Recently I was talking to one of our HERS raters who said that one of the reasons he prefers going after the existing home market is that he’s more comfortable talking with homeowners than with builders. He’s afraid that builders will see his lack of construction knowledge and send him packing.
What can you do to overcome this fear? Take heed of these points, and you’ll be fine:
Now, let’s go into these points, one by one.
First, realize that builders hire a lot of trade contractors who don’t know a lot about construction. The cabinet installers, the drywallers, the roofers... They all know their trade (some more than others), but they certainly don’t know everything there is to know about building a house.
Likewise, a builder doesn’t expect you to be able to match his understanding of the building process. What he does expect of anyone he hires, though, is that they’re good at their trade. You don’t have to convince him that you know how to frame a roof. You do have to convince him that you know how to rate a house and that he’ll benefit by hiring you to do so.
It’s certainly possible to display your ignorance to a builder in a way that makes him doubt your ability as a rater. Don’t do that! One way to avoid that scenario is to tell the builder up front that you’re not a building expert but that you know your building science. Don’t ever try to bluff the builder. He’ll see it, and not only will you not rate his houses, he may spread the word to other builders.
The other way to avoid looking like an ignoramus is to make sure you know as much as you can about inspecting and rating new houses. Educate yourself to be a more knowledgeable rater.
Of course, you do need some construction knowledge to be able to rate a house. You have to know how to look at a house and identify all the components of the building envelope (foundation walls, band joists, skylights...), different types of mechanical equipment, and the other pieces of the puzzle. If the builder sees that you can't tell the difference between a furnace and a heat pump, you're history. Even if the builder doesn't discover your ignorance, you have to get that right for the rating to be accurate.
Another great way to learn about construction is to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Help them frame the floor, build the walls, insulate and air seal the envelope, and set the windows. They’re simple houses and easy to learn from.
Likewise, if you know a builder, visit their job sites (if they have any these days). If you don’t know a builder, stop and look around anytime you see a new home being built. You may be kicked off the site, but if not, you’ll get the chance to learn something new and possibly even get a job rating the house. Bring your camera, too. Photos are great to add to presentations you make to builders and homeowners when you’re selling your services.
What it really all comes down to is that you don’t have to know everything. You have to know your stuff. And you need to work on building rapport with the builder.