The real estate gurus have predicted a record year for home sales, and particularly first time home buyers in Western PA. February made a believer out of me; HomeStudy set a new February sales / inspection record by the 20th! Not such an easy feat for a 21- year-old company.
Spring and the end of hibernation always bring a rush of folks looking to change their nest; leave the parents, downsize after the flock has left the roost, upsize to accommodate a growing brood. But this year will be special; in addition to the annual spring optimism, economic optimism will bring additional folks out looking at homes. Which is a great thing; our economy is rebounding, people’s outlook is brighter, and our region is (finally!) seeing an influx of younger people settling in our area, bringing with them a vibrancy only youth can provide.
With the uptick in home sales, there will inevitably be an uptick in work, and therefore people entering the fields servicing real estate, home inspectors, handymen, Realtors®, etc.
As people enter into a new business they often gain a foothold in the industry by setting their prices lower than the existing market; they don’t have experience to offer, so they provide a discount. Which can be a good thing – it keeps inflation at bay, and prices in check.
Consumers often jump at the chance to save money – who doesn’t? We work hard for the things we have and want to keep as much as we can in our pocket. The funny thing about saving money isn’t about why we do it but how. Have you ever driven past a gas station with empty pumps and later another one that’s full – with a higher price – and wondered what’s up with that?
Gasoline, electricity, even groceries to some extent are commodities; wherever we buy them quality is consistent; and price is the dominant factor in our purchase decision. As it should be; gas is gas. So why the higher price at one vs. another gas station? Convenience and / or location. People are readily willing to pay more for the convenience of not having to go out of their way.
Professionals, however, are not such a commodity; they have a finite amount of time in their working lives, and other things in life competing for that time: family, friends, events, leisure, other clients, etc. It strikes me funny that people rarely price shop lawyers and doctors, but don’t hesitate to shop Realtors®, home inspectors, contractors, etc. Of course, it’s a good practice to “interview” professionals who will be working on your behalf, but it’s foolish to base that hiring decision solely on price. So why do we do it? Money is tangible; I know the value of a dollar, but have no idea the value of experience; especially in a field that I am unfamiliar with. I know full well that there are some doctors that are better than others, but have no idea how to tell one from the other.
But for a moment, let’s take a look into the field of real estate. Most of the folks you’ll encounter on the journey to purchase a home are either self-employed or working on a commission. Our first instinct as consumers is to ask if there is a discount available, or some other way to save what is tangible to us – money. Now let’s change seats – you walk into your job – and you’re “boss” has just come to you and asked you to take a pay cut – do the same work you’ve been doing for less money. Why? Because the boss doesn’t value your time, or perhaps because the boss knows you make too much money anyway, and he’s not about to pay for your exorbitant lifestyle. What the boss doesn’t know is that your (commission) pay doesn’t go straight into your pocket. You have to share it, in the case of Realtors® it gets split with other agents and the broker at least. And that is only if the sale actually happens. Agents can put thousands of miles on their car, spend countless hours with a client, and lose that client (and the time and money invested) with no pay! Home inspectors have to share their pay with their franchise, insurance company, reporting software, and office staff to name a few. We, however, have the good fortune of almost always getting our fee.
So if not that tangible – money, what then are we to base our hiring decision on when buying or selling a home? The answer is “it depends.” It depends on who you are, and where you are in life. If you’re an experienced home buyer with monetary assets, you probably can use a less experienced home inspector; you already know the basic workings of a home, finances and the like. If something goes wrong, you have the experience and money to correct the issue; a $3000 furnace is less of a concern to a person with a large bank account compared to someone purchasing their first home who may be putting their entire nest egg into a down payment. Perhaps you want to look for an inspector experienced with baby boomers or aging in place; one who can make recommendations for improvements to the home that can accommodate walkers or other assisting devices.
If you’re a first time homebuyer you want to interview your home inspector and make sure they will take the time to explain to you not only the issues found, but how your “new” house works: where the main water shutoff is, how the circuit breakers work, where and how often to change the furnace filters, and most importantly will they be available after the inspection to answer these types of questions now and in the long-term future? Having a professional take that kind of time and provide long term assistance is invaluable; they can help you navigate home ownership in the long term; when repairs are necessary or even if you decide to do home improvements. These are unbiased professionals – (home inspectors don’t (or at least should not) provide contracting or repair services. They can consult – help you chose contractors and help avoid pitfalls. How long has that inspector been in business? Ninety percent of home inspection companies go out of business within 10 years of startup. Will your inspector still be there when you need them?
Ask your Realtor® for a recommendation for a home inspector, and also ask friends and family. But don’t stop there, make yourself familiar with the Pennsylvania Home Inspection Law, and make sure the inspector you hire is compliant. http://phic.info/docs.htm has the law summary and what is required of us. Also, you can go to www.ashi.org, and see a virtual home inspection, what we do and how we do it.
Lastly, but certainly not least, when you hire a professional, be it a Realtor®, Home Inspector, Mortgage broker, etc., LISTEN TO THEM! I can’t count the number of times my advice has been ignored to the peril of my clients, and the number of times I’ve seen a client ignore the advice of their agent and later have difficulty. We do what we do because we love doing it. We spend our time doing what we do to support our families. We’re not in this business to rip people off, but to build relationships; if I can help my client, even years after an inspection, perhaps they will help me by
referring a friend.
Do you have home repair, maintenance or real estate questions that you would like to see addressed in Brian’s column? If so, please send them to the Laurel Mountain Post, either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post mail to: Laurel Mountain Post, 189 Fairview Lane, Derry PA 15627.
Brian Mishler is the owner of HomeStudy Inc., and a 20-year veteran home inspector. He began performing home inspection after 15 years in the construction industry convinced him that his body wasn’t made for hard labor. Brian is the former president of the Pittsburgh Regional Organization of the American Society of Home Inspectors (PRO-ASHI), and currently sits on the board of Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that rehabilitates homes for disadvantaged seniors and veterans, assisting them with prerenovation inspection and selection. Brian also teaches a variety of real estate-related classes, and has mentored others seeking to become home inspectors.
He currently resides in Latrobe, with his better half, Carol, their Boston terrier Gizmo, three cats, and three transient college students. When spare time is to be had, Brian can be found on a motorcycle, in a kayak, or hiking in the area. He can be reached at email@example.com.