Who hasn’t taken their car in for regularly scheduled maintenance only to discover that a larger issue needs to be dealt with such as a timing belt, transmission or brakes? What if homes were treated the same way — and contractors got the benefit of all the extra work that comes from regular inspections?
That’s the vision of Shannon Bloemker, CEO and founder of Glasshouse, an online startup that aims to create a preventative home maintenance subscription model for homeowners. That’s a $200 billion market, according to Kermit Baker with Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Here’s how the service works: For $99 a quarter, Glasshouse assigns homeowners a “house manager” who conducts regular inspections of the home — and is on hand to handle larger issues or jobs that may arise.
In Bloemker’s model, those house managers are either independent contractors or employees of larger contractors who have been certified Glasshouse inspectors. As currently envisioned, Glasshouse handles all the scheduling and behind the scenes bookkeeping complete with website and apps that track service in exchange for a 75/25 split with independent contractors and an 85/15 split with general contractors, though those splits are still in play.
Bloemker, who is testing the model with 45 clients in the Bay area, says she got the idea after remodeling six of her own homes and managing 4,500 rental properties across the U.S.
“Homeowners don’t know this is something they need,” she said. “They know they have to pay taxes. They know they have to pay for insurance. But they don’t know they need to do regular home maintenance. People just don’t do it.”
Even those with an inkling about necessary home maintenance don’t know where to turn for help, she added. “When I buy a new car there’s an entire industry to support me. I don’t have to crawl under the car and change the oil myself. But that doesn’t really exist in the home industry,” she said. “The whole model seems to be broken.”
That brokenness includes the army of on-demand firms that seek to connect homeowners with contractors — Porch, HomeAdvsior, Angie’s List and the like. “They don’t solve enough of the problems that homeowners have,” she said. “Homeowners want to be able to trust one person with a lot of different requests.”
That’s especially true for the higher end market, where Bloemker sees the most potential for growth.
Eventually, Bloemker hopes Glasshouse homeowners will receive discounts from mortgage and insurance companies. She also believes “the real estate community nationally will embrace this” in part because it will create a “CARFAX” style report for homes.
But whether contractors will also embrace the service remains to be seen, admits David Lupberger, an independent contracting consultant and regular industry speaker who worked with Bloemker. Lupberger says the problem is that most contractors have more work than they can handle and are struggling to find enough qualified workers to finish jobs. “Contractors are just buried right now.”
But he and Bloemker say ignoring regular home maintenance and smaller projects is short-term thinking contractors also can’t afford. “Do you think there’s going to be another downturn?” he asked. “Yes there will be. So what are you going to do to prepare for it? Because, guess what? The big projects will go away. But the small projects never go away.”
The benefit of Glasshouse he says is that it maximizes profitability and takes the time-consuming uncertainty off the shoulders of contractors and gives them more “bang for the buck.” “Contractors fundamentally don’t know how to do small project profitably,” he said.
But that’s a huge missed opportunity. For example, he said HVAC contractors who offer a $300 to $500 annual service plan reap $10,000 to $12,000 from clients over a 10-year period. Similarly he says research shows 75 percent to 80 percent of homeowners will do some kind of major home improvement project in a 10-year period.
“To me, that’s a natural pipeline of business,” he said. “Which is manage your client and help them take care of their home and you can identify in advance their next remodeling project because they’ll tell me.”
Bloemker, who invested $2 million of her own money into Glasshouse, recognizes that she hasn’t got it all figured out just yet. She’s also working on partnering with Google and Porch, who she sees more as complementary than competition. And she’s in talks with larger homebuilders such as Toll Brothers and Shea and Lennar to offer the Glasshouse service as a “soft transition” from home warranties.
“It’s an evolution in homeownership that I think will come and will happen,” she said. “It’s just what’s the best way to do it?”