The Comfort of Concierge Services Finding Help from A to Z

Whether you're moving to Manhattan from another state or country, or just moving to another apartment in a new neighborhood or borough, finding the right schools, churches, dentists, doctors, plumbers, electricians or other service professionals can be a frustrating experience at best, especially for a newcomer.

But you don't have to go it alone. Many of the major brokerage firms in Manhattan offer concierge or relocation services that take all the legwork out of moving to a new home.

From Dog Walking to Tax Preparation

A full-time concierge service program is a one-stop resource for anything from hiring a dog walker to finding a locksmith on a Sunday because you're accidentally locked out of your apartment.

According to Dana Williams of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, the program's director, help in the city that never sleeps is just a phone call away.

Some of the advertised services that CBHK provides include: architects, carpenters, tile, carpet and flooring installers, electricians, HVAC repair specialists, painters, dentists, doctors, mortgage brokers, security professionals, tax preparers, car & truck rental agents, dog walkers, closet organizers, pest control experts, fuel oil professionals, houseware specialists, interior decorators, designers, dry cleaners, furniture rental sales professionals, cable and satellite TV installers, self-storage providers, movers, insurance and title agents, feng shui experts, window installers, errand runners, landscapers and gardeners, maid service and cleaners, nannies and child care professionals.

Williams says the service is not only for those relocating to New York City but for any of her customers that are in a quandry about what service professional to hire. She also thinks of herself as a resource to answer just about any question that people have about Manhattan. Williams says she constantly receives tips about who's a good painter, a good carpenter or a good plumber, for example, and she passes on that advice to her customers. A recent poll asked people how they got referrals for good service providers and a majority responded that their number one source was often their real estate broker.

The first step, Williams says, is to walk the customer through the entire process, and to help them every step of the way, whether they need assistance in finding a school for their child or a painter for their apartment. Some people have never hired a contractor before, so Williams acts as a guide telling them what to expect or look out for, she says.

Most of the referrals are commonplace, i.e., a painter, a plumber, or an electrician, but she does humorously recall something that one customer had asked for. "I had a client - she was a great client - but she had a stuffed hen with white feathers, and she wanted the feathers cleaned and she asked me where she could go for that. So I told her and it worked out beautifully. That's probably the most obscure request I've had," Williams remembers.

"We provide an additional resource for them," other than friend's recommendations or word of mouth. Another good thing, according to Williams, is that they help small business contractors build their business by providing this referral service. There is no fee to the customer but CBHK does receive a small commission from the local vendor.

"It's really a great thing to stay in touch with your clients. People who had used us four years ago were still calling me for different services - that's always a great feeling."

Bring Your Rolodex

In June 2003, Kathy Mayer Braddock, founder of The Intrepid New Yorker, a destination services firm, and a former general sales manager at Douglas Elliman, and Paul Purcell, the former president at Douglas Elliman, founded a residential real estate consulting firm called Braddock + Purcell, to match the right broker and service provider with the consumer.

A unique service offered by B+P is what's called "The Golden Rolodex," a compendium of more than 1,000 vetted service providers, according to Braddock. It's just one of the many value-added services they offer their customers, and it could be anything from day-to-day dog walkers to hiring an architect to redo their apartment, she says.

"Really what our Golden Rolodex is," says Braddock, "is an accumulation of 20 years-plus of living in New York and working with customers and clients and addressing all the different issues that come up in their lives from the day-to-day dog walkers to beauticians, attorneys, plumbers, etc." The list, she believes is reputable, but Braddock fully encourages her customers to do their own "due diligence" before hiring a particular service provider. "You have to ask your own questions and make sure you're comfortable with any resource provider."

Service providers come with different personalities and different price points, says Braddock, so what they try and do is tailor the professional to the customer. Some people work better with others or have a certain personality that meshes with the customer, Braddock explains.

A Customer for Life

The person using the service does not have to be an existing customer or someone that is currently using Braddock + Purcell's relocation services, which are separate. "Our concept in our business model today is a customer for life. We really do believe that. If you start servicing people at some point in their life, you become their trusted advisor - then from there we assume they will then go ahead and use us in the future. If they don't somebody else will, a friend of a friend, for example," she says. It could mean repeat business if you treat every potential customer as a valued customer, Braddock says.

"Our model is to try to bring these services to the non-relocating day-to-day consumer, who rather than open the Yellow Pages, or circle an ad in the newspaper to find a real estate broker, they come to us for our years of expertise in this entire area, real estate as well as lifestyle."

The service could be commonplace or unusual, she notes. "Everything really you can use, whether it's an astrologist or a freelance writer. What we're very, very good at frankly, is that if we don't know it off the top of our head, or we think the landscape may have changed or whatever, we do our homework and we're very good to getting from A to Z in a straight line. So we can always find the resource we think is best for somebody."

The service comes as part of the brokerage package but there are no fees at all to the customer. Braddock + Purcell works as a consulting firm matching the best broker from throughout the industry to the individual seeking their services. "All of our services are value-added to the consumer at no additional cost. When somebody does a real estate transaction we collect a standard broker-to-broker referral fee," says Braddock, who adds that the service is extremely hands-on and consumer-friendly.

Let Our Fingers Do the Walking

"You can't help somebody in one area of their life and not another," she says. "And that's the fun part of it connecting people to people that are great service providers. The wonderful thing about New York and the tri-state area is there's nothing you can't get done here, almost 24 hours a day, and at a certain price point. It's a puzzle to us - and the fun part is putting people in touch like that so they are getting the best dry cleaner for whites versus an inexpensive dry cleaner. Or if they're looking for a rental painter because they're in a $1,200 a month studio, they're not going to hire a fabulous co-op painter who paints on Park Avenue."

It's an old cliché but the customer is always right. "We take pride and pleasure in really trying to figure out how to please our customers. We believe everybody has a lifestyle here and you deserve a provider to fit your lifestyle."

As for the most unusual or exotic request, she laughed and wished she could have provided a funny story. However, she says, fulfilling someone's heartfelt desire is far from the truth. "I really have to be honest. People really don't ask for nude belly dancing at midnight. They're very sort of basic needs. One customer actually had to board - move some of their horses from England, and they needed a horse farm that was approachable and reachable - those kinds of things.

"But most likely, it is contractors, architects, painters and lifestyle stuff. A lot of it is child-related. Where do I go for this, that and the other thing? Schools, service-related day camps. My son wants to do community service, where do I hook him up?" is a typical request, she explains.

Other companies offer similar services but as part of a relocation effort. Prudential Douglas Elliman, for example, does not have a separate concierge program. They do, however, offer moving-in services to some of their non-corporate clients but those individuals are usually affiliated with an affinity program or a credit union. Prudential's relocation program is typically geared strictly towards corporate clients, according to Janet Manno-Wurzler, relocation director. "For each corporation, we custom-detail what they are looking for," she says.

Some of the services offered, says Manno-Wurzler, include contracting with moving van and home movers, home inspection and warranty service providers, or recommending an attorney to handle the closing.

Similarly, The Corcoran Group provides some destination services. They offer a relocation packet to familiarize the newcomer with their new city and neighborhood, offer detailed school information for families, information on local tax rates, and provide temporary housing assistance. They can also arrange for a national transportation company or local mover to coordinate the process for corporate clients and transferees. Other companies like William B. May offer relocation assistance but the broker is the point person in helping the customer find a neighborhood with the right school district and they sometimes recommend a particular service provider. But they do not have a separate concierge-type program.

A Handy Directory of Services

Another handy resource I would be remiss in not mentioning is The Cooperator's Official Directory of Co-op and Condo Services. This useful compendium of service providers can be found online at

http://directory.cooperator.com/directory/. Cooperators and board members can also receive their very own copy by attending The Cooperator's 17th Annual Co-op and Condo Expo at the New York Hilton, 53rd Street and Avenue of the Americas, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 18th. Free directories and other resource information will be available at The Cooperator's Booth 1820. During the day-long event, experts will be on hand to answer questions, informational seminars will address law, finance, management and other topics and attendees will have the chance to win free door prizes like a digital camera, exclusive gift certificates or a month's worth of free maintenance. For further information about the Expo, please visit www.coopexpo.com.

Debra A. Estock is Managing Editor of The Cooperator.

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Comments

  • An excellent article that really helps to explain the breadth of services a concierge can provide. Thank you! ConciergeDirectory.org