Fixing that Toilet via ‘Telemaintenance’

In March, my Localogy colleague Mike Boland wrote about the intersection of AR and home repair. Mike highlighted a company called Streem and how it uses augmented reality to help diagnose simple home repair situations.

In this New York Times piece, we learned of a similar solution called Dwelling. We’re intrigued by its business model. Dwelling offers the first month free and then a monthly subscription of $9.99 for unlimited support. For that, the homeowner gets to upload photos and videos of a specific problem or problems.

On the other side of that equation are service pros that help the homeowner diagnose the problem and navigate the repair. Then the homeowner and service pro communicate via the text to remedy the problem. Pretty straight-forward. But how compelling is it? I am not really sure. 

How to Fix a Flapper

Just the other day, I needed to replace the flapper on a toilet. I presumed the toilet needed a flapper because I kept hearing it refilling throughout the day. OK, truth be told, I had heard it for some time. Like weeks.

I set off to fix it myself since I didn’t want a plumber to come into the home given COVID-19. So what did I do? Well, I reached out to a friend who is a plumber and began to ask him. I texted him and since he didn’t get back to me right away (he is a plumber after all), I figured I’d turn to YouTube. Sure enough, I learned everything I needed to know on YouTube to fix a flapper on a toilet.

In the scenario, I am not sure why I would pay $9.99 a month. After all, a couple of search terms on YouTube led me to hundreds of videos on how to replace a flapper. In this use case, I am not sure either Dwelling or Streem would be of much value to me or others in a similar situation. 

A More Compelling Use Case

Our washing machine was on the fritz. It would fill with water after completing a cleaning cycle. If we didn’t get the clean clothes into the dryer almost immediately, they would get wet and we’d have to run the washing machine again. Not a good practice for sure.

In this use case, taking a picture and perhaps some video could have been a terrific alternative to what I did.

I ran to Google and searched for appliance repair. Up came Sears Home Services and it offered a pretty easy scheduling option. So we booked it. 

The Sears experience had some glitches, however. For instance, though the technician had a mask, he didn’t have booties over his shoes nor did he wear gloves. He did a diagnostic on the machine and concluded it needed a new valve. So he ordered the value (of course, didn’t have it on the truck) and scheduled an appointment for a week later to return. To their credit, the part showed up and the technician returned the following week. 

Again, he showed up sans booties or gloves, nor did he have spray disinfectant to wipe down the surfaces that he touched. That seemed like a huge miss in this time of COVID-19 for us and for him. He repaired the machine and left the property but I was stuck with a $360 repair bill. The part was about $60.

Therefore the labor — which took approximately 60 minutes — was by my simple math $300 per hour. I don’t know about you but this seems like a crazy amount on an hourly basis.

A Case by Case Proposition

This was a use case where Dwelling’s solutions could have been beneficial. If I could have taken photos and videos and the part could have been ordered and then the technician charged only for the actual replacement time (and not the initial visit), that would have been a more satisfying experience. 

COVID-19 will certainly accelerate adoption, at least the short term, of some of these virtual home repair solutions. We’re not convinced demand will hold up as anxiety over COVID-19 dissipates.

What is interesting is the marriage of YouTube with the experience Dwelling is offering. We believe that could have legs well beyond COVID-19. 

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