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Who ya gonna call?

Hiring a contractor is no longer grunt work for local homeowners


by: JIM CLARK - GruntWorks contractor John Baringa trims a hedge for Summerplace resident Thelma Erlendson.The joys of happy homeownership aren’t so joyful when the water main or roof springs a leak. The task of calling numerous companies for estimates, checking references and then questioning whether you’re getting a fair price is tedious and time-consuming.

But what if you could pawn that grunt work off on someone else and end up with a list of reliable, trustworthy businesses, as well as a guarantee of their services?

That’s the concept behind GruntWorks Home Services, a relatively new Portland-based company that links homeowners with reputable contractors who can do everything from a major remodel to installing a cat toilet.

“We have already gone out to the market and found the best local service providers,” said Scott Fouser, founder and CEO of GruntWorks. “We’ve done the homework you would do before hiring someone, but we have your back in making sure you get a fair price, quality work and our one-year guarantee.”

Most homeowners looking for qualified professionals often turn to friends for referrals or consult the phone book. Several Internet sites now offer local customer reviews of contractors or handymen services, but they charge membership fees for the privilege of reading through a list of 80 plumbers. And you still have to do the research on the companies you’re looking to hire.

GruntWorks is unique in that it won’t recommend a contractor or handyman it hasn’t already checked out.

Here’s how the service works. Let’s say you need to paint a couple of large rooms in your house. You describe the job and your expectations to a GruntWorks Personal Home Assistant (PHA), who takes your requirements to the company’s preferred painters. After the PHA has acquired several estimates for your work, he reports back with his findings — costs, timeline, etc. You decide who to hire, GruntWorks books the work and conducts a customer satisfaction follow-up.

It’s a one-stop shop done over the phone.

“Our PHAs all have background in the home industry,” Fouser said. “They will drill down the scope of the job using the information you provide — measurements, cell phone photos — but we also have a lot of technological tools that we can use to understand what you need. For a big job, we will send a PHA out to your house.”

Fouser, who has extensive background in real estate, said GruntWorks was born from his own experience as owner of Real Net, a large property management company. At one time, the firm was managing more than 1 million square feet of real estate across the country, Fouser said, with an ongoing need for dependable property maintenance and repair contractors. After a few good and bad experiences, Fouser was left questioning how the average homeowner undertook the task of hiring a service professional.

“It made me wonder — how do people know who to call to get a leak fixed or some tile work done in the bathroom?” he said. “There are over 37,000 licensed contractors and untold unlicensed ones in Oregon, so I can understand why homeowners get that ‘I-don’t-know-where-to-start’ feeling. We give people a great place to go, where they’re going to be protected and be charged a fair price.”

In order to be part of GruntWorks’ network, contractors offer their services at a discounted price. In return, they receive referrals to GruntWorks’ clients, who pay for only the contracted work. Contractors are prescreened by GruntWorks for licensing and bonding and are certified in their area of expertise.

The partnership is a win-win situation, according to Fouser.

“Homeowners don’t know where to start,” he said. “And contractors don’t have a lot of time to be marketing agents for themselves or their company. We are helping contractors increase their client base by generating contacts and helping the customer get what they need.”

Finding reputable and trustworthy service providers is hard for any homeowner, but more difficult for seniors who are often prey for unscrupulous businesses. Aggressive service workers might insist the furnace needs replacing instead of just cleaned, and like everyone else, seniors may not know what is a reasonable or unreasonable cost.

Thelma and Fred Erlendson have lived in the Summerplace neighborhood of East Portland for 10 years. Thelma is 87 and primarily caregiver for Fred, 90, who has Alzheimer’s disease. GruntWorks, Thelma said, is peace of mind for seniors who cannot keep up with seasonal maintenance or are unable to do it themselves anymore.

“I trust (GruntWorks),” she said. “I don’t have to worry that I’m going to get ripped off because they’ve already done all the legwork and checked out who they send to do the job. Everybody they’ve sent to me has done a fantastic job.”

Since learning of the service, Thelma has used GruntWorks for handyman duties including interior painting, landscaping, pressure washing and assembling a glider. What has appealed to her most, she said, is the thoroughness of the workers and the price.

“I had the windows cleaned recently, and they took the screens out and washed those and even the slots for the screens,” she said. “I know (GruntWorks) will only send people who will do a good job, so I can sit back and relax. And they’re affordable.”

GruntWorks doesn’t abandon the homeowner once the work is completed, Fouser said, likening their customer files to a Car Fax for the home. The company also stands behind its work, and workers, by providing a one-year guarantee of customer satisfaction.

“We want you to know that somebody is in your corner,” Fouser said. “Our job is not to sell you something you don’t need. We want to be your one resource, that trusted adviser and advocate for your home. We’re not just lip service. We want to make sure you’re taken care of and protected.”

Just the facts

Who: GruntWorks Home Services

What: Links homeowners with maintenance, repair and handyman services at no charge to the customer. Contractors are prescreened for licensing, bonding and certifications.

Contact: 503-974-8854 or gruntworksusa.com.

GruntWorks’ mission is to improve not only the quality of life for its customers but the quality of life for the community. A portion of each job’s profits is donated to the company’s “Community Partners,” who include the Children’s Cancer Association, Make-A-Wish of Oregon, Dove Lewis Animal Hospital, area high schools and others.