Our very own Lisa Ferrario joins the show to discuss the evolution of home inspections, scheduling, and all things related.
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.
Lisa: When I started eight years ago, there were four, five inspectors, one radon technician. Everything was very very primitive.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman. Say hi, gang.
Tessa Murray: Hello.
Reuben Saltzman: Hello. Good to be here.
BO: Yes, on this wonderful August day in Minnesota when things were warm, and we will be appreciating this weather six months from now very much.
RS: Yeah, anyway. Bill, I just wanna address our voices ’cause, we were all doing the podcast from home for a while, and then, we went back to the studio and we wore masks in the studio, at least most of us did. And, it just sounded muffled, and I hated it, so we’re back to doing these podcasts remotely. So there it is.
BO: With my fantastic new microphone that arrived on my doorstep. [laughter] I was like one day this box shows up, I’m like, “What is this?” I thought it was toner for my printer because it said toner on the outside of it, but it ends in an OR are not ER, so, thank you very much. I hope my voice sounds better than it did.
RS: It’s great, Bill. It’s great. You’re warm. It’s like you’re sitting right next to me.
BO: Fantastic. Well, with that in mind, let’s go ahead and and introduce who’s our guest for today. So Lisa is on with us, Lisa is one of the cornerstones of Structure Tech. She works on the Client Care Coordination side of things, which means in fancy language that whenever anybody wants to get on the schedule and have the Structure Tech experience, she’s there helping them get what they want. Lisa you’ve been with Structure Tech how long?
Lisa: Eight years.
BO: That’s a good while, and what does Structure Tech feel like today compared to what it felt like eight years ago? Have you seen a fair amount of growth or acceleration in the way we do business?
Lisa: Oh, definitely. When I started eight years ago, there were four, five inspectors and one radon technician. Everything was very, very primitive in scheduling. We used paper logs to call all of the seller’s agents, to get lockbox information, sometimes we would get that as the inspector was sitting in the driveway, waiting to go in, because they didn’t have access information. So it has changed a lot, not only from the growth with the amount of inspectors we have, we added moisture testing, just a whole lot of different services, but also, we have the ability now to schedule the inspection through showing time so we get lockbox information very a lot faster and a lot easier, and, we implemented a scheduling system, ISN, which has also been a huge lifesaver. So it’s just… It’s completely different, even down to the phone system. When I started working, I was using my cell phone, now we have a Structure Tech phone system where we have… Everyone’s linked together.
BO: 30 people on hold waiting to get into the system. [laughter]
Lisa: Right. So… Yeah things are just… Night and day from before.
BO: How many steps does it take to actually get one of these things off the ground? From the time somebody says, “Hey Lisa, can you help?” And till the time we deliver the report, how many touches do you think you actually take place in that process?
Lisa: Oh, a couple dozen. [laughter]
TM: A lot.
BO: A lot.
TM: I don’t think we inspectors have an appreciation for all of the steps involved in actually making that happen.
RS: At least not most of y’all. I’ll tell you, I used to be the one carrying that book around. Back when it was me, my dad and Dwayne, and, I answered the phones during… Well, not during, but in between inspections. If my client wasn’t there yet, and they’re not gonna be there for another hour, I would take that schedule book around the house with me. I remember scheduling inspections on roofs, I kid you not.
TM: Oh… Oh my gosh. [laughter]
RS: And it’s ’cause I just… I answer the phone ’cause, if I don’t do it now, I’m gonna have to call them back later, and I might not be able to eat my lunch in between inspections if I have too many calls to make in between. I would try to not let them go to voicemail, and it sucked. I can’t imagine how it works for any single-person home inspection company, I can’t imagine how they do it.
BO: So Lisa, when you started you were supporting five people? Maybe six people roughly, and now we’ve got a much larger team. Are we still that one to six level type of thing, or are you guys juggling more balls than you have in the past?
Lisa: No, we’re definitely juggling more balls, but it’s manageable, we’ve got a really great Client Care Coordinator team, we work really well, and, we’re just able to get stuff done efficiently and quickly.
BO: What does five years from now look like? What do you think this place looks like? Will people be answering phones, or will it just be all automated?
Lisa: No, I honestly cannot see Structure Tech going to automated, I think that just that processing contact is important, and that really what sets us apart from a lot of companies is just that we have somebody answering the phone seven days a week, and people appreciate that, and I don’t see us moving away from that, but I do see us probably doubling our Client Care Coordinator Team…
BO: Yeah, ’cause we’re gonna double our capacity. That’s goal for us in 2022, Reuben, we’re doubling.
RS: That’s right, we’re gonna be adding a lot of home inspectors onto our team.
TM: So Lisa, we have… We have six Client Care Coordinators now, or five? Five, we’ve got five Client…
TM: And two of them are fairly new within the last few months. Just a random question, what’s the highest amount of inspections you’ve ever scheduled in one day? The most.
Lisa: Me myself?
TM: Yeah, by yourself.
TM: 30? Wow.
Lisa: Yeah, 35.
RS: That’s crazy. That’s just crazy.
TM: And now that we have a few more helpers, how many inspections are you scheduling a day?
Lisa: Today I think I scheduled 12.
TM: A little bit more manageable?
Lisa: For sure, yeah, yeah. And there’s not just scheduling. It’s just there’s so many things that go into what the Client Care Coordinators do. For instance, yesterday I scheduled, I think four inspections. It was a busy, busy day. I think we overall scheduled almost 30, but it’s just, there’s so many other things that need to take place. Questions people have, and being the most senior Client Care Coordinator, that stuff tends to fall on me, and yeah, I was busy all day long and didn’t have much scheduling to show for it, but everything got taken care of.
BO: Can you answer most inspection questions, just because of the learning through osmosis that’s happened over the years? Do you feel confident in that arena?
Lisa: Yes. Yes. And it’s kind of funny. Sometimes I will second guess and question myself and I will call an inspector just to get their feed on it, and I’m always usually right, spot on.
TM: What’s the hardest question you’ve ever been asked by someone? What kind of questions do you get that just throw you for a loop?
RS: I got one. How about… Now, with COVID and whatnot, we send out the notice saying, “You gotta wear a mask. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” How about, what do you do when you get a response from a client that says, “I ain’t wearing a mask to the inspection.”
Lisa: Yeah, we got that last week or a couple of weeks ago, and my response was, “I understand that you don’t desire to wear a mask, but it’s our company policy, and if you don’t wanna wear a mask, then you can wait outside, not come to the inspection, or find someone else.” In this instance, I was fortunate enough that I could also get their agent involved and he helped smooth that process along, and I believe the client came to the inspection wearing a mask, so it all ended good.
BO: That’s good. You just hate to have any unnecessary conflict in an already high emotion situation. Buying a house is filled with a lot of tension at a base level. And then having to deal with some of these other outside pressures right now. It just turns the pressure up a little bit. It makes a more difficult day for the people out in the field having to navigate both the emotion of the sale purchase and the emotion of people’s political viewpoints.
RS: Lisa, let me ask, what’s one thing you wish that everybody knew when they were calling to schedule a home inspection?
Lisa: I would hope that they would know the address of the home…
Lisa: That they’re wanting to schedule the inspection at.
BO: What’s the address?” “I don’t know, it’s in Apple Valley somewhere.”
RS: You get a lot of people who call to schedule an inspection for a house in this general area?
Lisa: Yeah, and it’s like, “Well, can you be a little more specific? The inspectors kinda like to know exactly where they need to go, and plus, we need that information to figure out pricing, length of an inspection.” There’s a lot, but there’s a lot of people that call up that wanna have a home inspection. I’m like, “Okay, what’s the address?” “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t live there yet,” is a response we get a lot.
RS: Sure, sure. What’s the latest you’ve ever scheduled an inspection? Not for the inspector, but you. Like, you took a call at 1:00 AM or something. What’s the weirdest time?
Lisa: I would say 3:30 AM.
RS: What? Ow.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, it was when I first started with Structure Tech, I think I was probably working about two months, and phone rang, so I answered it. I was sleeping, it was the middle of the night, maybe an issue with one of my kids, whatever. No, it was to schedule a home inspection, so I had to put different ring tones on my cell phone, and a no number came up, I learned very quickly not to answer, but I have scheduled inspections everywhere. I mean, I’ve traveled on vacations and been in the car scheduling inspections, and…
TM: Lisa, when you’re talking to people and you’re scheduling, I’m sure you kinda get a feeling for the personality type that you’re talking to. Are they really nervous and anxious and very detail-oriented, or are they more laid back? Easy going. And as a home inspector, I have been in situations where I would appreciate some sort of a heads up on someone sometimes. I’m gonna have to really take my time and be a little bit more patient with this person or this person is a little bit more laid back, maybe I can kinda go through things faster. Has the office considered doing some sort of rating system?
BO: It’s called the Spicoli Rating System.
TM: Is it?
BO: It goes anywhere from, “Hey dude,” to “Oh my God. I got an F on my test.”
TM: Do you have a way of marking out people though, that are like, “Whoa. This person is gonna be hands on. We need to give them to an inspector that can handle them,” or not?
Lisa: Oh, certainly, I do. You can tell a lot about a person just by the language they use, and their tone, and what they’re asking for. And I certainly do schedule one inspector over another. Not that there’s any one inspector that’s better at our company than others, but everybody has different personalities, and I do try to match that, and if something clearly is like, “Wow, okay, this is something that the inspector needs to know,” or “This person’s really nervous. They might need some extra hands-on,” I do try and note that for the inspector ’cause any heads up you can give, I’m sure is appreciated. But yes, I do a lot of scheduling based on clients’ needs.
BO: Those clients go to Tessa.
Lisa: They used to. They used to.
TM: I think I had one week where I had two clients that were… I don’t know, I don’t wanna say difficult, but exhausting maybe would be a better word. And I was like, “Lisa. Man, what’s going on here?” [laughter] I was talking to another inspection company at a conference one time, and the wife was the one who handled all the calls and scheduling, and she said that they had a rating system where they had their own little internal system figured out so that they could give each inspector a heads up on what type of client they were getting.
BO: That’s awesome. Okay, so let’s do a quick poll. Reuben, who’s your favorite client?
RS: I’d say the engineer type. The one who wants the answers to everything. They’re kind of a pain in the butt because they need a lot of talking to, but I like the fact that they want to know how everything works, and I like explaining it.
BO: Gotcha. Tessa?
TM: The opposite.
TM: I like someone who has probably bought a house a few times, they’ve been through the process, they kinda get it, and they’re probably a little bit more laid back, so they’re not so nervous, they’re not so anxious, and just more of an easy going personality.
BO: Hands down for me, my favorite clients were always immigrants, and these poor people, when they got next to me, I had more questions for them than they had for me, so I always enjoy investigating the immigrant story, the why, the how, the what brought you here?
Lisa: Back when, I don’t know, probably four or five years ago, I used to challenge the clients when they would say they were going to the home inspection, I would say, “Okay, I have a task for you. I want you to try and stump the home inspector.” I’d say, “Come up with a question that they cannot answer”, and I said, “And if you do that, let me know.” I never got any calls back saying, “Hey, I stumped the home inspector,” but I think it’s just maybe setting their focus on thinking a little more than being nervous during the inspection.
BO: Yeah, so Lisa, do you ever think you wanna be a home inspector?
Lisa: No, and I’ve been asked that when people have called and I’ve answered their questions and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s awesome. Are you a home inspector?” And I, “No, I’m not a home inspector,” and they’re like, “Why not?” And I simply tell them because it’s too much work, I don’t wanna go up on roofs, I don’t wanna go into attics, I get paid a great amount of money to sit and answer the phones, and if I was out inspecting, you wouldn’t get your questions answered when you call.
BO: Aww! Did you have any idea what this business was like before you got into it?
Lisa: Absolutely not.
BO: Tell me the Reuben and Lisa story behind the interview.
RS: I was looking for a client care coordinator, and there was somebody in my network group, it was Karen Lamb, who was friends with Lisa, and she said, “Hey, you’re looking for somebody? I know somebody, I’ll send her your way.” And the rest was history. That was about it. My pops and I were co-owners of Structure Tech at the time. We interviewed Lisa, we’re like, “Yeah, she’s it, let’s do it.” And you probably spent a day or two at the office training, and then we let you out on your own, was does that sound about right?
Lisa: I spent about four hours in the office and then went out on, ’cause Neil was doing calls in the morning and then going out on inspections in the afternoon, so I think we sat in the office for four hours on a Monday, and I listened to him answer calls, we went out to an inspection, were there five, 10 minutes and the phone rang and he said, “Here you go, do what you need to do and if you have questions, come and ask.” And then on Tuesday, we went on inspections all day, and I did the scheduling while he was inspecting, and by Thursday afternoon he said, “I think you’re done and you can stay at home and work from home tomorrow.”
BO: The Neil Saltzman…
Lisa: And the rest of it’s history, so…
BO: The Neil Saltzman Client Care Coordinator training is brief. It’s… [chuckle] There’s a lot of autonomy that you’re giving very quickly.
TM: A lot of trust.
BO: He says you’re doing great.
RS: Yeah, and we haven’t changed a thing to this day, have we? [chuckle]
Lisa: No, not at all. A little funny backstory is that I beat Nick Pickert for the scheduling spot.
RS: Yes, yes!
TM: Oh really? Nick was gonna be a scheduler?
RS: That’s what he interviewed for, he interviewed to be a client care coordinator. My dad and I, when he left were like, “He’s not a client care coordinator, he’s a home inspector and he wants to be a home inspector, he’s doing this to get his foot in the door, we’re not hiring him to do this, to go onto this, we need a client care coordinator.” So we didn’t hire Nick, but then we called them like six months later or something like that, and we’re like, “Hey, we need another home inspector now, you wanna come back and interview again?” And yeah, and then it worked out.
BO: So there’s this song playing in the back of my head, it’s, I’m not sure who sings it, but it’s like tell me about the good old days.
TM: One question we didn’t get to ask Lisa that’s a good one, Bill, you should ask it, it was about client expectations. People that used to call 10 years back versus people that call in today, what are some of the biggest changes?
BO: So Lisa, tell me about clients and expectations and what have you noticed over the last eight years? How different are the clients that we’re dealing with?
Lisa: Oh, they’re as different as our scheduling process. It’s pretty easy, they wanted a home inspection, maybe a radon test, and that’s all that we provided then, they knew what they wanted, and that was that. We have so many other services to offer them now, so many other different inspections, and their expectations are really high, they’re calling us ’cause they want a very thorough, very easily scheduled inspection and that’s what we provide.
BO: Do you think their questions are… I don’t know how to say this other than say it, but are the clients now presenting as more intelligent home buyers than they did eight years ago?
Lisa: Oh, for sure. Yeah, they ask a lot of questions, really important for a lot of clients to have an inspector that’s ASHI certified because as everybody probably knows, there’s no licensing for home inspectors in Minnesota, and so they’re looking for those ASHI certified home inspectors, and they ask a lot of questions about the inspectors.
RS: Let me interrupt you for a quick second there, because I’ve said this for a long time, that’s the way it was when I was scheduling home inspections, I would get so many people saying, “Are you ASHI certified?” I never had one question about a certification from any other organization, it was always ASHI, and that was the number one reason that everybody on our team joined ASHI, is ’cause I wanna be able to say yes to that question. But how about you? Do you find the same thing? Are there any other organizations that people want us to be certified by?
TM: But they ask for Reuben, right? They say, “Can I have Reuben inspect my house?” The guy who does all the blogs.
BO: Yeah, I want a Reuben-certified inspection.
Lisa: It’s really changed a lot in that probably Reuben is only requested once every a few months, he is not requested very often.
RS: I’m Hi-fiving myself right now.
BO: I think we should auction Reuben off sometime at like a charity fundraiser.
RS: I don’t have any tools any more, I gave up my tools, I couldn’t do an inspection if I wanted to today.
BO: Yeah, I disagree, but did you ever think about that? Maybe your kids’ school, when they’re trying to raise some money, you volunteer to… [chuckle] I mean, they auction off all kinds of different things, you could stand up on the stage in your tool belt.
RS: Yeah, we’ve done that except we auction off an inspection by Structure Tech, not by Reuben.
TM: You might get a higher price.
RS: I don’t know about that.
BO: So if y’all are trying to raise some money and you’re in this market, in the Twin Cities marketplace, Reuben has volunteered to be auctioned off, I think that’s what I just heard.
RS: I don’t remember saying that at all, Bill.
BO: Alright. Well, I think we’re about out of time. Lisa, thank you for coming in and kinda talking about the good old days, it’s always fun to reminisce a little bit. I haven’t been here nearly as long as you. So you bring a really fun perspective. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich with Reuben and Tessa, and special guest, Lisa. We will catch you next time. Thanks for listening.