Real estate agents traditionally have been happy to refer clients to a range of services related to putting people into a new home--everything from suggesting home-inspection and title companies to recommending painters and carpenters. Now many real estate firms are formalizing those recommendations and expanding them to more nontraditional services, including energy providers.
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. and Pepco Energy Services Inc. announced last week that they were partnering to allow the realty agency's customers to shop for electricity and natural gas, as well as for service contracts for heating and cooling systems and major appliances.
The announcement reflects two trends. One is the effort by real estate sales forces to appeal to time-constrained home buyers. That was the thinking that led Coldwell Banker last year to introduce its "concierge" service to help make moving into a new home easier. Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.'s new "Home Advantage" program offers new-homeowner services along the same lines.
The other trend is the growing competition in the $400 billion utility industry that is transforming it from a system of geographic monopolies into a nationwide market where companies will compete in different segments of the market for electricity and natural gas.
About two dozen states allow customers to choose among electricity and natural gas providers, while old-line utilities are looking to compete in segments of what was once an integrated manufacturing, transmission and distribution business.
Potomac Electric Power Co. is in the process of selling its power plants and has said it plans to emphasize retailing energy and related services such as cable television in the future. Its unregulated subsidiary, Pepco Energy Services, offers products ranging from electricity and natural gas to helping large customers save money by reconfiguring their heating and lighting systems.
Long & Foster said it will expand its Home Advantage program to include Pepco Energy Services' residential-customer offerings, steering clients to the subsidiary for products and also providing program-member discounts.