Do You Need A Concierge For Home Maintenance?

PALO ALTO | Saturday, October 04, 2003

Service visits quarterly to keep everything working properly

Do you ever wish you could find a handyman to handle all those guilt- inducing maintenance items you never seem to get to, like cleaning the gutters, oiling that squeaky hinge and checking your furnace filter? How about a crew that takes care of a 260-item checklist every three months, prepares an "action list" of any needed repairs and gives you referrals to reliable subcontractors? About 200 West Bay homeowners have found such a service. Home Preservation Services of Palo Alto has been in the business of maintaining homes since 1995, and has recently franchised new outlets in Sonoma, Marin and Louisville, Ky. The brainchild of general contractor Steve Spratt, the service does what most homeowners don't do or are unable to do: avoid major repair bills down the road by catching problems early. "It's a proactive approach," says Spratt. "By taking care of all the things that should be done, this saves you from worrying." Although the firm's crews fix any small maintenance items they find -- leaky faucets, loose doorknobs and so on -- repair work such as replacing gutters or installing plumbing fixtures isn't part of the service plan. Those projects are noted on an "action list" for the homeowners to take care of in any fashion they choose: do it themselves, hire someone they know or ask for a subcontractor referral. The firm provides bids for some small repairs if asked but doesn't try to be a "one-stop shop" for all needed work. The service has evolved over the years into a highly organized plan tailored to each client's home. The make and model of each client's appliances and systems are logged onto a handheld computer, simplifying future ordering of any repairs or parts. Before each quarterly service, the firm asks homeowners to list any problems they've noticed, and a follow-up call after each visit solicits client feedback and answers any questions about new "action list" items. The results of each service visit are kept on record for future reference. Spratt characterizes the plan as a "concierge-type" service with a strong emphasis on cleanliness -- workers were booties over their shoes while in clients' homes -- and personal relationships. "It's an old-fashioned kind of service," he says. "Each crew stays assigned to the same homes, so homeowners see the same faces each quarter." According to the firm's general manager, Jody White, the crews go out of their way to take care of customer requests such as hanging a picture or changing a hard-to-reach lightbulb. Retention of both workers and clients, she reports, is "very high." Not surprisingly, the service tends to attract conscientious types "who are already attentive to the needs of their home," says Spratt. Another factor is the growing complexity of today's houses, which might have solar arrays, backup generators, home entertainment theaters or wine cellars, each of which has its own maintenance needs. The cost of the annual contract (four service visits a year) runs between 80 cents and $1.20 per square foot of floor area, depending on the complexity of the home's systems, with an average four- bedroom, two-bath house typically running about $3,000. (There is a $1,800 minimum on all contracts.) Is the plan worth the money for every homeowner? It depends, of course, on his or her budget, the age and size of the house, and the level of attention and skill the homeowner brings to bear on maintenance. The relative difficulty in finding trustworthy, competent handypeople may also be a factor for some. Those homeowners who want to tackle their own maintenance might want to check out the nonprofit Building Education Center's comprehensive 17-session "Homeowner's Essential Course," which is offered quarterly in Berkeley and San Jose (the fee is $475). What isn't in doubt is the value of a regular maintenance program and the high cost of not bothering to do any maintenance -- especially given the rot- prone wood-frame construction and creaky age of many Northern California homes.

Resources Home Preservation Systems, Palo Alto: (866) 454-4544 or (888) 844-0007; Santa Rosa: (707) 543-0952.

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Home Preservation Systems LLC
1178 Los Altos Ave.
Los Altos, CA

Phone: (888) 844-0007
Fax: (650) 917-3888

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