Merchant Innovation

Home Maintenance Gets Its On-Demand, Uber-Like Upgrade

Homee maintenance service

In San Francisco for business, Doug Schaedler was about to bite into a steak when his wife called from Tampa with a household emergency. The family’s air conditioner had conked out. It was a Friday afternoon, and a full weekend without cooled air was certainly not in the cards for her, their three kids and trio of dogs — not in Florida.

Schaedler floated the possibility that maybe she could locate someone to fix the broken and vital machine. “I received a lot of angry emojis back,” he recalled in a recent PYMNTS interview with Karen Webster. “I knew I had a problem.”

And what a problem it was — locating someone reliable who would refrain from gouging them while also willing to work on short notice as the weekend approached — and do so from three time zones and thousands of miles away. “The best I could do is get someone out the next morning,” he said. “And I had to pay $500 just to get him out there. I had never met him, I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know if he would show up.”

After arranging all that, he said, he returned to his cold steak and figured there had to be a better way.

Transaction Control

So goes the origin story for Homee, a digital- and mobile-focused on-demand platform that connects home maintenance professionals with consumers in need of those services — needs that typically pop up at the worst times and without warning. Sure, there are many online methods that can offer referrals to various technicians who can fix all the problems that come with homeownership.

But as Schaedler told Webster, Homee is different because it is the platform that dispatches a qualified, available technician to fix the problem, and then pays them once the job is done. Just as Uber assembles a critical mass of drivers and uses technology and geo-location to send  the right driver to a consumer in need of a ride, then pays the driver when the ride is over, Homee does the same with technicians and homeowners in need, including putting money into their bank accounts within 72 hours of completing the job.

Let’s go back to that air conditioner problem to get a better sense of how Homee works. Had Schaedler or his wife been able use that service instead of going through the traditional, friction-filled process of finding someone to come out and repair that machine, the Homee algorithm would have figured out who among the participating and relevant technicians on the Homee platform were closest to the job — that is, the Schaedler family home. In about 48 seconds — that’s the average pick-up time, he said — one of those pros would have accepted the job, headed to the home and started work.

After the job’s competition, the customer would have rated the work and service and then paid the technician via the Homee platform. Assuming the technician received at least a four-star rating out of five from the customer, the ACH payment would go through in 72 hours. A lower rating would trigger a Homee customer service agent call to the pro and the customer to figure out if anything went wrong — anything that might impact a full payment — before that payment could go through. Homee, of course, would take its cut for providing what amounts to a matchmaking service for home maintenance.

Matchmaking Keys

Although Schaedler’s motivation to start the company came out of his personal experience as a homeowner in need, a big part of their business is serving property managers who are in perpetual need of reliable maintenance and repair services. In fact, a big part of the decision to enter a new market is the availability of such an anchor client that can drive a critical mass of demand. Within two to three weeks, he said, with that demand in place, he can recruit supply and be up and running.

One key to being an effective matchmaker in this space is having a large and flexible network of pros — and that means not only a high number of participants for the 30 some states and 100 metro areas served by Homee, but having trust-worthy and reliable technicians. To that end, Homee — which now has some 9,000 pros in its network — pays for its own background checks on those pros, and takes pains to get to know the people and companies providing the home maintenance services. That includes the bigger firms who might use Homee to fill in revenue-earning time slots that might otherwise be lost to cancellations, and smaller operators looking to craft solid reputations while earning income.

Data — including real-time data — also has a prime role in all this. Homee works to set and normalize  the pricing for the various services offered through the site, and that requires deep dives into the relevant data, including how those services vary in cost according to geography. Prices also can vary based on time. “If someone is picking up (a job) at two in the morning, that person should get paid more than a pick-up at two in the afternoon,” said Schaedler, who said he’s long had a deep interest in data. As well, more pros tend to make themselves available for jobs in the wake of natural disasters — or, say, the run-up to a hurricane, when home and business owners are rushing to protect their property. “The market gets smarter,” he said.

Data also helps with customer service — as a matchmaker, Homee gets deeply involved there — as it enables the company to not only monitor jobs as they happen, but flag jobs that take too long and proactively address any problems.

Home maintenance is so often a joyless experience that can spark personal friction between couples, at least for the moment, as that cold steak story illustrates. But the story of Homee is another example of how digital commerce and payments are working to disrupt a long-standing and very familiar and vital industry.

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