Inspector Turns Complaint into Marketing Gain
by Nick Gromicko
April 7, 2003
After my client moved into the home I inspected for her, she discovered a clogged sink drain and has complained to the real estate agent. This is not my fault. The agent refers a lot of inspection work my way. What should I do?
Dear Home Inspector:
Don't get upset. Handling complaints is a part of any business. Three out of every 100 people are nuts and you can't change that. You cannot find every defect that exists or ever could exist in every home you inspect. Do not think backward -- think forward. The real problem is not with the sink, it is with the damage a complaint can do to your company's reputation. Don't think plumbing -- think marketing!
Many complaints are great marketing opportunities in disguise. Try to turn them around and capitalize on them. Gain marketing benefits from them that outweigh the cost of satisfying them, especially if:
1. The problem is not your fault.
2. News of the complaint could damage your image within your local market.
3. The cost of correction is inexpensive.
Clogged drains are one of the most common post-settlement complaints directed at home inspectors. Real estate sales agreements usually require home sellers to empty and clean their home before the buyer takes possession. A seller's final clean-up efforts often inadvertently clog the sink traps and drains with dirt and leftover refrigerator goods. Guess who gets blamed?
Here's what to do (and act fast):
1. Immediately explain to your client, the real estate agent, and anyone else aware of the complaint, that you, the inspector, are not responsible. Contact every complaint recipient personally. Be calm and talk slowly. Also:
a. Use common sense in your explanation. Remind your client and agent that the seller did not live with a clogged sink and that the clog occurred AFTER you did your inspection.
b. Remind your client and agent that the seller didn't disclose the clogged sink for a good reason: It wasn't clogged.
c. Point to the InterNACHI Agreement (between you and your client). The agreement is easy for laymen to understand. InterNACHI has invested hundreds of legal man-hours into this one-page work-of-art. It explains all.
d. Tell them that the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors is on your side and will write an official opinion in support of your contention that you are not at fault.
2. After you have made your point clear, and your client and the agent understand your position, SWITCH GEARS. Offer to correct the problem at no charge. Pay for a plumber to repair the clogged drain. Don't do the work yourself; pay a professional. Get the work done quickly. Make sure the plumber's paid receipt shows that you paid personally.
3. After the repair has been made and you have paid for it, reiterate your position to your client again. Explain again that you were not responsible for this problem but that you only paid for it to make your client happy. If your client offers to reimburse you, do not accept.
4. Ask your client for a favor. Ask her to write you a brief thank-you letter -- nothing fancy, just a note mentioning the problem, your quick response, your willingness to pay for correction, and her own satisfaction with your home inspection service. Offer to help her word it or offer suggested wording. It can be hand-written. Give or send her a postage-paid return envelope to get it back to you.
5. Draft and send a letter to the real estate agent. A sample letter might go something like this:
[Describe the new homeowner's problem.]
Upon moving into her new home, our mutual client, Sally Newowner, discovered that her kitchen sink trap was clogged.
[Then explain why you are not responsible.]
I explained that this was not my fault, that the seller obviously didn't live with a clogged sink drain, that clogs often occur during the seller's final cleanup, and I can only inspect the condition of a home on the day of the inspection, etc.
[Sympathize with agent's position.]
Despite my lack of liability with regard to this problem, I nevertheless want to keep our mutual client satisfied with my inspection service and happy with the home you helped her purchase.
[Describe your solution.]
Therefore, I took the initiative to hire a plumber to make the necessary repairs. I paid for it out of my own pocket.
[Then describe the happy outcome.]
Sally Newowner is now very pleased. I have enclosed a copy of a thank-you note Sally wrote for me.
I hope my quick handling of this problem will earn your confidence in me and inspire you and your colleagues at ABC Realty to refer your clients to me again.
You should never have to pay to correct a defect, especially if you are protected by the InterNACHI Agreement (between you and your client). However, if you ever feel the need to pay for a repair, make sure you offset your cost by getting a marketing benefit in return. Turn every negative into a positive.
Save all the paperwork aforementioned. When a prospective client asks you for references, explain that even the worst inspector has a few satisfied clients and that any inspector can provide references. Instead, offer your prospective client your one complaint! Then fax or send him/her a copy of your letter to Jane Goodagent, the plumber's paid receipt, and Sally Newowner's thank-you note. It works every time!
Also, include copies of thank-you notes in your binders.
A General Release for your attorney's review.