Serving Northeast Wisconsin
Marketplace Magazine

As seen in
Marketplace Magazine,
Homes of Distinction
Issue, Oct. 2002

Lack of time and lack of skill are the primary reasons homeowners hire professional services to maintain and protect their home investment.

— By Cheryl Hentz

Your home is probably the biggest investment you will ever make in your life, but it can also be one of the biggest time-eaters you’ll ever encounter. Between maintaining the yard, taking care of all those little day-to-day things and handling the big repairs that inevitably come along, a homeowner has his or her hands full.

The time-management crunch is compounded if the homeowners work full-time, have a family, or are elderly. And the older or larger the home, the more time and money it seems to require. Fortunately there are home and property maintenance services available to help keep your home running at optimum efficiency, while giving back to the homeowner one of the greatest resources he or she has – time.

Steve Shepard, owner of HOMEfree Residential Property Maintenance Specialists, says the demand for his services is based on three things: homeowners who lack the time to adequately keep up with the many facets of home maintenance; a concern over the lack of technical knowledge of structure and mechanical systems; and frustration over being able to find and manage skilled service providers.

Shepard says his relationship with clients is almost like a partnership in home maintenance. Instead of the home owner making calls to service providers, they call him and he arranges for the work to be done – either by his own staff or by subcontractors – and then oversees the entire process from start to finish.

"We become, in essence, the homeowner. But we make no decisions. We are project managers; we are facilitators," he says, adding that trust and rapport are not developed through one or two simple phone calls.

A property specialist first meets with the owner to discuss the home’s maintenance needs, and an independent home inspection is done. Then working closely with the homeowner, Shepard or a member of his staff prepares a detailed annual plan, which assesses, prioritizes, budgets and schedules the various maintenance activities that need to be done. The final step in the process is to schedule and oversee all the work on the owner’s behalf.

"We assess the home and tell you what’s wrong with it, you tell us what you want fixed. We get estimates, hire the people to do the work and oversee it from start to finish," Shepard says.

"This accomplishes moving the home to its lowest client-directed annual expense point because we have identified priorities, budgets and scheduled activities. We also eliminate surprises and the potential for catastrophic events with gas, water and electricity, and the time that it would normally take to accomplish these tasks is made available for the homeowner to spend in other ways," Shepard says.

The range of services offered includes seasonal inspections, cleaning and preparation; plumbing and mechanicals; data cabling and security systems; chimney/flue systems; heating and A/C; lawn car, landscaping and grounds care; historical preservation and restorative care; painting, staining and refinishing; masonry, foundation and exteriors; roofing, soffits and fascia care; and maintenance of pools, tennis courts and docks.

Beth Wenger-Johnstone is one client who appreciates the diversity. "My home is older so it requires constant maintenance. It’s important to have good contacts to help me manage it and figure out the right things to do. They’ve been just wonderful in that regard," she says.

Among some of the things HOMEfree has assisted her with are designing a way to put air-conditioning in her home, despite having hot water heat; repairing a furnace problem, and cleaning the gutters yearly. And when Wenger-Johnstone bought a building for her Appleton-based graphic design business, Shepard helped her arrange a complete renovation of the entire interior of the building.

"He got all the people lined up and had it perfectly scheduled so it all happened right on time, like clockwork. We were on a pretty tight deadline, but it was absolutely perfect the way it all worked out," she says. "The really nice thing is I can call and say ‘Hey, my heat’s not working.’ And he takes care of getting someone over there to fix it, instead of me going out and making all these phone calls looking for someone who will come over."

Mike Ondresky of Handyman Connect offers the same type of service, though not quite as extensive.

"Our services include minor plumbing, minor electrical, carpentry, we redo porches, rebuild decks, clean decks, we put in custom cabinetry and cupboards, we hang doors, you name it. Basically we try to go after the smaller to medium jobs that most of the bigger contractors aren’t interested in," he says.

Some specialties Handyman Connect focuses on are performing handicap-accessible modifications and working with people who are putting their homes on the market.

"I go through and do an analysis and try to get them to buy in on the idea of doing some repairs before putting the house on the market in order to sell it quicker and get a little more money for it than they otherwise would have," Ondresky says.

While Ondresky says he works for people across all ecopeople across all economic levels and on all types of homes, his marketing has been directed primarily toward higher-end homes.

"Chances are there’s more disposable income there. People who own those types of homes tend to be people who like to keep their homes up, but don’t have the time to do the work. But again, whoever needs the service is who we’ll do work for," he says.

HOMEfree markets itself in a similar manner and manages 23 properties in the greater Fox Cities area, with average property values ranging from $250,000 to $450,000, though some exceed $1 million. Shepard services mostly executive and historic homes, though, like Ondresky, Shepard says he provides service to a broad base of customers.

"Our market truly is everyone. Everyone’s needs are different, and we have learned to look at a very broad marketing base, whether it is elderly folks, busy executives, single working parents, young married couples, you name it," he says. "We’re here to help anyone who is interested in having some support for the care, maintenance and restorative care of their property, especially as our lives speed up and we have less free time."

There is a clear and convincing need for what Shepard and Ondresky do, as evidenced by he rapid growth both are seeing. Shepard has seen a steady annual growth of 20 percent since starting the business five years ago, and he plans to seek equity partners who will help expand the company’s services.

Ondresky just opened his business in late spring, but already has three people working full-time in the business, in addition to himself, and plans to expand the staff in the near future.

Ondresky and Shepard say that no matter who you hire to do work in and around your home, it is important to make sure they are licensed, bonded and fully insured. HOD

Posted with permission of Marketplace Magazine, 2002.

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