The home services space is unique in so many respects. This was made very clear during a conversation this morning between Localogy’s Dan Hight and HomeAdvisor President & COO Craig Smith during the Localogy 20/20 virtual event.
Home services are (mostly) booming during the pandemic, while many other local sectors have been decimated. Technology hasn’t really disrupted home services. And it probably never will. Yet home services are so uncool (something Smith laments), that there is a looming, possibly catastrophic, labor shortage because the trades carry a blue-collar stigma.
Craig and Dan went deep on how the pandemic is impacting home services and the role that technology will play in the vertical in the immediate and longer-term.
The COVID Boom
Try asking a homeowner what it’s like finding a home services pro right now. You will hear tales of woe about unreturned calls and jobs being put off weeks or months because their pro is booked solid.
Craig confirmed that it’s generally true that home services are booming as professionals suddenly are staring at their four walls when they would normally be at the office or on the road.
“Overall, homeowner demand is at an all-time high,” Craig said. As homeowners sit at home, they see things that need to get done. That’s fueled great sales results and Loews and Home Depot, as well as home furnishing retailers, as homeowners look to spruce up their living space (indoors and outdoors) or improve their work at home, study at home configurations.
Yet the bounty has not been evenly distributed among home service pros, Craig said, adding, “There is still a fair amount of fear on both sides.”
This fear has led to a bigger boom on quick fix inside job and an emphasis on outdoor home improvement (home exterior, landscaping, etc.) Big remodeling projects, where contractors practically move in for weeks at a time, are not exactly flying off the shelves (is this metaphor confusing?). And Craig said home cleaning is soft because most homeowners have taken those chores on themselves.
“It is almost like the equity markets,” Craig said. “There is not an equal distribution of success.”
The Zoom Estimate Era is Upon Us
It’s been a while since I inserted the word “acceleration” so here it goes. Home services didn’t exactly have a reputation as a tech-forward profession before the pandemic. But Craig said the necessity of our new touch-free society is changing all that.
“The changes in behavior are happening at such a large scale that they have accelerated all the activities we’ve envisioned for the past 20 years,” Craig said, noting that this accelerated technology adoption is a clear pandemic silver lining. Now contractors are moving more to online and mobile payment acceptance over cash and checks. And they’re increasingly using video chat to complete estimates that used to require a trip out to the house, which was often uncompensated. It’s not hard to imagine a builder doing at least twice the estimates in a day on video than they did driving the truck around town.
All this reluctant tech adoption is actually making contractors more efficient. And Craig and Dan delved deeper into how that will evolve in the near term.
In particular, they discussed how technologies like augmented reality can help repair pros eliminate the travel and time involved in simple repair calls. Instead, they can handle these via an AR app (like Streem, for example) that lets the contractor guide homeowners through simple repairs. They may not be able to charge as much for the individual repair, but they could more than make it up in volume, not to mention lower depreciation on the van.
The Looming Home Service Labor Crisis
Craig said this shift to new technologies to augment (but never replace) home services has another benefit. COVID has exposed a looming issue in the home services space. Trade pros are aging. And young people are not replacing them in sufficient numbers. And the social stigma attached to working with your hands is a big reason. It’s a trend that has Craig scratching his head, since many tradespeople are very successful entrepreneurs.
He thinks AR and other exciting new technologies might be a part of solving this issue.
First, AR can serve as a training tool where a high skill tradesperson guides a lower-skilled worker through a job. This can draw lower-skilled workers into the ground floor. And it can help to scale experienced trade pros across more jobs than if they were there in person. Plus, skilled pros tend to be older. Using AR also protects their health.
And using these technologies might also make the trades cool again. Or as Craig puts it, the “branding” of the trades as a career choice for young people.
“They can say, ‘I am not going to be a plumber. I am using AR. I am in technology,'” Craig said. “It is an exciting time from that perspective.”
More from Localogy
Reimagining the “In Home Services” Experience
Like all aspects of local commerce, the “in home services” customer experience has been altered. Does COVID-19 force home service providers to re-vamp their practices or will they fall back on old bad habits of delayed response, lack of transparency and no sense of urgency? Will the economic contraction force the exit of baby boomer providers and usher in a new wave of digital savvy home service providers?Speaker(s):
Craig Smith, HomeAdvisor