In September 2020, Stephen Hill of Hill Property Inspections, LLC in Pennsylvania asked the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors’ (InterNACHI) forum for tips on managing time while writing reports. Despite having four inspector-employees, he was working 16-hour days and often didn’t have time to eat. He wanted his team to continue producing detailed, user-friendly reports. But, he explained, he also wanted more time with his family.
“I’m completely burnt out and finding a work/family balance is nearly impossible,” Hill said in one of his comments. “Everyone tells me [being busy is] a good problem to have. Well, yes, financially, but not in terms of my family life. I get one shot to be a dad and am a fully committed husband, so I need to find a happy medium to prevent complete burnout.”
The Pressures of Inspecting
Hill’s comments capture a common struggle. Home inspectors feel the pressure to do it all: You’re putting in long hours, shuffling schedules, learning new tools and skills, networking, and taking care of finances. Meanwhile, you’re trying to get enough family time and sleep at night. It’s a challenging juggling act. It’s also a perfect recipe for anxiety and burnout.
In the past, we’ve shared tips to keeping your body healthy and safe while inspecting crawlspaces, attics, roofs, and other potentially dangerous areas. But doing your best work requires a healthy mind, too. So, we’re taking a closer look at the roots of stress, anxiety, and burnout in the inspection industry and how to manage these pressures in your own life.
Anxiety & Burnout: Why are they relevant to home inspectors?
You may be wondering: What is burnout? And why should I care?
According to psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter in a Psychology Today piece, burnout is a chronic stress condition that happens when you take on long hours, excessively and unsustainably heavy workloads, and exceptional pressure to succeed. It stems from an instinctive survival mechanism that prepares the body to run from or fight off perceived threats, writes Alicia Potts for Business Woman Media.
Even if the danger we sense is work-related, the body still thinks it’s fighting to survive, Potts says. If it fights for too long, it starts to wear down. If ignored, struggles like stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout could make you more likely to become injured, sick from conditions like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease, and unhappy or unmotivated in your professional and personal lives.
What are home inspectors saying?
Despite being so prevalent, few conversations are happening in the inspection industry about stress management, anxiety, and burnout. One possibility, Kelly Honeycutt of Safe Harbor Home Inspections in North Carolina shares: Inspectors may be more inclined to brush off how the work affects their mental and physical health. Indeed, online forums show patterns of inspectors favoring technical questions and even celebrating being overworked.
“I’m a female home inspector, so I have a little bit [of a] different perspective,” Honeycutt said. “[Inspectors] don’t want to admit that they’re working themselves to death. Or it’s like a medal if you worked 18 hours a day, instead of, ‘Hey, you need to be taking care of yourself.’”
Honeycutt says she sees less judgment in groups with more female participants. By contrast, in other online forums, inspectors tend to shut down vulnerable questions.
“You ask [in many forums] what somebody considers a stupid question and they’re automatically telling you, ‘You shouldn’t be inspecting houses. How could you possibly have gotten your license?’” Honeycutt said.
The inspection industry can be competitive. But inspectors do their best work when they share information to lift each other up—not bring each other down. Toward this goal, we asked home inspectors for their take on the common causes of anxiety and burnout within the industry.
What leads to inspection anxiety and burnout?
Through interviews and research, five conditions increase the likelihood of inspector anxiety and burnout. These include busy seasons, not having off seasons, unpredictable future appointments, career turning points, and the risk of claims.
1. Busy Seasons
In many regions, the home inspection and real estate industries follow similar patterns. Nadia Evangelou writes for the National Association of Realtors (NAR) that housing demand peaks in the summer months of May through August and slows down between November and February.
Especially if you’re supporting a family, a clustered busy season—followed by a period of uncertain demand—can create pressure to take as many jobs as possible. Inspectors may feel anxious about disappointing clients, turning down opportunities for work, or chances to build relationships with realtors. Lastly, while packing on appointments during the summer to prepare for the winter slump, inspectors may neglect their own needs and, ultimately, get sick or lose interest in their work.
This is what happened to Honeycutt. During her first summer as an inspector, she became burnt out from meeting her market’s seasonal demands. After working 18-hour days in the humid, North Carolina heat with little water or rest, she ended up in the hospital. The experience made her realize how easily burnout can happen.
“I didn’t realize what was happening [and] I had gotten so dehydrated,” Honeycutt said. “But I had headaches every day. I drained two bags of IV fluids within an hour. It usually takes 45 minutes [to drain one].”
2. No Off Season
While a clustered busy season can lead to anxiety and burnout, so can no off season. Inspecting homes requires sharp attention to detail, making it a mentally taxing career, says Andrew Sams of Alpine Building Performance, LLC in Colorado. Therefore, Sams explains, if your inspection region doesn’t have a seasonal slump, you may find yourself more prone to fatigue.
“You’re kind of pushing through the busy season with the expectation, like, ‘Okay, well this is the busy season and it’ll slow down.’ But it never really slows down,” Sams said. “It’s kind of 24/7, all hours of the day, all days of the week. That schedule lends itself to burning out if you’re not setting boundaries with yourself.”
3. Uncertain Scheduling
It’s rare for even the most established inspectors to be fully booked far in advance. So, inspectors learn to accept that an open schedule four weeks out is business as usual. But the uncertainty is a common source of anxiety, Sams explains.
“Everything happens as needed in this industry, [and] that’s definitely a little nerve-wracking,” Sams said. “Oftentimes, your schedule is developing on a weekly basis, and you have to trust that you’re doing the right things to ensure that work is going to continue to come in.”
4. Turning Points in Your Inspection Career
Newer and more experienced inspectors often juggle different sources of anxiety. For example, some are simultaneously learning the ropes of the industry and starting small businesses. Balancing both learning curves can quickly become exhausting, Sams and Honeycutt agree.
“A new inspector has anxiety over starting a business and getting everything done. And then [you’re] experiencing burnout because it’s your first year, you weren’t prepared for this and now here it is,” Honeycutt said. “They’re not only learning how to be inspectors, but they’re [also] learning how to run a business.”
Conversely, managing a growing business introduces new challenges and learning curves, like hiring and managing additional employees. On top of that, the job can be physically and mentally demanding, especially in extreme weather, Sams explains. As such, prolonged exposure to these challenges can make older inspectors more prone to burnout.
Honeycutt adds that burnout can happen at earlier or later points in one’s career, depending on the specific inspector. And yet, as inspectors near retirement age, they may experience burnout as losing the love they once had for their work. This is compounded for inspectors who’ve transferred to the industry at a later age, Honeycutt finds.
Furthermore, retiring often means selling a business. Passing off a company—and in effect, a legacy—may have inspectors asking, “Did I make the right decision? Is this chapter really over?”
“I would be anxious about that, because something that you’ve worked 15 to 20 years on is your baby. And then when you retire, it’s just done,” Honeycutt said.
5. High Risk of Claims
No matter how long they’ve been in business, many home inspectors worry about high risk associated with their field.
“[Many inspectors] are anxious about missing something,” Honeycutt said. “It’s a negative that can really impact how you work, because you’re just so scared about getting sued.”
For Sams, the fear is in the unknown.
“There’s always that kind of lurking threat of an insurance claim or liability that you might not even know about,” he said. “How many issues are going to arise out of all those inspections? Maybe none and maybe five. You kind of don’t know what you don’t know.”
But here’s what we do know: Over half of home inspectors face at least one claim during their careers. Of those claims, 80 percent are highly exaggerated or meritless. That means that, even if you do your job properly, you can still be subject to allegations. For many home inspectors, it’s not if you’ll receive an insurance claim but when. But a claim doesn’t have to mean the end of your business. (More on that later.)
Tips for Coping
Despite its challenges, many inspectors enjoy long and fulfilling careers in this industry. There are several ways to keep your worries at bay and to make burnout stay away.
1. Look for Signs.
One way to avoid burnout is by creating emotional checkpoints for yourself throughout the day, advises psychiatrist Jessi Gold in an NPR story. Ask yourself: Am I feeling stressed? Content? Overwhelmed? Socially isolated at work or at home? What’s causing me to feel that way?
It also helps to familiarize yourself with signs of burnout and anxiety. Bourg Carter shares a list of burnout signs in her aforementioned Psychology Today article, which includes but is not limited to:
- Chronic fatigue,
- Appetite loss,
- Pessimism, and
The sooner you identify the symptoms, the better you can address them, Bourg Carter says. For example, if stress is cutting your appetite, skipping meals will only make you feel worse. Stay hydrated, eat well, and eat regularly to prevent and reduce stress.
2. Keep yourself moving.
On top of knowing what to look for, it’s crucial to set boundaries and prioritize your health. One approach is to stay active.
Exercising makes your brain produce more endorphins, a.k.a. the body’s feel-good chemicals, Mayo Clinic writes in their blog. This can improve your mood, confidence, focus, and sleep quality, fight off stress’s harmful bodily effects, and help you process anxieties more calmly, the same Mayo Clinic article says.
Plus, if you’re losing interest in your routine, creating positive challenges can spice things up, suggests Rebecca Knight in a Harvard Business Review post. These “restorative experiences,” Knight quotes, redirect you from an “avoidance goal” to an “approach goal.” In fact, Knight says, even if the activity is tiring, doing something interesting will make you feel better than doing something relaxing.
Rather than watching two hours of TV at night, consider using one hour to pursue continuing education, practice a hobby, or learn to use a new tool. Consider dancing, cycling, photography, playing an instrument, gardening, or even walks around the neighborhood. Honeycutt walks her dog to get exercise and clear her mind when she’s stressed.
3. Get enough sleep and maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
You may have heard the English proverb, “Sleep is the best medicine.” Well, it’s not far from true.
Research shows that good sleep habits are also essential to a healthy lifestyle. In fact, according to professor and insomnia research director Kevin Morgan, quality sleep is just as important as diet and exercise.
Indeed, recent studies have found that sleep deprivation causes burnout even more than work-related stress, explains Rise Science in their blog article. Just as sleep repairs and grows muscles after a good workout, it’s also the time for consolidating memories and new information, healing from emotional pains, and getting strong for the next day, the article says.
Healthcare providers suggest going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Also, use your bed as it’s intended, Potts suggests—not as a living room or an office for checking email.
4. Don’t bring work home with you.
Another problem inspectors face: Work follows you home. Because many inspectors work from their phones and personal laptops, you may get work emails, texts, and calls while on vacation or having dinner with family. You may not have an office space outside of your home. Your primary vehicle may also be a moving business ad. You follow newsletters, forums, and social media groups. As work bleeds into your personal time, you may feel like you can’t get away from it.
Sams experienced this, and at one point, a realtor even called him on Thanksgiving. If a realtor or client calls during your off hours, politely explain that you’ll call them back. Although inspectors try to accommodate, Sams believes many people will respect this boundary.
“The first couple of years I was in business, I really was struggling with burnout because I wasn’t good at setting boundaries when I was off,” Sams said. “I think if you set boundaries and follow them in a respectable manner, then it is going to be something that people do admire and honor.”
In her Harvard Business Review post, mentioned earlier, Knight recommends limiting work-technology use during off hours. You may turn off your phone at a cutoff time or put it in a drawer when you get home so you’re not tempted to check work emails or texts, Knight writes.
Another boundary: When you feel exhausted, take short mental breaks and longer time off to recover. It doesn’t need to be a full vacation. Citing a social psychologist, Knight says taking long weekends more frequently offers more benefits than infrequent, two-week vacations.
5. List It Out
Besides clocking out mentally, Forbes contributor Ashley Stahl suggests making lists. Create two columns: In one column, list every task that you absolutely need to do. In the other, perhaps in a different color, list the tasks you want to do, but aren’t absolutely necessary. If you feel overwhelmed, take a step back and just look at the “need to do” column.
Another list that reduces anxiety: In the morning, before starting your work, write out everything that worries you, Honeycutt encourages. For example, if you’re wondering whether a realtor liked your inspection report, call the realtor and ask. If you can’t address an anxiety on the list, then acknowledge that it’s outside your control. Resolve what you can and let go of what you can’t.
6. Find a support system.
When it comes to addressing shared anxieties, home inspectors are stronger together. In addition to family, friends, and, when necessary, professional therapists, build a support system with other inspectors you can talk to.
At the start of her inspection career, Honeycutt found it helpful to have a mentor she could text with questions or concerns. Meeting other inspectors in your state can also lead to referrals and a sense of community specific to your area.
“Just to have some kind of a mentor—that’s such a great thing for reducing anxiety and [not] feeling like you’re all alone,” Honeycutt said.
Social media has become another popular way to network. Honeycutt participates in a private Facebook group called the Unicorn Squad, which was created by Megan Riley Wilson, who was featured in one of our Inspector Spotlights.
“The rules [of the group] are, no question is a stupid question. We’re not here to bash each other. We’re here to support each other,” Honeycutt said.
Did you know that we have a Facebook group, too? Designed specifically for you, Home Inspector Risk Management is a private space for asking questions and getting exclusive risk management resources. It’s open to home inspectors in the United States, even those who aren’t currently insured with us. Visit Home Inspector Risk Management to request membership. We hope to see you there!
7. Remember why you do it.
If you still feel burnt out, then return to the basics. Think back to when you first decided to become a home inspector. Try to remember what motivated you at the start of your career. Put yourself in those shoes again, and revisit how excited and energized you felt then, Stahl advises.
Similarly, Knight encourages burnt-out workers to imagine the current task as part of a larger goal. For example, writing an inspection report is a step toward helping clients become better homeowners. Sams and Honeycutt have both practiced this mindful thinking.
“We’re in this business to help people get the most out of their homes. [I] remember what my purpose is and what my goals are, and that’s something that helps me continue pushing on,” Sams said.
“You’re going to have moments where you’re like, ‘What in the world am I doing?’ Those thoughts come and go. You just have to keep your eye on your goal,” Honeycutt said.
Do your best to replace negative thoughts with grateful ones and remind yourself why you do what you do. Hopefully, you’ll reach the point where every inspection you perform feels like your first.
8. Carry Errors & Omissions and General Liability Insurance
Finally, you’re navigating a particularly litigious environment. And battling claims without insurance puts a significant emotional and financial burden on home inspectors.
The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. Here at InspectorPro, our errors and omissions and general liability insurance policies are designed to meet your business’s specific needs. And you get the peace of mind knowing that our responsive claims team, free pre-claims assistance, and quality customer service have your best interests at heart.
Insuring with anyone else simply isn’t worth the risk. Get a no-obligation quote by filling out our online application today.