If the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had an all-star team of home inspectors, Gordon Glidden would be an early selection for the starting lineup. ASHI members will remember Gordon from the InspectionWorld® awards ceremony in Orlando in January 2018—Gordon was the soft-spoken man with the “I-got-in-here-for-free” smile. He won the first annual “Home Energy Score Chapter Challenge” contest, which covered his registration fee as well as other perks.
In the year that led up to that event and every day since, Gordon has been using the Home Energy Score to produce happier customers, and a better bottom line for Inland Lakes Inspection Services in the Metro Detroit and mid-Michigan areas, where he’s been inspecting homes for 20 years. We caught up with Gordon recently to talk about the inspection industry from a veteran’s perspective and the role that the Home Energy Score is playing in the continued success of his business.
Gordon’s path to proprietorship began as a 15-year employee for a major national inspection firm, so he’s earned the freedom to craft a special suite of services that has garnered a solid reputation for top-shelf expertise and professionalism for Inland Lakes. Any inspector who’s entering their third decade in the trade is going to have a pretty good sense of what homebuyers expect out of an inspection (hidden, expensive repair projects, and health and safety items are a given), but what sets Gordon apart is a willingness to move beyond what’s expected into a type of service that delivers what buyers truly need, even when they don’t know to ask for it. That’s definitely the category that the Home Energy Score falls into for Glidden’s thriving business and we’ll cover the basics of how he puts that into action below.
Why the Home Energy Score?
As the first-ever Certified Home Energy Score Assessor in Michigan, Gordon is not afraid to stick his neck out when a new service holds promise for his clients. He says, “I like to keep up on new technology, and if you look at what’s happening around the country—from Portland to Denver—people are getting it.”
He’s not banking on any imminent policy mandates to justify his embrace of the Score, however, because he sees so much value in what the Score delivers to his homebuyers even without incentives. For example, because Michigan has yet to update some of its building energy codes and utility energy–efficiency programs, Gordon uses the Score to help compensate.
Working it into operations and marketing
Like many inspectors who have made the Score an integral part of their business, Gordon has become very efficient at providing energy–efficiency information to his customers. “It takes me about 15 minutes extra,” he says, “and it will be even less when the iPhone app rolls out.” Gordon credits his use of a laser tape measure to streamline the measurement data needed by the DOE and he cites the top-notch ID Energy scoring tool as another contributing factor behind his speedy delivery.
Gordon doesn’t bother trying to upsell the service, either; instead, he opts to bump up his base rate slightly and build in a Score with every inspection, although he does exclude the Score for homes built since 2000. As for marketing, he’s now developing a dedicated page for the Score on his website to maximize the co-branding benefit of being certified by the U.S. DOE. Also, he’s mindful of how he communicates the implications of the Score to his clients. He says, “I tip them off to expect a low number when I know that’s the case and I’m careful to frame the information the Score provides as opportunities for real improvement rather than inherent problems with the home.”
Gauging real estate agents’ responses
Gordon estimates that three-quarters of his leads come directly from his real estate agent network and he keeps agents fully aware of his range of services, including the Home Energy Score. When asked if agents are inclined to lump the Score into the dreaded “deal-killer” category, Gordon is characteristically candid. He says, “The good ones get it, no doubt, and the simple fact is that no buyer has ever run for the hills when they heard about sub-standard attic insulation.”
Gordon leverages his status as the only Certified Home Energy Score Assessor in his market to generate material for presentations to agents, as well as to members of networking and charitable groups that he’s involved with locally. He uses it as another opportunity to showcase his dedication to transparency and open communication. He says, “The agent gets copied on every Score I deliver. I can’t guarantee that they’re becoming energy geeks, but they do seem to recognize that it’s to their ultimate benefit when I’m giving their buyers the best possible information about the home.”
A leading industry ally brings new energy to the DOE
The Home Energy Score Team has been busy the last couple years making the Score’s name well-known within the home inspection industry. First, they developed an accessible and affordable means, known as the “remote solution,” for inspectors to take part in the program. Then they committed to solid partnerships with established industry players like ASHI, Home Inspector Pro and especially ID Energy to make the Score as easy as possible to incorporate into any inspector’s business model.
Now, the U.S. DOE is taking things a step further by joining forces with one of the most recognized business-building firms in the industry—America’s Call Center (ACC).
Time Is on Their Side
Paul Zak, ACC’s CEO for 20 years, is one of the industry’s most recognized providers of business-enhancing solutions for home inspectors. Many hundreds of inspectors across the country have adopted his full line of services and have reaped rewards in the form of more inspections (ACC tracks an average conversion rate for booked jobs that would be envied in any industry). They also receive more revenue per inspection, owing to ACC’s core strategy: Enlist teams of communication experts with a mission to devote time (that most–limited of inspector resources) to fully educate homebuyers as to what particular qualities make an inspector the right choice for the job. Top-tier inspectors like those in ACC’s network have developed skills and services that help differentiate themselves from their competition, and ACC’s teams are dedicated to spending whatever time it takes to make sure those differentiators are fully appreciated by prospective clients.
The Energy to Educate
When it comes right down to it, the Home Energy Score can be presented as an “ancillary service” in much the same way as radon, wood-destroying organism (WDO) or sewer scope services. Despite the value that it represents to inspectors in terms of effort required versus revenue and business-growth potential, the Score doesn’t yet have the same level of awareness among homebuyers as the other services, which have been mainstays in our industry for years.
It’s exactly this educational challenge for which the DOE sees tremendous promise in working with ACC. Paul pointed to this potential when we asked him how ACC is able to achieve such impressive performance with sales conversions. He said, “We’re educators first and foremost. There’s no high-pressure sales tactics necessary, because we’re able to take the time to know our inspectors closely and to patiently explain to homebuyers what makes them unique.”
For a service like the Home Energy Score that demands a bit of careful “messaging” for its full benefit to be understood, this kind of low-key and informative sales approach makes for an encouraging opportunity for inspectors to take full advantage of what the Score offers. Asked to sum up the envisioned impact of the DOE tie-in for his customers, Paul explains, “As a strategic partner and a true extension of our inspectors’ businesses, ACC books more jobs for our inspectors, and returns valuable time to them so they can better operate their businesses and can more readily take on new high-value services like the Home Energy Score. And at that point, we’re very effective at up–selling those same new services to generate higher average job rates, so there’s a great compound effect.”
Making Pros Look Professional
ASHI Home Energy Score Assessors regularly tell us that the co-branding benefit of being a DOE-certified professional is one of the major drivers for taking part in the program. In an industry in which some inspectors’ websites boast more logos than a NASCAR race, there’s something that stands out about being associated with a federal agency like the U.S. DOE, especially when the agency assures the quality of the energy information that’s being provided.
ACC recognizes a common cause with this critical part of marketing a business, as reflected in their emphasis on “boosting your brand’s reputation” as a key deliverable for their inspectors. Just as being a Certified Home Energy Score Assessor attests to earned expertise and credibility, ACC-affiliated inspectors enjoy not just the appearance, but the lived reality of a fully operational professional business team behind them. Paul said, “Co-branding with the DOE is naturally consistent with the image that we help our inspectors uphold—conscientious, well-rounded, highly trained—it’s a great fit that way.”
Communication Across the Entire Transaction
—That’s a Good Call!
One common concern that can hold inspectors back from taking part in the Home Energy Score program is the suspicion that agents will respond negatively, seeing it as merely another means of finding fault with a home. Although that fear is generally unfounded (note Gordon Glidden’s experience, for example), ACC’s suite of services gives inspectors one less excuse for not joining up.
Although many inspectors seize every opportunity to leverage their status as a Certified Assessor to get in front of their agent networks and explain a great new service (one that study results have shown will help them sell a home more quickly), others like to use the Score for its proven customer benefits. They just want to be sure that it’s not going to ruffle any feathers with their agents.
Paul explained to us that it’s the latter scenario for which his team can again put on the educator hat because their work as a supporting team isn’t complete once the job is booked. He says, “Our teams work hand in hand with the real estate agent and any other people who have an impact on the homebuyer’s experience throughout the entire inspection process. Just like with homebuyers, we’re able to remind the agent on a regular basis why they’re making the right choice in working with our inspector. If it requires follow-up conversations to fully explain why the Score is a good thing for the homebuyer and for them, too, our people have the knowledge and the wherewithal to make sure that message gets across.”
Inspectors can reach Paul and his team at Americascallcenter.com to learn how to take their businesses to the next level of professionalism and profitability.
Jen Gallegos at ASHI HQ (firstname.lastname@example.org) is always on hand to answer questions and to give encouragement to inspectors looking to get started using the Score. Or head right to ID Energy and get signed up at energyscoreusa.com/sign_up.php.