Dennis Spencer is enjoying his new career as a home inspection franchise owner
Dennis Spencer was 50 and searching for a career change. After selling a grocery store he had owned for years, he went back to school for a degree in organizational leadership. He knew he loved working for people, and he knew he loved leadership. It was just a matter of finding somewhere to apply those passions. When a colleague suggested that he’d be a good fit with the WIN Home Inspection franchise, he decided to check it out.
With one son in college and another preparing to enter college in 2014, he knew he needed a business that could supply him with a healthy income — and something that he could grow.
“I did my research and determined that the opportunity is really there with WIN Home Inspection,” Spencer says. “Ninety-five percent of homes are inspected these days. You still have to work hard, but there’s a lot of room for growth in the home inspections market.”
Spencer now owns a WIN Home Inspection franchise in California that covers Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Capitola and surrounding areas. This is his story.
How did you find out about WIN?
I found out through a family friend who’s a Realtor who I always use for my own transactions. I was on a car ride with her when she was helping my sister with a listing, and she asked me to look into it. She insisted I’d be a perfect fit for it because I have a construction background and I’m comfortable talking to people.
I got ahold of Robert Vierra, a top WIN Home Inspection producer out of Hollister, Calif., and he laid it out for me very clearly.
I bought my franchise when the housing market was pretty bad. It started somewhat slowly — I had four inspections my first month. What helped me tremendously is that I had other WIN franchisees all around me. I could pick their brains and ask them questions. I was able to go with them on inspections and get some hands-on training. I earned their trust, and they started referring me to others. I still get a fair amount of business from my fellow franchisees.
How long did it take you to grow your franchise?
I’ve been a franchisee for three-and-a-half years. I’ve had steady growth. I had 80 inspections the first year, which was more like a half-year. I had 188 inspections my first full year. Last year I was 260 inspections for my second full year, and this year I’m right on pace to hit 300.
It takes awhile to be able to be proficient enough to handle volume. When you first start, the inspections take longer. I was paranoid about making a mistake. I spent six or seven hours on my first inspections. I asked a lot of inspectors how long it takes to feel comfortable and most of them said about 250 inspections.
What sets WIN apart?
You have a resource and a network of people who can help you. This business is very time intensive. An average inspection takes two-and-a-half to three hours. You have to drive to the location, and that’s 30 minutes minimum — sometimes an hour each way. Then you have to write your report, and at some point you need to do marketing. There are all these things that WIN helps with concerning IT, putting together flyers and brochures and coming up with a marketing plan.
What kind of person makes a good WIN home inspector?
It really helps to be able to be in front of a group of people and talk to them. If you take guys (potential Strategic-Partners) from the construction industry that’ve been a carpenter or electrician and compare them with someone who’s used to public speaking in a business or sales background, I think the public speaker would outperform the technical guy. This is a people business. It’s all about networking and building your referral base.
You recently got a master’s degree in organizational leadership. Is your degree helpful in your new career as a WIN Home Inspection franchise owner?
Yes, because it helped me to think of things outside of my own perspective. I view my business associates and colleagues as circles of connectivity operating within my larger community. I’m not afraid to take on leadership roles in local real estate circles. I join committees and get out in the community in my area.
The Women’s Council of Realtors is one organization here that’s inside the larger community. I get about 95 percent of my referrals from them. I am now the hospitality chair at WCR. When we have meetings, I have done business with every person in that room.
What don’t people understand about home inspections?
Many clients don’t know what a home inspection is. They’ve been told they need one by their agent, but most don’t know a home inspection from an appraisal from a pest inspection. A big part of my job is communicating with them and setting expectations.
If I were an M.D., I’d be considered a general practitioner. If I find something that looks like it needs to be looked at, then I am going to send you to a specialist. If your foundation has cracks, I need to explain to you that I’m not right person to take care of the problem. I always remain positive and honest. Almost everything can be fixed.
How large is the opportunity?
Home inspections are a service that’s never going away. You can absolutely make a living at it. There’s competition, but any market you go into you’re going to have competition. Somewhere in the midst of that competition you will find your niche.
What do you like about the business?
I spent 25 years in the same building in the same business. Now, when I get up in the morning, I get to go someplace different every day. It’s a great thing. We live in a beautiful area. I’m down by the ocean or up in the redwoods. Sometimes the drive is epic.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?
It’s a blessing that I don’t have to manage 15 employees anymore. It’s a great business model. With a few tools, a computer, some training and diligence you can go out and start selling.
Would you recommend this franchise?
It’s essential that you be a self-starter. If you aren’t a self-starter or if you’re not serious enough about putting in the time for the work, you’re not going to make it.
It’s a very low investment for a reasonable return. Once you are up and running you can get your entire investment back in six months once you hit that 250 to 300-a-year inspections number. Half a year’s wages would pay your franchise fee. That’s amazing to me. You don’t have to buy a brick and mortar building. It’s a very lean, clean business model.
We have an IT department that can walk us through any technical problems.
You can make an honest living and it is possible to earn triple digits if you are willing to do the work. It’s not flashy. This is business where you can really be under the radar and make a good living.