yeah, that was a hard one, too. We had to weigh the pros and cons of that, but ultimately we’d thought it would be best for… Not only for our inspectors, but also safer and better for the sellers too. Because you think about it. Our inspectors are going into sometimes multiple houses with multiple people a A day, and you may not show signs or symptoms of being sick and so just having the house empty just seems better for everybody.
BO: We’re gonna turn this podcast around pretty quickly. Normally, we record these and then we kind of roll them out, but the day-to-day is what April 10, Reuben?
BO: And as of today. So, no sellers in the house, no buyers in the house. We’re wiping down as we go, and what else?
TM: We’re wearing masks. All of our inspectors are wearing masks.
RS: Exactly, I wish we had some really cool branded masks to wear right now. But on the other hand, there would be nobody to even see them.
TM: Right. Yeah, you’re marketing to no one.
RS: Yeah, so who cares? But Joe found a really cool mask. That will probably be the cover for this podcast episode.
TM: Oh yeah. Have you ordered them yet, Reuben? ‘Cause I saw that Eric posted online that they were backed up until June.
RS: No. They’ll get here in about a month, it’ll be some time in May, like May 6th or something. I found another one, cool dust mask. They cost about 30 bucks each. It’ll be better than wearing something made out of cloth, I think. It’s weird, everything is weird, isn’t?
TM: Yeah. And there’s no… There’s no playbook that tells us how we should do things. And one thing you did Reuben, I thought was really cool is you hosted like an online Zoom meeting for all of the local home inspectors here in the Twin Cities area just to check in and see what they were doing. And when was that? That was maybe a couple of weeks ago.
RS: It feels like a couple of years ago now.
TM: I know.
RS: Yeah, it was really. I think it was two weeks ago today. I think that’s all it was. It was two weeks ago, I believe.
TM: Just so people know. Like what was the purpose of the meeting and what did we find out from that?
RS: Sure. And I’ll just kind of set the stage for it. That whole week after everything kind of went into lockdown mode and things really started changing everywhere. We at Structure Tech are a part of this home inspector coaching group called Inspector Empire Builder. We’ve all… You know, Tessa, Bill we’ve been to a lot of training they’ve done. And with this group we do calls from other home inspectors all over the country like a few times a week, but during this COVID thing we were doing Zoom meetings like just about every day for about an hour a day. Just exchanging ideas, trying to keep our heads on straight with other home inspectors all over and we were getting a lot of good coaching, a lot of good influence from the people who run that organization. Just trying to stay sane and that was extremely helpful to us and it made me realize for all these other home inspectors who don’t have an influence like this, they gotta be out on an island. I mean, I don’t know who they’re talking to. If you’re not a part of a group like this. I mean you just gotta be calling other home inspectors you know and most of other Home Inspection companies are one man shops, and I just thought all these guys ought to be getting involved in a larger discussion.
RS: They have all the same concerns that we do. So I ended up reaching out to a couple of our largest… I don’t know if I wanna say competitors maybe just colleagues. One of these companies was Inspecta-Homes, the owner there, Jeff Blixt, I reached out to him, reached out to Vicki Hafner the owner of Heartland Home Inspections. Also the couple of the other largest companies here in the Twin Cities and I asked them if they would join in on this and all three of us just took turns sharing what we’re doing, what our policy is for this for this for this and I had a bunch of questions to ask them and I’d answer first and then they’d go and we took turns, and that was really helpful. I think, I got a lot of positive feedback after hosting that.
BO: Yeah, and I think what’s really interesting and what I thought was valuable being in on the IEB calls is we’re in the middle of the Heartland, I mean northern Heartland, it takes a while for things to get to us in earnest, but there’s company in San Diego and there’s company out in on the East Coast, out in Maryland. Their whole reality was entirely different than ours, they’re Texas companies and we had the benefit of being able to know what was happening in San Diego on real time and I think we’re benefactors of that up here. Like I think hopefully Minnesota feels less pain just… And I say this with all due respect because other places felt more pain and we got to learn from their experience and thankfully us recording this podcast, nobody on our team has been affected by this virus and that is awesome. That’s the most important thing. So when we’re kicking sellers the house we’re not doing it to be mean. It’s just like this is best for our people. It’s best for your sale. It’s best for the buyers who wanna buy your house. It’s best for everybody. Yeah, it’s unusual but at least we get to keep moving this ball forward.
BO: So there’s some positivity coming out of brutally bad situation.
RS: Yeah. I mean if you follow my blog or YouTube Channel at all, you know that I’ve mentioned this book ‘The obstacle Is The Way’. It’s really about stoicism and it’s talking about how when you have big challenges, it’s an opportunity to change, to pivot, to improve and we’re trying to do that right now in Structure Tech. I mean, we’re trying to change a bunch of the stuff we’re doing to come out of this a lot better, right?
BO: Oh, we’re having conversations I thought I’d never have working in this organization and it’s like hyper speed right now, and good, bad, indifferent it just the new way of reacting.
TM: Yeah. Reality doesn’t feel like reality right now.
BO: So let me ask you this both Reuben and Tessa, you both teach, obviously, we can’t go into real estate offices any longer and teach continuing ed credits. What’s the one thing that’s changed in your world teaching that was you can’t even believe sitting here today having this conversation that we’ve already gone that far?
TM: Well, we decided that we were gonna try and teach these classes online. And so we put up a little notification on our Facebook page and sent out a bunch of emails to all of our real estate agents we have contact with just letting them know that we were gonna host these classes online and we decided to use a platform that would allow for a lot of people to attend and we end up filling up every single seat that we could fill. We had 250 people sign up for our RCE class that we taught yesterday.
BO: 250. How much lead time did they have to sign up for that class?
RS: We announced it a week ago. And I mean we announced it on a Friday and it was filled to capacity, I believe, on Monday. Just…
TM: Wasn’t there like at least a hundred people that sign up within the first few hours? Yeah.
RS: It was crazy. Yeah, it was the very first day, you said so has anybody signed up and I sent you a reply with like 20 people and then 10 minutes later, it was like 50 people and I went, “Oh my gosh.”
TM: And then we thought well, why didn’t we do this before, right? Reuben?
BO: That was what I was gonna ask ’cause…
TM: Why didn’t we do this before?
TM: Reuben, you can answer that question better than I can.
RS: Well the state has all these requirements. It’s like you gotta have a platform that where it tracks user attention and you need to make sure that their eyes are on the screen and it’s got all these different things where it just it seemed like a real hassle to try to figure all that out. But this is a matter of accelerate the crisis. We’ve got something going on here where we need to change. All right, let’s just dig in and we got… Thankfully, we got a really smart guy on our team, Bryan Scholtes, and I threw it over to him and I said Bryan, here’s my pain. We need to get this done. I want you off the schedule, no more inspections for you. You need to figure out how to make this happen and we’re switching you over to hourly pay for now and your job is to get us to be able to teach these classes online. I want you to have that application submitted to the state by Friday and he got it in by Thursday and the state relaxed the requirements for teaching. They said hey, these are trying times agents need their CE and we’re temporarily removing our 30-day whatever window or whatever that they got.
RS: And they said, “As long as you have the application submitted and in good faith, you can still teach the classes.” So that’s kind of what forced us into a change was ’cause we couldn’t do it any other way. And we knew that agents were desperate to get their CE, ’cause we had to cancel a lot of classes.
TM: Oh, yeah, we cancelled a ton.
BO: Well, an in Minnesota, I’m a real estate agent, license agent in Minnesota, and you have to have 15 hours of continuing education every year and it’s always due in June. And of course, the weather gets warm in Minnesota, the last thing you wanna do is sit and watch a continuing ed class or go in person and do it. In a situation where you’ve got really try to be productive. If you’re a real estate agent, the wheels have probably come to a grinding halt until people take a breath and be like, “Okay, what do I wanna do? Do I wanna try to capitalize on this or what?” But all of a sudden, they have time. Let’s give them something to do with that time. So I thought that was a great idea to pivot and move towards that.
TM: Yeah. When Reuben and I were talking about doing this, we decided on offering one class per week and just to see how that went. And after Reuben, set up these classes on the schedule and they all filled up, [chuckle] what are we at now? Full capacity for the next two or three weeks that we have.
RS: For the next month.
TM: For the next month, there are, these classes are already full, 250 people each class. So we just talked today and we’re gonna offer a second class each week. So, we’re gonna do two classes a week.
RS: And Tessa, I’m proud to tell you, it is live. It’s live in a real-time right now on Friday afternoon. I just updated our website, and this registrations and everything.
RS: And we got two a week for the next eight weeks.
TM: That’s awesome.
RS: So if you’re a Minnesota real estate agent or you know one who needs free CE credit that they can get sitting at their computer, we’ve got it. And our classes are awesome.
TM: And tell people how they…
RS: And they are good.
TM: Tell people how they sign up for it, Reuben.
RS: Tessa, you’re such a good salesperson.
TM: Well, we’re not allowed to say our company name, which I actually slipped up on on the first webinar. I accidentally mentioned our company name, but we’re not supposed to do that.
RS: Well, you said it after the class was over, so…
BO: Are you really selling if something’s free?
RS: Well, we’re not supposed to mention our company name, I think, during the webinar. So we don’t say anything. We don’t have a company logo, we don’t say Structure Tech, we say nothing. But at the end of the class, we realized we forgot to really introduce Tessa. And one of the comments was, “Who’s Tessa?”
RS: But it was after the class was over, so it was okay. But Tessa, you said, “Where can people sign up?” StructureTech.com, and you go to the top and there’s a link that says education. And we’ve got a few different tabs there. It’s Real Estate Continuing Education. And I’ve gotten links for all of the classes where real estate agents can sign up. But they do need to sign up, ’cause these are going to fill too. You can’t just [chuckle] come, it’s a maximum of 250. And man, after we did that class, I thought, “Was 250 too many?” It was tough to manage, a lot of moving parts there.
TM: Definitely. I was rally, really happy that Brian was able to hack his way into that [chuckle] webinar, because when you have 250 people listening, the amount of questions pouring in the chat feature, there was no way we could handle that, and the amount of emails afterwards too. So, yes, it’s weird. I’ve never taught a class to that many people at one time. And it’s so surreal doing it on a webinar when you have zero interaction, because there’s no way you can have everybody’s mics on and everybody’s webcams on. So it’s like you’re just talking to a, just to a screen all alone, but there’s actually hundreds of people [chuckle] listening to you.
RS: Yes. Yeah, yes, so and I really appreciated having you on. Bill, Tessa and I co-presented. We had both of our faces up there. And so at least I had Tessa to laugh at some of the jokes.
RS: It’s like people don’t know when something’s supposed to be funny and there’s a handful of jokes in there. And Tessa, you’re teaching the next one on Thursday, I’ll be sure to laugh at your jokes, okay? I’ll do the same for you.
TM: Thanks, Reuben. Thank you.
RS: It’s very helpful.
TM: Thank you so much. I’ll try to be funny.
BO: So you’re saying there’s an appetite out there, not for your jokes, but to learn about houses?
RS: I don’t know if I said that. You’re putting words in my month.
TM: At least to get free CE, that’s for sure?
BO: So what was the class about?
RS: That was residential water intrusion problems. I recorded an 85-minute version of this class just for home inspectors. I’ve taught it to home inspectors at a national conference for the last couple of years, but it all evolved out of a one-hour class that I created for real estate agents. That’s where this all started. And so, it’s figuring out how to identify basically design flaws in residential construction, design flaws that will allow for water intrusion and exterior walls. That’s what it really boils down to.
BO: Wait, wait, wait. There’s a design flaw out there in new construction, or new houses, or…
TM: Bill’s gonna have to attend this class.
TM: Reuben, when’s the next time we’re teaching this class? Bill, you should sign up.
RS: If you’re listening to this podcast on Monday, it’s gonna be two days from now. It’s gonna be on Wednesday the 15th at 1:00 PM. We’re teaching residential water intrusion and you will never look at a house the same way. This gives you like Superman vision to see all the water coming off the roof and know exactly where it’s coming, and to figure out bad design, to know what’s gonna be more prone to problems.
BO: I thought all the water ran into gutters that were placed strategically to carry it all away from the house and everything’s great.
RS: That’s a home inspector’s house.
TM: We hope it’s a home inspector’s house, but probably not.
BO: Okay, so you guys are now online celebrities teaching the good message of appropriate water management. We are no longer allowing anybody to attend our inspections, which is gonna be the way it is until when?
RS: I’d say at least until the lockdown ends. When is that, May 4th?
TM: May, yeah.
BO: Do you think once that’s lifted we’re going back to normal or are you seeing any indications that it would be any different?
RS: It’s like asking me, “What’s the weather gonna be like in three weeks?” I have no idea. Seriously. It’s too early to say.
BO: Okay, so that was a one big thing, we’ve kicked everybody out of their own house and their new house and said, “We’ll talk to you later.” You’re teaching online, which has been a smashing success. Anything else that’s new in your world that you never thought was gonna happen?
RS: Oh man, there’s so much, but, boy, we should save that for our next episode, ’cause there’s a lot. I don’t wanna rush it.
BO: I feel like we haven’t said this enough, but you’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name’s Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry, and Reuben Saltzman. We’ll probably end up doing a part two of this. And next time, we’re gonna say our names more often, so people know who we are and why we’re talking about what we’re talking about.
TM: Sounds good.
RS: Oh, Bill, you’re so smart.
TM: Thanks, Bill.
RS: Thank you.
BO: Alright, until we catch you next time, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. Thank you.