Tips for Relocating Your Home Inspection Business

 

by Gabe Semenza, InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector®

 

We lumbered outside in 100-degree Texas heat. The suffocating humidity drenched us all in a lathery sweat. My wife and I knew we needed a change.

We looked to our young daughter, who appeared just as miserable, and discussed the summertime activities we canceled because of the scorching weather. Not to mention the temperature of the attics I’d be climbing through come Monday.

Despite having built a solid home inspection business during the previous seven years, we agreed our family would move – but not just across town. After months of discussion and research, we chose to relocate from South Texas to Western Montana, an outdoor paradise in my home state.  Now, we’ve landed in Missoula.  I realize soon we’ll shovel snow and think fondly back to the sunshine. For now, we're enjoying the cool, dry air and the time we spent planning.  That groundwork turned a massive move into a relatively stress-free adventure.

All relocations include headaches and complexities. If you aim to re-launch your home inspection business in a new city or state, the complexities increase. But if you follow these general guidelines, you can spend less time scrambling and more time inspecting.

This plan can help you, regardless of your move date.

1.  “If you fail to plan...”

If you plan to move out of state, immediately learn about that state’s inspector licensing requirements. This is obviously not an issue if you move within state lines.

In my case, the transition was easy. I moved from Texas – which has some of the country’s most stringent inspector licensing requirements – to Montana, which has none. The Treasure State does not license or regulate its inspectors.

Each state’s requirements, however, can differ, and even those demands can change from year to year. Maryland, for example, requires you to be state-licensed; Colorado does not, but home inspector licensing is an ongoing discussion among state legislators.

InterNACHI® is a great resource to learn about which states license inspectors and which do not.  Visit www.nachi.org/pre.htm.

Using that link as a starting point, and with a bit more research, you can find out whether your new state will recognize your current state’s license, or if additional education, testing or experience is necessary.

Imagine having moved and hanging out your shingle, only to have to remove it because you weren’t properly licensed. Had Montana required additional education or licensing, I wouldn’t have left Texas before having already secured it. As always, plan accordingly.

2.  Save, save, save.

Your next step should involve a savings plan.

General wisdom varies regarding how much you should save before your move. On the low end, some experts suggest three months for living expenses. On the high end, others suggest a year’s worth or more. Obviously, the more you have saved, the better.

For 16 months, we diligently saved. We budgeted for the costly moving expenses, odds and ends at the new house (think new shower curtains, welcome mats, and surprises), and for about six months’ worth of living expenses. My wife was able to keep her job, which she can generally perform from any location. Otherwise, we would have saved even more money.

You have to feel confident about your bottom line. I advise you talk to a trusted financial advisor about how much you should save given your unique situation.

3.  Lay the groundwork ahead of time.

Ideally, you will arrive in your new city or state with few business-related tasks to complete. With the stress of a move and little to no home inspection income for at least the short term, you don’t need any more headaches than are necessary.

I began building my new home inspection business roughly six months before actually moving. This was tricky, considering I also simultaneously managed and worked in my existing company.

Your first job – before any other business decision – should be to choose a business name. The name of your existing company in your current state may already be registered in the new state by someone else, or it may have some geographic or other relevance in your current state that won’t play as well in your new state.  Without a good business name, you can’t register your company, build a new website, order new business cards, or complete any of the minutia required to launch.

Entire books have been written about how to select a winning business name that will also work nicely online and in your marketing materials. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a brief but thorough guide to help you choose a name.

4.  Register your business.

Once you’ve chosen a name, visit your soon-to-be-new state government’s website to learn if your preferred business name is available. The state’s website will include a “Business” link or redirect you to its Secretary of State’s website. From there, you can perform a business name search.

(For further assurances, you can also do a federal trademark search at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website.)

If your preferred business name is available, you can register it online. In Montana, this process was speedy and my business’ Articles of Organization were emailed to me within a day or two.

I chose River City Inspections, LLC. It reflects the city I was moving to (three rivers merge into or near Missoula) and I thought it was a catchy name.

Next, if you haven’t already done so, decide how you will structure your business, which is a requirement for registering it with the state. Will it be a sole proprietorship? A limited liability company? How about a partnership?  This InterNACHI® article provides details for choosing the business structure that works best for you.

 

5.  Take care of licensing requirements.

So, now you have a new business name, and you’ve registered it with your new state. Next, learn if you must also obtain a business license through your new city’s licensing or business department.

In Missoula, I was required to file paperwork for a background check, a two-page business license application, and a home occupancy form (because I choose to keep overhead low and operate my business from a home office). I had to first receive clearance based on the zoning of my neighborhood.

Call your new city’s business licensing division to learn which permits, if any, you will need to do business. Then, learn if you can operate legally from home. If you plan to operate from a separate business location, you can request and file those documents.

 

6.  Take care of tax filings ASAP.

Next, if you haven’t already done so, file for a federal tax ID number, which is also called an Employer Identification Number or EIN. This is simply the federal government’s means for identifying a business for tax and other purposes.  You can do this online at IRS.gov. 

If you already have an EIN, it’s not necessary for you to obtain a new number if you’re only changing your business name.  But if you’re changing the legal structure of your business (such as converting from an LLC to a corporation), then you will need to apply for a new EIN.

 

7.  Get squared away at the bank.

While we were about a month away from moving to Montana, I was still managing my Texas home inspection business, and it was at this point that I opened a new business checking account.  We had purchased our Missoula home several months prior, thus had a physical address, and I already had my new business name. Setting up a new business bank account was quick and easy.

I searched for national banks that had a branch in Missoula so that I could visit a sister branch nearby in Texas. From Texas, I was able to open a Missoula business checking account. To do this, you will need proof that your business is legitimate and was registered where applicable with your new city and/or state. You will also need your federal tax ID number.

I also had my financial advisor create a new small business 401(k) under my new company name and move the money in the existing account to the newly-formed account. While a bit of paperwork was involved, this process was also headache-free.

Taking care of these banking items ahead of your move will shorten your to-do list once you’ve moved and will enable you to accept payments in your new business name. For tax purposes, you can also start paying for your new business expenses with the related account and keep your accountant happy in the process.

 

8.  Make a plan for marketing your business.

You’ve filed all the paperwork required to perform home inspections, assuming your new state recognizes the credentials you have. Now, work on the tools you need to attract clients.

With any new business launch, you need a great logo. I used the services of InterNACHI’s Member Marketing Team. I have now had two logos created through this free members-only benefit, and both are impressive. Your logo is the face of your business. Read this article to learn about the importance of having a professional logo.

Once I had my new phone number locked down, and my online presence (including social media pages) were updated with my Montana contact information, I turned to tackling the physical items I needed: business cards and truck magnets.

Again, I turned to InterNACHI® and Inspector Outlet.  You can order business cards, truck magnets, marketing videos, custom books, brochures, decals, and much more.  Remember that one of your free member benefits is free professional design services for your logo and marketing pieces.  All you have to do is place a print order.

I like truck magnets because they market my business while I travel to and from inspections, and let customers, homeowners and neighbors know who’s parked out front and why. They are also affordable, easy to replace and, if cleaned and removed properly and regularly, don’t damage the vehicle’s paint or leave lasting marks.  (Read this article on how to boost your business with signage for your inspection vehicle.)

I wanted the magnets and cards in hand before I performed my first job.

9.  Cultivate your online presence.

The importance of a good website cannot be understated. Other than your professional interaction with customers, your logo, and the quality of your inspection reports, your website might be the most crucial component of building a successful business, especially a new business in a new location.

The next task I tackled during my relocation process was building my website. I created www.InspectMissoulaMT.com using a popular website builder. In the months leading up to our move, I built the site, tweaked it, and even scrapped it entirely to start anew. Today’s website builder programs make design easy even for those who aren’t tech-savvy. But if this skill is out of your reach, you should consider hiring a web development company.

I needed my site to be top-notch and attract business from Day 1. I landed three jobs within eight days of launching my Montana site (and related social media marketing promotions, discussed later in this article).

For inspiration, I asked InterNACHI® COO Ben Gromicko for permission to mimic the website he built to show inspectors how to stand apart.  You can check out Ben’s sample website at www.BigBenInspections.weebly.com. This site is a great example of how inspectors can differentiate their website from the generic sites we’ve all seen and personally used.  You can also check out Ben’s webinar on website-building

InterNACHI® Founder Nick Gromicko has also written a great deal about creating home inspector-specific websites. Read his article How to Create Home Inspection Websites for tips on creating a site that converts online visits into paid inspections.

Other informative InterNACHI web-related articles and services include:

Once you build a website or pay for its creation, you must register its domain or URL. Oftentimes, the online web builder program you use also offers services to host your domain, which allows you to publish the site using the available web address of your choosing.  Remember to renew your registration ahead of its expiration every year (or as required) so that you don’t lose ownership of your domain, and all of your online content.

The mistake I made was in not ensuring that the web domain www.RiverCityInspections.com was available. It was not. As a workaround, I chose www.InspectMissoulaMT.com. To me, that’s a catchy web address, but it doesn’t tie in directly with my business name, as I would have preferred. Learn from my mistake. It’s important for your web address to resemble your business name so that prospects and clients can easily remember it.

Keep in mind that the world of web browsing is always changing. In 2018, mobile users (those who browse the Internet using a smartphone or tablet device) comprised 52.2% of all the world’s web traffic. In 2009, mobile users made up just 0.7% of web traffic.  (This is according to Statista, an online research firm.)

Ideally, your website should have a desktop-friendly version – a version viewed from a standard desktop computer or laptop – and an equally solid mobile version. The online website builder I used required me to design a desktop version and an entirely separate mobile version. But the extra work paid off. My first Montana customer called me directly from my site, which includes a phone icon that, if clicked, calls my phone. 

To maintain a professional appearance, it’s also wise to pay the added fee for personalized email addresses. I could have used gabetheinspector@yahoo.com, but I pay a bit extra to use gabe@inspectmissoulamt.com. Its use helps to tie my email to my website, demonstrates  professionalism, and helps to strengthen my branding.

10.  Use social media to promote your business.

I’ll be blunt. I’m not a fan of social media. But I use it almost daily. You have to go where your customers are.

Consider that, according to the ad agency Disruptive Advertising, almost half of the world’s population uses social media, and a great deal of mobile users use it to search for a local business.  If you aren’t online in a prominent way, customers can’t find you as easily as they want to.

I use two social media platforms right now, but I should probably join others. Most days, I write a brief blog for my website and link to the blog post via my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I also post inspection-related photos, odd inspection stories, and even family photos to add personality to my accounts.

Most social media accounts are free to create and maintain. And they’ll help drum up awareness and point traffic to your website.

I created these accounts while still living in Texas to ensure that someone else didn’t take my social media handles during my move. I took the accounts live as soon as I was ready to work.

Shortly after landing in Missoula, I published my business Facebook page, ran a $30 Facebook promotion and, as a result, landed two inspections right away. You can learn more about Facebook business promotions at their main site.

I also run a Google ad and limit the monthly budget to $100. You can spend more or less. I’ve found over the years that a Google ad (or an ad placed on another search engine, such as Bing, AOL or Yahoo) pays for itself multiple times over. Google reports that in 2018, it processed more than 40,000 search queries every second, which is about 3.5 billion per day.

Read this article about the importance of online marketing.

11.  How will you market yourself anew?

I outlined my Montana marketing plan about two months before we moved here.

I ensured my plan was simple, affordable and doable. I follow this plan every day, although it might not be for everyone:

  • I begin most mornings with coffee and by writing a brief blog for my website. 
  • Then, I post a link to that blog on my social media accounts.
  • I email 10 local real estate agents to introduce myself, highlight how I differ from other area inspectors, and detail my current promotions to entice their buyers.
  • I then follow up with a text to the 10 REAs I emailed the day before.
  • I review the statistics of my Facebook and Google ads and tweak the verbiage, if necessary.

In the coming days and weeks, I also plan to deliver a business card and flyer to local REAs, once permission is granted. As inspectors, we need to maintain professional relationships with them, but also keep our distance. My marketing plan includes direct-to-customer online promotions, but also a bit of work to let REAs know about how my services can help their clients.

In all, this takes about two hours each morning. When I get busy with inspections, I won’t be able to maintain this pace. But so far, it’s working. And even if I don’t receive a job directly from these posts and interactions, I’m planting a seed that might grow into work in the coming weeks, months and years.

12.  Prepare to hit the ground running.

Because we were moving such a great distance – from the bottom of the country to the top – I researched the differences in building codes between Texas and Montana.

While InterNACHI® inspectors aren’t required to perform code-compliance inspections, I learned all I could about surprises I might find in Montana. From frost depths to heating system types, I wanted to be prepared.

Regardless of the distance of your move, it’s advisable that you learn about the common differences between the houses in your region versus those in your new location. In Texas, municipal codes varied between one city and another just 20 miles down the road.

Always follow your standards of practice (InterNACHI’s SOP or your state’s), but also be prepared for the inevitable variations in regional building practices.  

 

13.  The week of the move arrives.

I worked full-time in Texas up until about two days before we moved. Thus, I waited to complete several important tasks. For example, I couldn’t disconnect my then-current telephone number or un-publish my then-working website.

Once I stopped accepting new jobs in Texas, I subscribed to a new Missoula-based cell phone number. I did this by simply calling my telephone service provider and asking for a new phone number specific to Missoula. While existing cell phone numbers can travel with you, it’s a smart business practice to have a local number and not one that screams “out-of-towner.”

I then shut down my Texas website and business bank accounts. I updated my new contact information with all the service providers I knew I’d still be using in Montana, such as my online scheduling program, my credit card processing provider, my InterNACHI® member account, etc.

At this point, I was also able to update my draft website with my phone number so that it was ready to launch.

A final word

To be honest, I was at times overly excited and downright terrified to move as far as we did, even if it was to my familiar home state.  During our first few weeks in Missoula, we put our house together. We explored, fished, hiked, and enjoyed the fruits of our planning.  While our move and the work to establish a new business was not without hiccups, it went and continues to go as smoothly as possible.

I enacted my marketing plan and began almost at once performing paid inspections, even if my schedule still has more holes in it than I’d prefer.

But we knew we needed a change and we changed it. We no longer lumber in the suffocating heat and humidity. We feel good about our choice and new future.

If you follow my general roadmap, you won’t have to slog through the minutia of pulling off a similar move. And, hopefully, this groundwork will turn your massive move into a relatively stress-free adventure.

 

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