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Gig Work: Occupancy Inspector

Updated on June 4, 2018
Tom Lohr profile image

Tom Lohr has eaten a hot dog at all 30 MLB ballparks and is the author of "Gone to the Dogs: In Search of the Best Ballpark Hot Dog."


Occupancy Inspector

If you have scoured Craig's List and other gig work sites, and live in a town of decent size, you probably have come across jobs as an occupancy inspector. The job description makes it sound like easy work. All you have to do is drive by a house, take a few photos and then move on to the next one. The ad claims it takes 1-5 minutes per house. Sounds cake no?

For the most part, the ads are relatively accurate. You use your own car to drive around the city and take pictures to determine if a home is being lived in or not. But, they forget to add a few of the job details.

What Are Occupancy Inspections

n every city there are people that are having some sort of difficulty paying their mortgage. It is more people than you think. The real owner of those homes is the bank until a mortgage is paid off. When the payments are either late or stop all together, the bank wants to ensure that their property is being cared for and has not been abandoned. It seems some folks, knowing that their situation is such that they will never be able to catch up on payments, just pack up and leave rather than be evicted.

Many banks and mortgage companies have branches nationwide. It is not feasible for them to send their own employees to check on properties scattered across the entire country. Instead, someone starts a business in which they take inspection orders from all of the major mortgage players and provide them with a report on occupancy and condition of the property with photos to back up the report. Those inspection companies need inspectors to provide the reports and photos, and that is where you come in. The bank pays the inspection company, and the inspection company pays your a percentage of that fee to conduct an inspection. The fee they pay per inspections varies widely and is in many cases geographically driven. I have heard of fees as low as three dollars per inspection up to twenty dollars. Personally, I was paid six bucks to file a report and take photos.

Tools You Will Need

A smartphone is mandatory. Most of us already have one, but you will need to download at least one app in which you will be filing your reports and taking photos with. The more intuitive apps make what you need to inspect what photos to take easy. The photos are stored within the app, not on your phone's photo album, and the report and photos are transmitted to the company's computer each time you sync with it. The apps are free to download.

A volt stick is a device that is about the size of a large sharpie. It has a plastic tip that you stick in an electrical outlet and either a red or green light will illuminate. Red means electricity is present (often used to determine the status of utilities), and green means no electricity. You can order a volt stick from Amazon. They are relatively cheap.

Reliable Transportation. There is only one way to meander about the city and inspect properties, that is driving. Most inspection companies try to keep you in your zip code or close to it. You would rarely drive more than 30 miles per day, but you need wheels to do it. Having a vehicle that gets decent gas mileage helps keep your costs low as you will be responsible for your own transportation expenses. There is no milage reimbursement.

A Typical Volt Stick
A Typical Volt Stick | Source

What The Inspection Company Tells You

As previously stated, all you have to do is a 1-5 minute inspection, take a few snapshots on your phone and then move on to the next one. It sounds enticing. I figured I could do a minimum of four inspections per hour which would put my hourly pay at twenty four smackers per hour. Not a bad side gig. I even had thoughts that on a good day I might be able to double that.

What You Actually Do

While an occupancy inspector will take photos, he will, on most inspections, be required to either hand deliver or hang on the door knob, an envelope that contains a message that the mortgagor needs to contact their lender. Ideally, you knock on the door and hand it to the home owner. More often than not, since you will be during this during the day, no one is home and you just put the door hanger on the door knob. Additionally, you will be required to take a photo of the front of the house, the house number, the door hanger, your hand knocking on the door, the street sign and some sort of photo to back up your determination of whether or not the house is occupied. Vacant homes are fairly easy to determine and usually requires a photo of an empty home viewed through the window or utilities that are turned off using a volt stick. Proof that the place is occupied is usually a car in the driveway, trash cans on the curb during trash day, seeing or hearing pets. This process can take 5 minutes, but often you will have to walk down the street to get a photo of the street sign. The real time killer is when you are required to do interior inspections.

Some homes have been vacated, and the bank wants to ensure that the interior is in good shape. No leaks (rare) or squatters (also rare but happens). Entry into these homes is via a key in a real estate lockbox, or a set of master keys (the bank changes the locks after it is vacated) provided by your employer. Once inside, you are required to take a photo of EVERY room, each appliance, smoke detectors, your volt stick in an electrical outlet, the sign in sheet (which you have to sign), the lockbox, the lockbox with the key in it, each side of the house, the yard, electric and gas meters, any debris or damage you find. Plan on a minimum of twenty minutes doing an interior inspection, usually longer.


Pros of the Job

Inspections are downloaded to your queue in the app, with the large portion of them showing up either the first part or middle part of the month. You typically have 3-5 days to complete the inspection so you will have a fairly flexible schedule.

Overall, it is an easy job. You drive, take pictures on your smartphone, hang a door hanger or talk to the owner, fill out a brief report on your smartphone app and then drive to the next property.

If you need or want a side income, you can make some dinero. I usually made about $500 a month.

Cons of the Job

While it never happened to me, you will possibly have to do inspections in some less than desirable or possibly dangerous sections of town

Being the bearer of bad news. It should come as no surprise to the recipient of the note you are delivering that they are getting a notice to contact the bank. They know they are delinquent on their mortgage payment. In most cases, they simply take the envelope and close the door.

Irate Home Owners. On rare occasions, you will meet a mortgagor that is angry with their situation and can be less than cordial with you. You may be asked to leave their property. In cases like this, you simply annotate it on your report and move on the to next property. Still, it sucks to be yelled at.

Reinspections. If you forget to take a required photo you will be required to return to the property and take it. You will not be paid to do a reinspection. It can be frustrating because the apps do not always tell you what you have to photograph. You have memorize the required photos and be sure you get them. And then there are photos that make no sense. You can be assigned an interior inspection, meaning that the home is vacant, but you are still required to take a picture of your hand knocking on the door. You will get better at completing each job correctly, but plan on some serious teeth clenching moments early on.


How Much Will You Earn

It really depends on your per inspection rate and how many you do. From talking to other inspectors, areas where there are a good number of inspections in a small area, the company pays less per inspection. In areas that are more spread out, you should make more for each completed. That usually evens out how much each inspector earns. I can only tell you my experience.

I gave myself a month of doing inspections to get the system down, and then I kept a spreadsheet of how many miles I drove, how many hours I worked, how much gas I used and how much I was paid. It worked out to about $15.50 an hour. Not a terrible job, but far from the $24 I thought I could make. Only you can decide if 15 clams per hour is worth your time and wear and tear on your vehicle.

Do I recommend it? Again, it depends you your personal financial situation and how much time you have during the day. You won't be able to complete all of your inspections on a weekend, so you have to have several hours free during the day. That means it is best suited for night shift workers looking to make some extra coin, or someone not currently working.


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