LISTEN TO OUR INTERVIEW WITH THE LEGENDARY SCOT BAKER ON CRAWLERS BELOW
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Ian: All right, welcome, everybody to the latest episode of Inspector Toolbelt. So, I had to say I’ve been really excited about this episode because I get to interview Scot Baker himself. How’re you doing, Scot?
Scot Baker: I’m doing great. Thank you so much for allowing us to be a part of your podcast. Really excited and looking forward to this.
Ian: Yeah. Well, the privilege really is ours. You’ve been an industry veteran for how long now?
Scot Baker: Ooh, veteran? We actually started in 2009. So yeah, I guess we have been around for a little bit.
Ian: Yeah, you’re not a newbie at all. And before that, interestingly enough, you were out on the West Coast when we first started interacting, and come to find out you did work in a past career on some buildings near me in Upstate New York.
Scot Baker: Yes, between 2002 and 2005, we lived in Bennington, Vermont, which is in the southern part of Vermont. And a lot of the work that I did back then I was a carpenter, a union carpenter, we did a lot of work in the Albany area in Western Massachusetts.
Ian: And I always thought that was hysterical because buildings that you helped build, I go into all the time. And then you were out there on the West Coast inspecting houses out there.
Scot Baker: Yes, along with doing construction in California, too.
Ian: Wow, fantastic. You’ve had an extensive career. You have a background like a lot of us as home inspectors in the construction industry. You took your raw knowledge of hands-on work of here’s the problem, how do you fix it, and you turned it into I’m helping people buy houses and know what they’re getting into.
Scot Baker: Yes, it was kind of an odd path that led us into doing this. So, I’m actually a third-generation carpenter so this definitely being in the trades runs in my family. I was a commercial superintendent in 2009 and I was in a truck accident, which left me with a broken lower back. And I had a friend who was a realtor while I was rehabbing. He suggested that I take a look at home inspection. So, while I was laying on my back, I started watching Mike Holmes on HGTV and figured that that was something. I kind of laughed at it at the beginning, but then I went, I think I could do something with that. So yeah, kind of a little odd thing, we kind of backed into doing home inspections. I don’t know if we ever would have started our own business any other way, but we did and thank the Lord, it’s been very good to us so far.
Ian: Yeah. And 12 years later, Mike Holmes has nothing on Scot Baker so good to see you.
Scot Baker: Yeah, we have narrowed in the gap.
Ian: Yeah. So, after that, being in California, where are you now? You’re no longer in California, are you?
Scot Baker: No, we actually relocated in July to Tallahassee, Florida. My oldest son, as he was working his way up through the corporate ladder, he runs student housing. He was offered a really good job in Tallahassee, so he moved from San Jose, California to Tallahassee working. He actually just closed on his first house a couple of weeks ago, which he wouldn’t have been able to do in California. But once he left and he had his family starting here, I think it was time for us to get out of California and come here to Florida also. Couldn’t miss out.
Ian: Oh, yeah, that’s a nice move. What do you like about Florida so far, whether it be home inspection related or otherwise? Is it sun and fun or surf and turf or what’s it?
Scot Baker: Oh, my gosh, I think the biggest two takeaways that we’ve had here so far are just how green everything is because of the rain. California, everything’s very dry and brown. Everything here is very lush. And just how friendly the people are. The people are just outstanding here. Super friendly, outgoing. It’s just been really nice. It’s been a nice change. Very excited for being here. But yeah, those two things definitely stand out.
Ian: Yeah, it’s the southern hospitality, isn’t it? So, inspecting houses has to be quite a bit different from California to Tallahassee. What’s the difference in the actual houses that you inspect?
Scot Baker: Well, basically I would say about 80% the same. There has been some things that have been a little confusing trying to run down different codes and things that are done here in Florida that are different than in California. Biggest thing of course, in California, everything is being set up or constructed to be bolted down so that it stays in place during an earthquake. Here in Florida, everything’s being constructed so that it doesn’t fly away. So, kind of a difference right there. But like some of the very minor things which kind of are surprising to me is fire barrier differences between like the home and the garage. California, the door had to be self-closing. In Florida, that just ended I think four or five years ago, so the door doesn’t have to self-close. There’s no code on having like an access hatch going from the garage into the attic space, which seems to be very common here. We actually have a piece of plywood which passed in our house. Yeah, there’s some really lacs things like that which are kind of odd. And then there’s other things that are just a lot more strict here in Florida. The licensing, which is really good to make sure that you’re, you know, set up right to go out and inspect. But yeah, there’s some minor differences. I’m still trying to get used to seeing water heaters without earthquake straps on them. They just look naked.
Ian: You know, it’s funny, Florida’s worried about the wind, California is worried about the ground and here in the northeast, we’re worried about the snow crushing us from above. So, either way, you’re building a house to take care of the elements.
Scot Baker: Exactly, yes. So, it’s been like a big knowledge crunch trying to get all that in to make sure that we’re inspecting the way we’re supposed to be here for the state of Florida. A lot of different little tweaks that you have to learn.
Ian: Yeah. Well, you’ve been doing really well since you’re moved to Tallahassee. I’ve been there with you helping you along, at least on the digital part of things, but you do a fantastic job marketing yourself, getting in there, learning the market and learning the houses that are in that market, which actually leads me to what we’re really getting down to the nitty gritty here. We want to talk to you a little bit about your project, The BIGCrawler. Tell us a little bit about The BIGCrawler.
Scot Baker: The BIGCrawler was something that came out of a kind of a need or a thought. Back in Edisto where we were inspecting, there was some areas that were called the college district. They were houses from 1920s and earlier. Most of those had like a stellar crawlspace combination or they had a super low limited access to get into the crawlspace. So, most of the time when we were doing those inspections, you could only see what was going on from the hatch or you were just disclaiming them, which is like one of the worst things you can say to a client is that I don’t know or I can’t get in there. That’s one of the worst things for us to say. So, this was back in 2015, I used to be friends with another not inspector but a vendor and we were messaging back and forth. And he actually sent me some video of what was turning out to be the crawl bot back in, and I did a little bit of history searching to see if I had the dates right. This was back in October 2015. And once he sent me, that I went, that’s the idea right there. I had some disagreements with his design so I started up with my own. I just started with a basic rock crawler. I put a GoPro on to it. I took some sheet metal and bent it and put some lights on it, some like headlamp lights that you get at Home Depot and off we were going in 20… I think the very beginning of 2016, we started doing that.
Ian: So that sounds like the very beginnings of The BIGCrawler. But even before that, I heard a story about hooking up a GoPro camera to some sort of sticker a bolt or something. I sort of noted that on Facebook. I wanted to hear about that.
Scot Baker: Yeah, that’s actually the RC car. It’s called an axial deadbolt. That was the brand of it. It’s actually like a little green G.
Ian: Got you. So that makes a lot more sense. It was a little more specific.
Scot Baker: I saw you said something about that and I didn’t know, I didn’t quite understand but now it totally makes sense. If you know the brand name, then you would understand. But if you didn’t, it’d be like, what the heck’s he doing with a deadbolt?
Ian: I’m just picturing Scot Baker who builds crawlers hooking up a camera to a sticker and just shove it in the crawlspaces to see, you know, see what’s going to work best. But that makes a lot more sense. So, let’s talk about inspection crawlers in general. So, I love The BIGCrawler. I think you do a fantastic job with it. And for a time, you actually didn’t make them because you couldn’t get the parts that you wanted to get the quality that you wanted, right?
Scot Baker: Yes, that’s correct. Yes, I stopped making the camera that I was using.
Ian: But I was so stoked to see you building them in mass again. And I think just about every home inspector that’s into inspection crawlers was really stoked to see you building them again. But talking about crawl bots in general, besides the very obvious, why would any inspector want to invest in an inspection crawler? What are the advantages of it besides what the obvious is?
Scot Baker: Biggest thing that I think is going to dictate if you want to add a crawler to your tool arsenal is going to be the territory that you’re in. You’re definitely going to need crawlspaces and you’re going to need crawl spaces that you can’t necessarily get into. The biggest use that I have for my crawler is accessing a part of the crawlspace that I wasn’t able to physically get into. Most of these crawls you can get into, it’s just trying to finish it off. And a lot of it comes down to also how much of a service do you want to provide to your client. Again, it’s going to come back to where we were where I hated saying I don’t know to somebody versus at least you can put something in there. And I get a lot of arguments online and things like that, that yeah, it’s true, it can’t take moisture readings and it can’t poke wood and check for wood rot and things like that. But what’s actually kind of funny is it actually fulfills part of our SOPs, which is a visual non-evasive inspection, which is what we’re doing. We’re putting a camera in an area that was previously unaccessible and we’re at least giving the client a snapshot of what’s going on down there so they can figure out whether they want to go forward with the purchase or not, instead of having a crawlspace which is where the majority of your systems deteriorate in the first place being unknown, at least you can give them a good general idea of what’s going on down there. So, I think it comes down to client service.
Ian: Yeah, you know, you kind of read my mind where I was going with my next thought because I see a lot of inspectors make that argument about aerial drones and crawlers. You’re not doing your client a service by using them. My argument would be the same as yours. If you couldn’t have gotten in there, what service are you providing by not getting in there at all? Yeah. So, it goes where we can. And I think that’s an important point that we need to remember. We can always disclaim an area, but that’s not the same as I did everything that I could to get in there. Because you know what, if there’s a big leaky pipe and you didn’t find it and you disclaimed it, you’re still going to have an unhappy client and you’re still going to have it fixed. Tell me some things that maybe you have found with The BIGCrawler that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Scot Baker: Oh, boy, leaky pipes. Just yesterday, we had a four-point inspection here in Tallahassee that the opening was too small to get into and you could tell that some things were going on in this person’s house just by some of the way the bathrooms are configured. They pulled an access panel off of a bedroom wall and there was PVC pipes running to both the cold and hot water side. [inaudible 12:36] So, I ran the crawler down in there and sure enough right below that, the PVC pipe, the supply side was actually leaking and she said she had the work done about a year and a half ago. So, this is something that’s probably been going on for almost that same amount of time. Choice deterioration, a lot of subpar floor repairs, which are usually done when they tear the floor up because there’s just physically no way to get down there, so we find a lot of rot that supports mainly plumbing and electrical. So, that’s pretty much everything that’s down there, I hate to say. But yeah, most of the time when it’s a non-accessible place, it’s not in very good care, not at all. Not in very good shape.
Ian: Yeah. I think that’s a very valid point that you bring up. If it’s something that you can’t get into, then likely nobody else has gotten into either. So that crawler is one of the only ways that you can find it. So, in my mind, it really helps your client ultimately and it also reduces your liability.
Scot Baker: Yeah, I think a big problem with it is the way that some drones and some crawlers are presented as being replacements for you going in there, which I think is what a lot of guys have in their head, which is definitely not the case. Neither one is a replacement for you physically being there, but it’s just another tool for when you cannot.
Ian: Yeah, I kind of liken it to a sewer scope. You can look at the outside of a pipe, but you can’t fit in there to check out the main sewer line. That’s what the camera is for. The camera is not a replacement for the person, it’s an extension of them.
Scot Baker: Exactly, exactly.
Ian: So, if you don’t mind me asking, you might not have anything right off the top of your head. What’s the craziest thing that you found with your BIGCrawler in a crawlspace?
Scot Baker: Craziest thing?
Ian: Craziest or funniest. Like I’m picturing raccoons and doll heads and all this crazy stuff in crawlspaces.
Scot Baker: Well, let’s see. There’s construction debris, of course, you find the mummified cat bodies and I found like possums, things like that, that have just been down there for years and years.
Ian: Yeah, I mean, a crawlspace is meant for people to just kind of leave it and forget about it. That’s how people treat it anyways. I’ve been in my fair share of crawlspaces and I’ve found my fair share of weird stuff. I can’t imagine with a crawler going even farther than the human can, the weird stuff that you’ve probably seen over time. So, we can see the advantage of using a crawler as a tool during an inspection. I’ve seen a different aspect of it from you. You’ve taken it to a new level and used it also as a marketing piece. And I say that because I see a lot of guys market, “I use drones. I use crawlers.” You kind of take it to a new level. What are some of the marketing advantages that you have found of using a crawler, especially The BIGCrawler?
Scot Baker: It shows people that you want to go the extra mile for them. It’s guaranteed conversation starter in pretty much every room that I bring it into, especially when it’s on and mobile and you’re not just holding it and showing it to them and they can see the wheels move and the camera move, that’s when they really get excited. But everybody likes that you’re willing to go the extra mile. At each of the office presentations I’ve done here, they’ve told me that I should go on Shark Tank with it. Like I said, it’s something that hopefully sticks in their mind and makes them think about us as a company because everybody talks about USPs and I do a thorough home inspection and my reports are done the same day, but kind of everybody does that. USP unique selling point BIGCrawler that’s very, very much more unique. It just sticks in their mind.
Ian: And do you bring The BIGCrawler to each one of your office presentations?
Scot Baker: Oh gosh, yeah, each one. We were able to set up at one of them. I have a Surface Pro that I used when we went to the ASHI InspectionWorld and it’s just on a loop, past crawler inspections going through YouTube videos and it’ll go through pictures that it took down in the crawlspace. It’s just a slideshow. And I was able to set that up on one of the tables and people will just sit there and watch it for a long time because you never get that view of a crawlspace if you don’t go in there yourself. So, people are, such realtors, they’re just blown away by what they see down there because they’ve never been presented it that way.
Ian: That’s interesting. I don’t know if a lot of us who use drone technology actually bring it with us. I imagine an aerial drone be a little bit harder to demonstrate in a conference room. But bringing The BIGCrawler with you, that’s a fantastic idea. Do you ever get pushed back? And I ask that because I hear some home inspectors say, oh, agents and clients in my area won’t like that. They think that I won’t get on the roof. They think that I won’t get into the crawlspace. Do you ever get pushed back like that?
Scot Baker: I heard it third hand I think just people not talking to us that they just see that we have a crawler and just assume it. But people that I’ve met, I haven’t. Inspectors online, I definitely have. But people in person, I haven’t. Like I said, I think a couple people assume that we don’t do everything because we have it on our website. But we try to make it very clear that it’s only something we use if we can’t fit, and that’s always the way that I present it.
Ian: And I think that is exactly the key that, and we mentioned that before, presenting it as we go that extra mile because if you can’t fit in that extra mile, we have the technology to get into that extra mile. If you had to answer somebody who came up with that and said… You were doing one of these office presentations, and they said, “You know what this? Are you actually going to get into crawlspaces? I don’t think I like this.” How would you respond to them? What would be your argument to an agent or a client?
Scot Baker: I would tell them the same thing like I kind of said at the beginning, what led us to inventing it was that I would rather have a means of getting more information for you than telling you that I don’t know.
Ian: Yeah, I think that’s a nice, short, concise statement too. Because I think a lot of home inspectors that are thinking about using crawlers and things like that might worry about what would I say if I got pushed back and that’s a nice concise way of saying that.
Scot Baker: Yeah, there’s a few things you definitely have to be careful with. And as long as they set the expectation, that’s the biggest thing. Because we’ve been called for crawlspace only inspections and you just have to tell them, you know, we’re not going to be able to get in there and we’re just going to do the very best we can with this tool that we have, but it’s not going to tell you everything. It can’t possibly do that. But we’re going to give you a really, really good idea what’s down there.
Ian: So that actually led me to my other question about marketing, and it sounds like I already know the answer then. Have you been called in to inspect houses specifically because you have the crawler? Did you get that extra job, that extra inspection because you use the crawler?
Scot Baker: Yes, that’s happened many times in California and we actually were able to get one of our biggest producing realtors because of it. We’ve done one here so far in Tallahassee because they found out about us. We make sure that we push that point across at the presentations that we can do a crawlspace only inspection so we can come out and follow up if somebody else can’t do it, then a lot more people here now know that we’re here and a lot of them say, yeah, there’s this house I have and I know he can’t get in it. So yeah, most definitely, it has got us people.
Ian: Well, I can imagine that if somebody is referring me, and then they have to hire you to come back and do the crawlspace inspection, the next time they have a house with a crawlspace, at the very least, they’ll just get me and lead right to you. So that’s a fantastic [inaudible 20:32].
Scot Baker: Another selling point that we use on it, which is up to other guys in other companies, is the realtor is always seem to be thinking that you’re going to charge more for it. So, when we’re doing their presentations, and it’s just the way that we do it, I tell them, if I’m at the house, I bring The BIGCrawler with me to every home inspection that possibly has a crawlspace. And if I need to use it, I just use it. I don’t charge for it. And they’re kind of stunned that you’re going to use something above and beyond and not charge for it, so that’s kind of nice. Yeah, we just figure it as another tool and we’re just going to complete the home inspection. And they just kind of sit there stunned like, oh, that’s nice.
Ian: That’s great. That’s an incredible marketing angle. So let me ask you. So, say I’m a home inspector and I’m interested in a crawler, I’ll give a plug for your product. I honestly think BIGCrawler is the best. But what should an inspector really look for in a crawler? Like, what would you tell a guy just looking out here are the basics to get you what you need so that you just don’t end up with a [inaudible 21:35]?
Scot Baker: It really all comes down to the chassis. Everybody that’s selling a crawler right now, and there’s like two or three other companies along with myself, we all use basically one or two cameras. The biggest difference between all of us is our chassis choice. You have six wheeled boxes. You have a couple of guys that are selling the ones that are tracked. And then I’m the only one that’s chosen the RC car path. And the reason I did that is I have a background in RC cars. And just kind of the way everything came about, it’s just the best chassis for getting you basically all you’re looking to do is get the camera in and get it back out. All of the chassis have weak points. They all have strong points. I think that I’ve eliminated a lot of the weak points in the RC chassis. And then with the newest innovation with the BarNone model being the four-wheel steering to tighten up that turning radius, which was really the biggest thing that the metal bots had over me. I think I tighten that up. The chassis is just so much better. Because like I said, you want to get the camera in and you want to get it out every time, and I’ve seen a lot of videos and stuff of people getting stuck and that’s the last thing you need.
Ian: That’s an interesting point you brought up because I didn’t know that before. Pretty much when you’re buying a crawler, you’re getting one or two cameras and most of the other equipment is the same. So, in reality, it’s the chassis that matters.
Scot Baker: Yeah, very much.
Ian: And I imagine in the crawlspace, the turning radius is going to be a big deal, like you said.
Scot Baker: I didn’t really notice it a lot when I had the original crawlers but when I started working on the new one and I would switch back and forth, it was like I wouldn’t go back to the old one afterwards. It’s really nice. Because you can actually go right around a concrete pier, which are only about eight to 12 inches round, and it’ll stay right there. So, it has a very tight one foot turning radius. So yeah, everybody uses basically a run cam or there’s a knockoff brand, a GoPro looking camera. So, it’s basically one or two cameras that everybody uses.
Ian: Yeah, so it’s obviously a lot more involved than duct taping a GoPro camera onto a remote-control car.
Scot Baker: Now that’s so 2015.
Ian: Yeah, way back in the day.
Scot Baker: Yes.
Ian: I can’t even remember 2015 anymore. So, what should an inspector expect to pay for a decent crawler? Like maybe somebody who just wants something good, but also doesn’t want to spend 30 grand on this fancy army version of a crawler what could they expect to pay?
Scot Baker: Well, they start as low as I think like 1,500 bucks from one guy. They go up to $3,600 I think from another company. We’re selling ours right at $3,099 which I think it’s above two of the other builders. So, we’re a little bit on the higher end, so you’re going to pay pretty much in that range. And that’s going to give you like the best equipment that you can get. Again, it’s going to come down to the chassis choice for you on which way you’re going to want to go. Some of the less priced models are all going to use the metal box chassis, which has a very like low ground clearance and not very much articulation, which I think leads to some issues down in the crawlspace, which is one of the reasons we went with the RC chassis route.
Ian: Yeah. And that was going to be one of my questions too of the chassis. I can imagine it hurts if you end up getting it stuck in a crawlspace that is inaccessible anyways. What do you do to get that out?
Scot Baker: Yeah, I’ve been fortunate with that so far. And you drive a little bit differently when you can’t get in there. And a lot of the times, it’s not like there’s things that you’re going to get stuck on in the places that I put it just because people don’t go in there. But yeah, you drive a little bit differently when you can’t get it back. Definitely a lot more careful.
Ian: Yeah. And so, is there anything else that you want to let us know about The BIGCrawler, crawlers in general, how to order one from you, in particular, anything at all that you’d like to share with us?
Scot Baker: Well, I always tell everybody, make sure you do your homework when you’re looking at them. Ask a lot of questions because there’s a lot of different components that go into making these things. Ask what kind of radio it is, what kind of transmitter is being used, how powerful is it to make sure that you don’t have to be near the opening, that you’re not dropping the signal. There’s some budget ones that are going around right now that I think use Wi-Fi signal as the control. It’s not going to work on a Wi-Fi only signal. So that might end up helping a lot of guys out. You have to go to like a dedicated video transmitter. The Wi-Fis have maybe 20 feet of working capability in a crawlspace because the Wi-Fi signal is so weak. It just can’t go through the flooring or pass metal ducts. That’s kind of what led me from my original build, which had the GoPro on it. It would go 20 feet in the crawlspace and it would die as it lost signal because both Wi-Fi and the signal from the crawler are both on the same frequency so it would battle frequencies. Definitely don’t shortcut it when you’re looking for something because it’s going to end up getting stuck, and last thing you want to do is leave your crawler under a house not just because it’s something you paid for, but you don’t want to leave something with, I don’t know what kind of batteries most of these guys run, but you don’t want to leave like a LiPo battery underneath somebody’s house.
So, there’s a lot of care that you have to look into this. And like I said, just ask a lot of questions. As far as my crawler, and hopefully this isn’t too much rambling, I know that mine is expensive and I’m just going to kind of lay it out there. When I first built this version of it back in California, I didn’t build them for a while and a few guys had started building them and there was some new technologies in the RC community, so I went okay, I’m going to make a new one that takes advantage of all these new technologies and I’m just going to make the baddest one that I can for myself. That’s why I came up with the name BarNone. It was going to be the best crawler BarNone and so it has a lot of super expensive components on it. And then when we were moving to Florida, we knew it was going to be a little bit slow starting up so that’s when I threw the offer out there, hey, does anybody want to buy a BarNone crawler? We’re going to see if there’s any interest, which there was overwhelmingly a lot. So that definitely helped us with the move. It’s an expensive crawler just because I’d never originally intended it to be sold to everybody. So, I know a lot of people are kind of scoffing at it and I hear a lot of pushback on it also. But that’s fine. It’s not built for everybody. Like I said, it was built for me and the other guys who will appreciate it as much as me. I think it’s by far the easiest one to drive, to maintain. It’s very simple to do everything with it, I think. It handles great. It goes where I want it to. I’ve had videos posted of it going on rocks. It’s still a rock crawler at heart so it’s very capable chassis, which is why I went to it. I’m the only one that does 3D printing, which I think turns off a lot of guys and makes it harder for them to do anything with an RC chassis because you have to custom make all of the panels, the bodywork and everything all has to be redesigned and did it all here in house. A little bit easier to take a camera and bolt it on top of a box and put some lights on there. That’s a lot simpler than trying to design something, which I think like I said kind of turned guys off from doing this kind of chassis. So just ask a lot of questions. I’m always around on Messenger and everything if anybody has any questions on, it doesn’t have to be about The BIGCrawler. It could just be crawlers in general, like Ian was saying. We’re always around for that too. I love it. I think we’ve kind of kept it going since 2015 and I think the reason a lot of guys are doing them now is because we’ve been around, I hope.
Ian: Yeah, and take Scot up on his offer. He could talk crawlers all day long.
Scot Baker: I love them.
Ian: Yeah, they’re pretty fantastic. And you’re very knowledgeable about it. We really appreciate you being on here today with us, Scot. So, if you want to get a hold of Scot, like he said, Facebook Messenger, his website is bakerinspectiongroup.com. Check him out there. There’s some contact information on there. There’s also a page on The BIGCrawler so it’s bakerinspectiongroup.com/big-crawler and check it out. See what you think. And thank you very much for being on the show today.
Scot Baker: Thank you.
Ian: We’ll talk soon.
Scot Baker: Sounds great.