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St. John's home inspection franchise surpasses 10,000 inspection plateau

Fred Holwell of HouseMaster Home Inspection, looks over a Venmar system in a home earlier this week.
Fred Holwell of HouseMaster Home Inspection, looks over a ventilation system in a home earlier this week. - Sam McNeish
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Life for most people is about achieving milestones.

That could be a 50th wedding anniversary, being at all your children’s activities or — in the case of the Holwells — leading their family-based HouseMaster Home Inspection franchise to incredible levels.

Fred and his wife Cathy, who run the operation from their Paradise office — many times a kitchen counter — just surpassed the 10,000-inspection plateau, a major accomplishment for a company that had humble beginnings back in March 2001.

“I got into this because I thought it was interesting. It was in its infancy here. We were only the second or third company on the go at that time,” Fred says.

“It was quite interesting. You get to meet a lot of people and see a lot of incredibly high-end homes and also some ugly homes.

He said to be fair, people buy the homes they can afford. The cost of that home matters to them and he is hired to inspect that property.

“It is important to protect their interest.”

Fred Holwell and his wife Cathy hold the Austin Cup award they received in San Antonio in 2015, one of a host of awards they have obtained in their 18 years as franchisees with HouseMaster Home Inspection. The award recognized the Holwells for their commitment to representing HouseMaster’s brand by helping out other franchisees in the company. The award was named for HouseMaster’s founder Ken Austin.
Fred Holwell and his wife Cathy hold the Austin Cup award they received in San Antonio in 2015, one of a host of awards they have obtained in their 18 years as franchisees with HouseMaster Home Inspection. The award recognized the Holwells for their commitment to representing HouseMaster’s brand by helping out other franchisees in the company. The award was named for HouseMaster’s founder Ken Austin.

Holwell said they don’t look at the cosmetics of the properties, those are things the seller and purchaser should have noticed before they get to him.

“I am more interested in the structural safety and life hazards of the house.”

To get to this point had a host of trials and tribulations for the Holwells.

Fred was running his own contracting business at the time and decided in 2001 he would enter into the home inspection business.

“That first year we did 84 inspections and grossed less than $25,000,’’ he said.

“The first three years, we managed less than 500 inspections. I had to keep my contracting business going and do this at the same time.

To say he was on the go for long hours every day would be an understatement. Many days would start at the crack of dawn and go until he was finished at 8-9 p.m. each night.

This made for tough times as he and Cathy were at odds over his time at home and until they figured out a plan for what they could do to alleviate this, they had some issues.

This year alone, the Holwells have completed 479 house inspections.

Their best year was 2011 when they achieved a host of milestones including reaching the century club of 100 inspections completed in July and for the year, 838.

“For our market, we do a large number of homes and we are proud of that. We are a small territory and we outsell almost every single market in Canada every month,’’ Cathy Holwell said.

“Nobody in the greater Toronto area has ever beat us. The market penetration awards we received — we got those for 12 straight years starting in 2006. That shows our consistency,’’ she added.

There are more than 20 home inspectors listed in the St. John’s region right now.

“We work hard to follow the rules and standards and would love to see the industry regulated like it is in other parts of Canada,’’ Cathy said.

“Our inspectors have recertify every year, to write an exam to keep their license.”

Times have changed on workflow and how reports were done and are done now.

“When I started, we still did handwritten reports. Nowadays, we walk onto a site, use our tablets and can actually send the completed report from that site.”

“The client can get the report as we are leaving the home.”

This is truly a family business, now that the couple’s children, Chris and Mallory, are involved.

“Chris, 37, is the most respected inspector in the business, in my opinion,’’ Fred said.

“I would say that even if he wasn’t my son, or that I have trained him,’’ he said laughing. “In fact, he designed and presented a course for the Real Estate Board of Newfoundland.”

He said the most interesting home he was in is down on Topsail Beach. He said it has a 3,000 square foot guest house with all the amenities anyone could ever want.

The worst inspection he can recall was a home in the centre of the city. He had to crawl underneath and under a pipe to get a look at something and when he hit the support post, it popped out of place. He said he wasn’t long getting out from under that home.

The HouseMaster home inspection is geared towards buyers and sellers who seek an independent, third-party, professional evaluation of the condition of the major elements of a home before making the financial commitment to purchase.

The inspection will include the evaluation of the visible and accessible elements of the home including:

  • Standard home inspections
  • Pre-inspections for pre-sale
  • Wood Energy Technology Transfer inspections
  • Mildew and mould testing
  • Asbestos tests
  • Air quality testing
  • Commercial inspections

To get these things done, Fred had a partner and friend who he worked side by side with.

“Mark Boone, another inspector who I worked with, passed away suddenly in May 2011. My son, Chris, was in training at the time and we were on wheels at that time,’’ he said.

“Chris was running the contracting business for us at that time and once Mark passed, we decided to wind that down and go into inspections full time.”

They turned this tragedy into a positive as they hunkered down and did 290 inspections from July through September in 2011. It took some creative scheduling of inspections to achieve the 100 in July, but they did and nearly did it again in August.

Founded in 1979 and headquartered in Somerville, N.J., HouseMaster is the oldest and one of the largest home inspection companies in North America with more than 315 franchised areas.

Each HouseMaster franchise is an independently owned and operated business.


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