Podcast Episode #38 – Creating a Niche around your Natural Strengths with Blaine Shular

“20 Minutes of Successful Niche Secrets – EPISODE 38”,

With Blaine Shular, where we discuss how you can create your Niche around your Natural Strengths


“20 Minutes of Successful Niche Secrets – EPISODE 38,”

With Blaine Shular, where we discuss how you can create your Niche around your Natural Strengths

Glenn: Hi! It’s Glenn McQueenie, and welcome to my 25-Minute Success Series podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking to Blaine Shular from Keller Williams Referred Realty in Toronto. How are you doing, Blaine?

Blaine: I’m doing great, Glenn. How are you doing?

Glenn: I’m good! Thanks for joining me on this call. Can you just give the people who are listening right now a bit of background: when you got into real estate, where you are right now, what you did before real estate, and where you want to go? Then let’s just see if we can find a really fun, cool solution to help you get to where you really want to go.

Blaine: Great, thanks Glenn. I’m very new in the business. I’ve done no transactions. I’ve been licensed for about six months, so I’m as new as they come. My background, interestingly enough, is actually in home inspections. I’ve spent the last 13 years doing home inspections, so I’ve probably done about 3,000 home inspections. I’ve inspected all kinds of homes from teardowns right to multi-million dollar homes, and dealt with all kinds of buyers and sellers and agents. So I’ve got a good background on houses, how they function, and what to look for. I think what I’m looking for now is just some direction as to where I can take all of that knowledge and experience and really leverage it, and help people buy and sell their houses from a little bit different perspective than most people have.

Glenn: That’s cool. So what made you get into the real estate side of things? What’s the drive behind the drive from the home inspection world?

Blaine: Well a few years ago, I just got tired of the home inspection business. I’m getting a little bit older, and going out and crawling on roofs in the middle of winter just wasn’t that exciting anymore. A few brokers and agents had approached me and said, “You should really think about getting your license and getting in the business, because of the way you deal with people and your knowledge. You might have a knack for it.” At first, I wasn’t very interested, and the more I thought about it, the more it interested me. So I ended up really seriously considering it, and here I am today. I’m glad I made that decision a couple years ago to take the courses and get in the business.

Glenn: So was there a little part of you, Blaine, that was doing home inspections with all these agents (and I’m sure you met the good, bad, and the ugly agents in our business), that said, “Wow. I’m making $400 or $500 on this home inspection, and you’re making way more money than me.” Was there that part? Did that enter your mind at all?

Blaine: Absolutely. I mean, it did, and I didn’t hold it against anybody or any agents or anybody else. We all choose our fields to go into, but when I’m helping the agent close the deal or trying to come up with solutions for some of the issues that arise during the home inspection, and the agents (a lot of them) don’t have any knowledge or contact and they’re looking at me to provide solutions, I kind of said, “You know what? I feel like I’m doing a part of your job, but yet you’re getting paid a lot more for this than I am.” So I just thought that I could help people a lot with my knowledge and my experience. I always approach the inspections saying, “We’re going to find stuff. It’s how we deal with it,” and try to keep it all in context. Don’t make stuff too big and don’t make stuff too little. Just tell it as it is and then provide a solution as to how you correct the situation.

Glenn: Right. So I think part of the journey towards finding your niche market is all about just bringing you already. You’re already your natural skills, your natural strengths, who you are, what you stand for – but probably directing it more to a target market than trying to be everything to everyone. I really find that’s the disease of modern real estate (at least in parts of Toronto), because quite frankly, we’ve gone from 25,000 agents to 50,000 agents, and there’s just way too many of them. And I’m not sure if they’re all adding the right amount of value (or perceived value) in the consumer’s mind. When you have a track record of 3,000 home inspections, that’s a huge value add to someone, because one of their big fears is, “I don’t want to buy a dump,” “I don’t want to get ripped off,” “I don’t want to buy a place that’s just going to fall down.” So I think it’s going to be really neat for you to enter into that niche.

Blaine: Yes, I agree. Totally.

Glenn: Okay. So who would be your perfect client right now? What area do you want to work? Where is that person now? Where do they want to go? What’s keeping them up right now?

Blaine: Well I think right now – the first-time buyer who’s really nervous and doesn’t have a clue what they’re looking at. I’ve always felt good at helping them and holding their hands and walking them through and saying, “Yeah, from what you’ve told me, this is a good house,” or “No, there’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s probably not the right fit.” I’ve always liked dealing with first-time buyers. They’re a little bit more challenging sometimes. And also, just houses that had issues – a lot of people don’t know who to call or how to solve those issues, and through the 13 years, I’ve made lots of contacts with trades (some good and some bad). I’m always happy to tell people, “Here, call this roofer. He’ll help you out.” So I think a first-time buyer who’s looking for somebody with a little bit different background would be my ideal client at this point.

Glenn: Okay. Well that’s a huge value-add, right? There are some agents that already have a great allied database of suppliers and services that they recommend (although I don’t think most of them market it that well). That’s part of their actual value proposition. They’ve already vetted all of these great plumbers, contractors, roofers, whatever, so that that client’s not going to get ripped off. I think there’s a big market for someone who can position themselves as really the beginning to the ending of transaction, for the rest of their life, that you have this allied resource pool that has been vetted. “I stand by them, and that’s why I’m referring them.” I think we could roll that into your unique marketing solution. Number two, do you operate more (generally) on the logic side or on the emotion side? Do you like working with people who are more data-driven or more emotive, gut feelers?

Blaine: Through the 13 years, I’ve had to learn to read people, and I can tell pretty quickly whether somebody’s a data, “Give me all the information – I want every detail” and I can do that. I can dump so much on them. And then there’s the other side where I can read people and they just want the highlights. They’re not interested in all the data. So I can really go either way. Personally, I’m probably more of a data guy. I like to get the facts and try to be more logic than getting all emotional and stuff.

Glenn: Right. Okay. We don’t have to narrow it to, you only want to work with accountants, engineers, super safety-conscious people? That’s not you?

Blaine: No.

Glenn: Okay, perfect.

Blaine: I think with my background, too, I can provide a bit of a safety net to people, saying, “You know what? I’m not just here for one transaction and it’s goodbye. I’m here for the long run, for the long game.”

Glenn: Right. So now we’ve got to create a marketing machine, or a lead generation machine for you, because you already have the background on the home inspection side. I think we really have to promote that, because most of the other agents (like none) have that background. I think your unique selling proposition has got to be that. It has to include words like “keeping you safe, secure,” your experience, 3,000 home inspections – “seen the best of the best, the worst of the worst.” I think it’d be great to demonstrate the worst things you’ve seen – the homes that didn’t get a home inspection and what happened to them and why it’s so important. I remember just a couple years ago in Toronto, there was a house where there was an underground stream, and I guess basically there was a sinkhole right below the house, and what it ended up doing was detaching the footings from the basement walls.

Blaine: Wow.

Glenn: Just ridiculous. So that’s not $5 to fix, right?

Blaine: No.

Glenn: That’s a big problem. And that’s hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think sometimes, a lot of people are motivated probably more by pain than pleasure. So what if you were to create some Facebook page that really focused all around your home inspection? What if we did something like “Tales from 3,000 home inspections,” and in it, you featured some things that most people (even if they’ve been on a home inspection), or most people if they walk through a house would never see, that you get to see all the time?

Blaine: Certainly attic space. Most people, even in their own homes, never open their attic to look up there once in awhile. It’s amazing the number of times I’ve opened up an attic and it’s had mould issues, and the homeowner’s been there for 20 or 30 years and just never even knew what was going on up there. That’s something that people would never pick up.

Glenn: And what’s the problem with that?

Blaine: Well it can be a real health concern. It can also do damage to the structure if it’s not corrected. Mould is a big issue in attics and in basements as well. Wherever there’s water condensation, it’s always a concern – especially in these older houses.

Glenn: There’s good mould and bad mould, right? Would you agree? Or is all mould bad?

Blaine: Yeah, there’s good and there’s bad. It’s kind of like asbestos – some people are really concerned about it, and other people brush it off and say, “I’m not breathing it every day. I’m not worried about it.” So there’s a bit of a tolerance with each person. I think it’s letting people know what it is and here’s what we could do to try to remedy the situation if they want to proceed with that. One other example would be as simple as a 60-amp electrical service coming into the house. Some people don’t even know what that means, and for a new buyer, insurance companies typically will not insure a property with a 60-amp service. So that means upgrading that service immediately, before they move in. There are things like that that I pick up on, and homeowners and listing agents aren’t even noticing it because they just assume it’s a 100-amp service.

Glenn: And you can’t run anything on 60-amps right now, right? Apart from a furnace and a fridge and some lights?

Blaine: Yeah, exactly. I mean, 30 or 40 years ago – yeah. But not in today’s lifestyle. There’s no way. That’s why the insurance companies typically will not accept that. It’s just not enough power for today’s lifestyle.

Glenn: Right. So I wonder if we divided it into two lead generation activities? One would be buyer-driven, which would be more about the tales, the horror stories, why they should hire you, because you’re like the house-detective realtor. Brand it that way and market it that way, because that’s what people want, right? I want to work with that house detective who’s a realtor. If I had a choice between two realtors, and one’s been in 3,000 home inspections, and one’s never been in any, or been in five, or is just an idiot, I think I’m going to go with the one who’s been in 3,000. If I’m on an airplane and something goes wrong, I’m going with the pilot that’s done 3,000 flights right now. I don’t want the newbie. So I think on that side, we could build a Facebook marketing platform that would be about that subject. I’m sure you’ve got pictures and videos of all the different home inspections you’ve done that you could probably show.

Blaine: Definitely, yeah.

Glenn: If we’re going to call it “Tales,” I’m sure you could tell a great tale, because people love stories. Many of us, as kids, were raised on nursery rhymes, and we’re just used to explaining and learning through stories and metaphors. Before we had the written language 500 years ago, it was really all oral, right?

Blaine: Yeah.

Glenn: It was all story telling. It could be, “Don’t let this happen to you. I recently did a home inspection on a property and this is what happened, and the agent’s reaction was ridiculous. The agent was more worried about the deal than doing the right thing.” You can frame it that way, and then you create the frame where they anchor back to you all the time. Does that make sense?

Blaine: Awesome.

Glenn: And then on the listing side, what if you were to market that you’re a qualified home inspector? It’s like, “Thinking about selling in a year? Thinking about selling in six months?” You would go in (and you could even probably charge a fee for this), and do the pre-listing home inspection. This happens all the time in Toronto. People get pre-listing home inspections, but there’s a big market that goes, “We don’t want the pre-listing home inspection, because then we have to declare everything that’s wrong with the property.”

Blaine: Yes.

Glenn: What if you could change the game a little bit, and it didn’t have to be a public document? It could be their private document, where they knew everything that was going to be going on – and more importantly – you would be going with them. You work with the stager, and not only are you guys going to tell them what needs to be fixed, but you have the allied contacts and all the services to get it fixed, and you’ll get it fixed. I think that’s a really valuable solution to someone who’s thinking about selling their home.

Blaine: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Glenn: There’s going to be an emerging market (there are already some companies in the U.S. that have started this right now), where people are like, “Okay, I’ve got to sell. My mom died suddenly, or something happened and I’ve got to sell the family home, but I live halfway across the country. For me to fly back and forth and empty out the house and do all the stuff and get all the contractors, and I’ve got a professional career, I’ve got young kids at home – it’s just too much work” for them. So there are these emerging companies right now that will basically buy your house at a 10% or 11% or 12% discount to fair market value, and they’ll go in and do the work, and then they’ll resell the property. What if you positioned it that you didn’t have to go with that company, that you’d be giving away 5%, 6%, 8% of the equity in your home? You’ve already got a team that can come in and get it ready. You do the inspection first. You arrange the contractors. You are not only the stager – you’ve got people who will de-clutter it out – and you just position yourself as the “one-stop shop” for every seller who’s thinking about selling their property?

Blaine: That’s an awesome idea, because I’ve had many inspections where it’s been an estate sale, and the kids are living in Florida, and they just don’t want to deal with it. They’re trying to make contacts up here and have companies come in and just throw stuff in a garbage bin. And I’m comfortable doing that. I’d be comfortable being the point man, saying, “Leave it with me. I can get this emptied out, painted, cleaned up, prepped up, ready to go.” And if they don’t want to pay an upfront fee, there could be an increase in commission as well.

Glenn: I think many people would pay it in a second. Or you say, “Listen, either you cover the improvements and they pay you this fee, and if it doesn’t sell, they pay you it back, or they pay for the improvements, but you still get a higher commission because now you’re also the general contractor, basically, on the job, right? And for most people, it’s not about the money. It’s about the time, the hassle, the stress. Busy, successful people are busy, and they’d probably rather spend their time over here doing this. And it doesn’t have to be a family member dying. It could be just their own house, right? I think if someone came to me and said, “Hey, listen. Just leave your house the way it is. I’ll take care of it. It’s going to be ready. Here’s my fee. Yeah, I know it’s a little bit more, but this is why I’m doing it and I’m going to save you all of this, and here’s my value proposition” – I think I’d be a buyer.

Blaine: Awesome. Yeah, love it.

Glenn: Isn’t that neat? You have this ability because most agents can’t do the home inspection side. Most agents might have connections to general contractors, but they’re usually super busy, too, and they can’t always be there on time and oversee that kind of activity. I know another agent I featured on my podcast awhile ago, Ian Szabo, and what he does is, I think it’s called “Your money, My flip” where he basically comes in and he brings a complete crew in and does a complete makeover of the house, and then puts it on the market. And he scientifically proved that he can get 10% or 15% more than any other house. So you can go full bang like that – there’s a big market for that. Or you could almost be in the middle, which is, “The reason you hire me is because I’m going to tell you what’s good with your house, what’s wrong with your house, and how to fix it.” And more importantly, keep on this theme: what’s the minimum effective dose we need to do to get your house on the market? When we do sell it, not only does it show really well, but even if there ever is a home inspection, they’re not going to come back and chisel us for a whole bunch of stuff or threaten to walk away from the deal.

Blaine: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Glenn: Yeah. For awhile there, a lot of people weren’t getting home inspections done, because there were 25 offers, and you never had any time – especially bully offers. There was just no time to book a home inspection. So a lot of people are going to be in that position now, of, “Okay, I bought this house. No home inspection. My agent said it was okay, or he brought in his buddy, John, and now we’ve got a big problem.” So I think more and more, you’re going to see this market shift. When people start pushing, it shifts back to the buyer’s power, and they’re like, “No. I want the condition on home inspection.” I don’t know how you do it with the law around this, but I think you could give some sort of certificate. Does that make sense?

Blaine: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Glenn: So obviously the two things I suggested are things that can work anywhere in North America, but you can’t be everywhere. What area of Toronto would you like to focus those efforts in?

Blaine: I live in the east end. I live in an old house, so for me, dealing with old houses – I’ve done it every day almost for 13 years, so I’m pretty comfortable. I don’t need to be in a brand new subdivision. I think that’s another value add is that I’ve actually lived and torn apart old houses, and I can relate to people that live in old houses or that are buying old houses – what to look for, and “this is common.” So I think that’s the market I’d like to go after.

Glenn: Yeah. So what if we marketed you as the pre-sale house detective, which would tie back into your home detective, right? You could create a flyer that would go to a targeted area of the homes you feel most comfortable assessing (which are probably the 60-130-year-old homes in Toronto), because that’s where the majority of the downtown stock was built. In that, the “pre-sale house detective” is your banner, and then underneath it, you would have some compelling sub-headline. Then you’d be like, “Here are the services we provide: we do a pre-inspection by a licensed home inspector, we do the contracting services to make sure your house is ship-shape to get the most money we possibly can without the fear of someone else doing a subsequent home inspection and finding out there are deficiencies and coming back and hammering you,” (because that’s what people used to do). In fact, there were home inspectors who were known in Toronto, and you might know some of them I talk about. Someone would almost over-pay to win on a multiple offer, but it’s just on the condition of home inspection. And then the home inspector would come in and basically just destroy the house. They would account for every deficiency, and they would come back with this massive price reduction.

Blaine: Yeah. I’m familiar with those types of guys. In the worst-case scenario, that’s what they would do. And the worst case is what it is.

Glenn: Yeah. So I think that once you know that those are the gaps in the market, those are where the fears are, that’s what actually happens – and you start telling those stories to people – I think that’s where you start to create the unique process. You’ve got the unique marketing behind it, and then the unique process and the storytelling of, “Here’s what could go wrong, here’s what’s gone wrong in the past, and here’s what I do.” Then you just structure it in such a way that it’s such a compelling offer that people go, “Hey, I’m interested in that.” Do a YouTube video with a two or five-minute video link on that where people could go online. Or run it off your Facebook page, from “The Pre-Sale House Detective – Toronto,” to “Tales of 3,000 Homes – Toronto,” to “Home Inspections Toronto” with videos, and you’re just talking for two minutes about what you do. “Here’s what I do. Here are the problems that I see.” Show some of the bad photos. “Here’s what I’ve heard, and this is what I do.” The irony is that we go on the Internet to find buyers and sellers on the Internet to try to take them off the Internet so we can go meet them.

Blaine: Yeah.

Glenn: Welcome to the Internet! Does that make sense?

Blaine: Yeah, it’s just creating content.

Glenn: Yeah.

Blaine: And it’s videos of “Here’s what I do.”

Glenn: Right. We are all conditioned to go to Google for everything now. When someone Googles, “Should I hire a home inspector?” I want your content to be so rich that your stuff comes up and then they get directed right to you, whatever they’re searching. So the more content you create, the more Google will optimize it for you, and the better chance you have. And also, you could do targeted ads. This is, I think, the best thing you can do. I would do Facebook targeted ads to the batches of condominium owners in different parts of Toronto (because you know where they are), right to their postal code, offering that service. They’re in a condo. They know nothing about what homes are about. You could even go to the condos and do free seminars to those condo owners because they all have party rooms, about what to look for in a house. Then not only do you get the purchase, but you get the back up by default.

Blaine: That’s awesome. That’s really good. Wow.

Glenn: Isn’t that fun?

Blaine: Yeah. Wow.

Glenn: Right. Do you have any questions about it, Blaine? Do you think you got some ideas?

Blaine: Yeah, I’ve got a lot of ideas, Glenn. Like I said in the beginning, I’m just trying to leverage my background and my uniqueness, and it’s getting that story out there to be told. And like I say, you’ve broken it down into a couple different ways with buyers and sellers and Facebook ads and videos and that, that I think I will have no problem creating. I’ve already got videos and pictures of some really unique things that most people never see, and I’m looking forward to getting those all up on a website and on Facebook.

Glenn: That’s awesome! Well, I wish you the best of luck, Blaine. I think you’re going

to do pretty well, and I think you’ve got a nice little niche target market that can’t be easily duplicated. If it could easily be duplicated, it would be a commodity, but a niche is impossible, because it requires unique knowledge in a unique space. I think you’re one of the few people that would have that, and I honestly think if you built this model once here in Toronto, you could duplicate this anywhere in the world.

Blaine: That’d be awesome. That would be awesome.

Glenn: Alright! Alright, Blaine. Thanks for joining me!

Blaine: Great, Glenn. Thanks for all your help!

Glenn: Okay, take care! Have a great day.

Blaine: Thank you. Okay, bye bye!

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