• Jim

RMS in the Edmonton Sun

If there were such a thing as a home psychologist in Greater Edmonton, the line of bitter and stressed-out houses seeking therapy would stretch for miles.

“I’m feeling smothered,” the two-storey ’80s model would say. “Can’t they see all this dust and humidity is killing me?”

“If that so-called ‘handy-man’ attempts one more repair, I’ll crumble to the ground,” moans a 1950s bi-level. Even the recently-built luxury town home would have its troubles. “I don’t understand,” it would sob. “Everything was so wonderful in the beginning, but I’ve realized that, despite all the money and gifts, he never gives me what I really want, which is time and attention.”

Homeowners, meet the new therapists for the housing industry.

Residential Maintenance Services Inc. (RMS) is what can happen when two longtime players from the local construction and renovation scene identify a significant service gap in their industry – and move way past the “just talking about it” phase.

With an accumulated knowledge that spanned decades, longtime friends Bob Schulz and Doug Remin drew on their experience and drummed up the concept for RMS nearly four years ago. Enter Jim Kupczak, who came onboard 1 1/2 years ago. The former corporate finance specialist with a major accounting firm applied his left-brained expertise to the venture to come up with a business and marketing plan. The result: a company that tries to prevent the likelihood of failure in the home’s inner workings and thus, the cost that would be incurred due to major repairs.

It’s hard to imagine, in this electronic age, how a venture between a couple of working stiffs could single-handedly redefine the housing industry by combining good old fashioned customer service with a much-needed market niche. But who better to recognize the inherent flaw in the home maintenance industry – that there wasn’t a home maintenance industry at all.

Schulz says it’s a fact of life rather than indifference that home-builders can’t ensure every homeowner becomes intimately familiar with their home’s inner workings – and that’s if the owner cares to at all. The eventual outcome, Schulz says, has been a widespread, reactive attitude towards upkeep: the hot water tank or furnace isn’t thought about until the basement is flooded, or the blower motor on the furnace burns out at -30 C.

Considering the average house is a complex patchwork of systems that often interconnect and influence one another, it’s no surprise that even minor aspects can wreak havoc if neglected over time. Consider further that certain neglected elements can have deadly consequences (i.e. fires caused by degraded wiring, poorly-ventilated furnace vents) the dollar aspect becomes moot. Furthermore, maintenance issues are borderless in that they play an integral role in the well-being of every home regardless of age, style or size.

“The traditional model for maintaining your home is ‘wait until it’s broke, then frantically try to find someone to fix it,'” Schulz explains. “We’re 180 degrees from the traditional model.”

Their business mantra is a simple one: a proactive rather than reactive approach to home maintenance, with minimal inconvenience to the homeowner.

Whether you’re a time-challenged professional, a spouse who’s becoming increasingly worried that your so-called in-house “handyman” will eventually incur expensive, irreversible damage, or a homeowner without a cause (i.e. you simply don’t have a clue ) prepare to add RMS’s phone number to your speed dial.

RMS advertises its services through direct-mail promotion. If their pamphlet piques your interest, don’t expect a pushy sales pitch that forces you into an ironclad contract which negotiates long terms and your first-born if you ever want to back out.

“When you sign a contract, it’s to protect you, not us,” Kupczak says.

Every new member receives an initial assessment from an RMS certified home technician – a qualified professional under the terms set by RMS – who performs a top-to-bottom evaluation of the home’s systems. This duty entails notating over 400 pieces of information, so it’s no surprise that this step of the process may take an average of three hours to perform (depending on the size and style of the home).

Old pros like service tech Ray Pittet are extremely efficient. He’s at the point where he can simply “eyeball” a problem as soon as they walk up the sidewalk or into a room. He’s also a perfectionist.

“We only deal with people who have the same philosophy,” Schulz says of the company’s gaggle of trade partners. A professional image is solidified by techs who show up in company uniforms and RMS-marked vehicles.

Within about a week, the owner will be presented with a copy of this printed report, and subsequent “action” items which classify necessary repairs on a scale of importance (from “immediate attention” to simply keeping an eye on the situation). From then on, the technician will perform scheduled “service calls” on a regular basis, to monitor, and deal with problems before they escalate.

RMS keeps a detailed record of each and every subsequent service call and work order performed on the home. Homeowners retain copies of these items and are given a binder in which to store them. This permanent record essentially “belongs” to the home – an attractive selling tool for prospective anyone eventually wanting to sell their home.

The make and model of major appliances are recorded and saved in your file; if a problem with any of these devices crops up, your repairperson will have a heads-up on the machine and parts he’s going to be dealing with without making a house call – a valuable time and money saver.

Don’t expect RMS to provide a dollar assessment of your home, however – or act as a referee between you and a builder if you’re in the midst of a disagreement over workmanship.

They don’t perform the services of an inspection service either, so don’t ask your RMS tech to evaluate a home you’re considering for purchase.

Although there is flexibility, RMS presents two programs to their clients: two visits with full service access at $750 per year; or four visits per year at $1,500.

“CMHC says people should budget between one and three per cent of the home’s value for maintenance, service and repairs,” Schulz says. Considering that dollar figure can read nearly $8,000 for the average home, the benefit of maintenance becomes palpable.

And forget about receiving multiple bills from multiple repair people; or having to make a zillion phone calls to different service providers when something needs fixing. Every aspect of your maintenance program – from invoicing to contacting the appropriate trades for your repair, to requiring emergency service for an exploded water heater – is funnelled through the RMS “mothership.” This information is compiled into a single, detailed invoice that’s sent to the owner on a predetermined fee schedule.

The unsavoury task of finding a reputable, experienced, reasonably-priced repairperson is removed altogether. RMS provides clients quotes for every job, and that list comprises previously hand-picked professionals. If, after all this, you’re dissatisfied with the program (or the work performed) RMS will make it right – or remove you from the contract with absolutely no penalties or obligations.

It’s clear that these local entrepreneurs have taken peace of mind and bottled it, and goodness knows we could use a little of that today.

Linda Pelletier

Homes Editor, Edmonton Sun

December 1, 2002