We’ve just moved into our (hypothetical) new home, and there’s work to be done. We need an electrician to fix that dodgy wiring, a plumber to sort out the en-suite, and an architect to give us some thoughts on that extension we are planning.
In time we would find all those people, and they might, or might not, do us a good job. But we need something more credible than the sort of glowing “my cousin’s neighbour used So and So the plumber”, or “Those builders on the High Street did us a great job 10 years ago” sort of recommendation we might get from chatting to the neighbours. These days our consumer expectations are much higher. We use the Internet to find our property. Why can’t it give us a service we can trust to take us on to the next stage, instead of just a list of names?
That’s the question the radical new property website Plentific asked itself, and has just answered with its new “Find a Pro” service. Plentific says it wants to “create a one-stop shop website for property buyers.…helping them find the relevant professionals and tradesmen”. the catchy streamline on its website reads reads: “Find a home. Find a pro. Get it done.”
“We see ourselves in that intersection between helping people find homes, and what happens afterwards when you are a homeowner,” said Cem Savas, Plentific’s joint founder.
This is how it works. The company has gathered a database of 38,000 “home professionals”, in 60 categories. They range from architects, conveyancers and mortgage brokers to electricians, carpenters, boiler engineers, fireplace specialists, roofers, painters, plasterers and tree surgeons.
“Find a Pro”, which Plentific is sharing with the Zoopla Property Group and Primelocation in a deal it struck with them, follows a familiar online booking and ordering service model. Most, but not all, of the pros carry a “Verified by Plentific” badge on their listing. As with TripAdvisor destinations, Airbnb properties, and Uber taxi drivers, you rate them. It’s transparent. “The goal is for everyone who uses the the system to say – ‘I used this person, and he is great’; ‘Or actually, he wasn’t that great’.”
We would have welcomed that method of making a choice in the past. Way before the Internet we used professionals, many of them local and known to us, whose work was not good enough. Too late we discovered that supporting local businesses could be self-defeating. But even since the Internet, we’ve taken people on trust to do work in our home. Most didn’t have a website anyway, so we had no way of knowing what other customers thought of them.
“You have a lot of cowboy builders out there,” said Cem Savas, “but there are a lot of good companies as well. We want to get rid of the cowboys and help the good guys get more business. Let ‘s make it a lot more transparent – what sort of companies they are, and what the history of the company is. Our pros can upload pictures, upload projects, showcase their team members and reviews, and let the market speak for itself.”
Plentific was launched in London in 2014 as a very neatly designed property website, with added features. It put together everything that you would need when you are buying or renting a property, in one in place. It created bespoke tools and features, such as side-by-side property comparisons. A mortgage affordability calculator takes into account all buying costs including stamp duty and shows your property buying power. You can then pay your initial conveyancing fee online to launch the purchase.
I found the website easy, intuitive and comprehensive. Traveling time to work? It does that. How to make an offer? Distance to work, schools, sold house prices. Available. Now the company is expanding its service to take in people offering additional services, in one inclusive package,
I tried the new “Find a Pro” service, two weeks after launch. I live in a village about 40 miles from London. My first search was for a plumber. Under “general plumbing” I found found five pros. The nearest one was 15 miles way, which isn’t too it helpful, and he had no reviews. In fact none of the plumbers seem to have any reviews yet, but it is very early, and I will look again.
I fared much better with “architects/consultants” . There were 133 listed, although only two were within 20 miles. (These people are more likely to want to travel than a plumber.) And they had lots of reviews. I looked at the nearest one to me, and found one of its projects had been in my village. The company had 10 reviews, generated by work it did before it joined Plentific. I could have requested a quote from one of the qualified professionals with a few clicks.
The obvious question is: can we trust these people? “We do our best to run background checks on every professional who joins our panel”, said Savas. Plentific has a team dedicated to checking their details, making sure they are qualified and are properly insured. They ask for references and check Companies House registration, proof of qualifications, certifications and previous work. The company gives the pros its “verified by Plentific” badge.
The service is free for the consumer. “We are saying – there is no catch, because we have revenue and business relationships with our pros, and and as a consumer you have enough problems already.”
“Concierge” is an additional service to help the customer. Say you have you have a more difficult task, like pesticide cleaning in your home, and no one wants to do it. The concierge gets involved and actively tries to find you someone. it could be a more mainstream service, such as a surveyor, or a solicitor; the concierge can help you with that too. “They are real people in our office. Trained, smart people. They’ve gone to buy and renovate themselves, so they understand what it means to find tradesmen, to find professionals.”
How sure can I be of the competence of the pro I hire? A bad plumber can still slip through the vetting process and all I can do is give him a bad score online. “We are working on some kind of guarantee at the moment,” said Savas, “because not everybody will be happy with a tradesman – they do make mistakes.”
“You have the whole country to cover,” I said. “Isn’t that a tall order?” Electricians and builders may be easy enough to find in London, but a good plumber in Hartlepool or Didsbury? Is Plentific confident it can deliver right across the country?
“Absolutely. We have been hitting our targets since we launched and are growing quite significantly now, with some pretty big plans for the sales and customer service team. We have some strong backers, so growing, for us, with our Zoopla and Prime Location partnership is a requirement. It’s not even an option any more.
“There are still some gaps in certain areas where we don’t have all the pros covering specific services, but we are in the process of filling those gaps.”
“We are signing contracts with these people. Most of the businesses we spoke to are happy with that concept, because it gives them a real client, so they are not just spending money on something that they might or might not make money off. It’s much more direct than using Google or magazine advertising.”
As the website grows, there will be the opportunity to build a profile on buyers and their properties. “We will know you, as a first-time buyer,” said Savas. “We know you have used these services, and if you come back to us, we already have information about you to help you more. And we have started creating a history of your property, as the projects get done.”
It might be useful, for example, for future buyers to know when a piece of work was done in a house and, and what exactly was done. And what it cost, this particular boiler, this particular pipework. And who did a good job on it.
Imagine how valuable this is for someone buying your home, to be able to see who you used, so that if they have any issues in the future they can get in touch with them. They used this plumber, so maybe they know something about this boiler issue.
“We see ourselves as a technology company in the property space”, said Savas. “We are gathering a lot of the data already out there, which nobody so far so far has pulled together for property, to make sense of it.”