By Jenny Callison, Enquirer contributor
HAMILTON – Mike Connolly has embraced technology to give his home inspection business a distinctive edge.
“I’ve taken a business that I believe is nontechnical in nature, in terms of how an inspector works, and used technology to deliver an audio-visual product that has benefits to the client and to me as the business owner,” said the owner of Smart Move Inspections.
Mr. Connolly started his home inspections career working for a company that used a checklist format to identify concerns. Many companies have since shifted to a more complete narrative description, but Smart Move has gone further.
“My original intent was to provide a product that had more dimension to it,” Mr. Connolly explained. “I started with a 35mm camera and a roll of 24- or 36-exposure film. But the limitation there was financial: the cost of developing was an obstacle to the number of pictures I could take.”
So as soon as digital cameras became readily available. he switched to the new technology.
Recalled Mr. Connolly: “It was very difficult for my company to do. Cameras were very expensive, about $1,000 each, and then we had to purchase a computer to download to, software to handle the process, and a printer to print. It was a huge initial investment, but after about three or four months when we learned to use it, we never looked back.”
Nowadays, a customer receives a binder that contains the written inspection report accompanied by black-and-white photos. Each photo is keyed to its description in the narrative. The photos are shown in color on a video with a narrative accompanying the photos.
“The advantage to the client is that everybody – the seller, the purchaser, the Realtor and even contractors who might be performing repairs – can see exactly what I’m talking about,” Mr. Connolly said.
“The advantage to me as a business owner is that it protects my company from liability. The photos document that I actually did the work, and have been to those places. Many times in the home inspection business you’ll get a client who might call you six months later and say, ‘You inspected my house; now I find there’s something wrong.’ The photos document the condition of the house or structure when I inspected it.”
“Here’s a person who likes what he does and also likes technology. It’s a good combination,” said Karen Young, an agent with Huff Realty in Montgomery. “I think he has done over 100 inspections for me.
“I can’t tell people whom to use, but I can give an opinion on why I like a particular inspector. What I say to people is, `What he gives me that no other inspector gives me is the best negotiation tool, and that’s a picture.'”
From a buyer’s agent’s standpoint, Ms. Young explained, that photo-documented report provides the specificity needed for effective negotiations, giving the seller complete information about the nature and location of needed repairs. For the seller, too, a visual report clarifies problems.
Even after the sale, Mr. Connolly said, his reports provide valuable information.
“It’s a great document to refer back to for maintenance, and in the future when they’re ready to sell the house, it provides some history. They or the future buyers can see the home’s baseline condition. Are there leaning or bulging walls? The photos may show that the problem has gotten no worse over time.”
After developing the audio-visual capabilities, the next problem was how to produce reports quickly. While his wife, Karen, handles administrative details, Mr. Connolly does the inspections. To be competitive, his reports must be available quickly – usually within 24 hours.
The solution was a mobile office, in which he could at least draft his reports.
“I built a small one-person office in the back of a Chevy Astro van by removing most of the seats and installing a computer, TV/VCR, color printer and laser printer,” Mr. Connolly said. “It’s powered with an inverter, an electrical device that takes 12-volt current from the alternator and converts it to 110 volts. With the motor running, I can run them indefinitely, or by battery, for about 30 minutes.”
Not only did the mobile office help streamline the reporting process, it provided an immediate way for Mr. Connolly to show clients problematic findings.
“If need be, we can even e-mail a client the report, including digital pictures, as soon as it is done,” he said.
Said Ms. Young: “He’s able to e-mail the report to me, usually that day, so we can get going on negotiations. Mike gives me tools that make my job easier.”