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One way to troubleshoot home repairs before bringing in a contractor

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As people spend more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, they are more apt to notice deferred maintenance needs, at least when they’re not overwhelmed with remote work, child care and financial concerns. Whether you’ve suddenly become aware of ongoing maintenance issues or a new problem arises while you’re home, it can be difficult to determine whether you can handle an issue yourself or you need to call in a professional. While home contractors are considered essential businesses, many people prefer to avoid bringing nonfamily members into their home.

The need for guidance on when you must bring in a professional and when you can diagnose and handle an issue yourself led Andrew Wynn, who started a business called Sheltr and is now director of Hippo Home Care, to pivot his business to provide virtual home maintenance.

“About 18 months ago, we started Sheltr as a proactive maintenance system that could function as a physical for people’s homes,” Wynn says. “We would check out the home and identify possible issues before repairs might be needed and take care of things like changing the HVAC filter and smoke detector batteries.”

Over-the-phone and video advice for DIY home repairs

After the stay-at-home guidelines were put in place, Wynn adapted the business so customers can get help from trained professionals by phone and video chat. Customers can book a free slot to talk with the professional contractors who have been vetted by Hippo Home Care.

“We call it ‘telemaintenance’ because it works like telemedicine for the home,” Wynn says. “For example, a first-time homeowner called recently because the pipes in his house were banging and there was a sound like the water was shuddering. Our contractor recommended turning the water main off, turning on all the faucets to get the water out and then turning the water main back on to see if that resolved the issue. That worked, and the homeowner was happy to have someone on the phone walk them through the process.”

After a troubleshooting call, if a problem is urgent, Hippo Home Care can arrange for a contractor to come to the home. Before the pandemic, Sheltr charged customers $399 annually for its proactive services. Now, the virtual visits are free.

“We’ve thought about offering something like this before, but this situation has accelerated our plan,” Wynn says. “Our service providers usually spend 20 to 40 percent of their time driving from one home to the next, so if we can help people by walking them through an issue on the phone, that saves a lot of time.”

Another recent caller was concerned because the water heater was making a funny noise, Wynn says. In that case, the issue was a recirculation pump that wasn’t functioning properly. The homeowners were able to unplug that pump and will have it fixed or replaced in the future. For now, Wynn says, there’s just a slight delay in getting hot water.

Homeowners can use a self-guided help menu on Hippo Home Care’s website or sign up for a virtual consultation.

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