After buying their first home, Debra Cohen and her husband faced the unenviable chore of finding reliable home improvement contractors. Fed up with blindly picking names from the Yellow Pages and waiting for contractors who didn't show up, it occurred to Cohen that if she and her husband were having trouble finding contractors, other homeowners in their community must be facing a similar predicament. This bleak reality sparked the creation of a unique service that has since expanded into a profitable cottage industry across the U.S. and internationally.
After extensive conversations with lawyers, business consultants, contractors and insurance agents, Cohen, 38, started Hewlett, New York-based Home Remedies of NY Inc.from her home in February 1997. This stay-at-home mom used a $5,000 loan, a computer and a refurbished fax machine to launch her part-time business. Right away, the response from homeowners was tremendous, and after three months in business, she repaid her loan. Her gross earnings in the first year were almost $30,000.
Today, Home Remedies is a contractor referral service that matches home-owners with reliable home-repair workers. The appeal to customers is that the company takes on the time-consuming task of locating and screening qualified contractors, checking to make sure they're adequately insured and licensed, and serving as a liaison between the contractor and the homeowner throughout the course of a job. Home Remedies provides a win-win situation for both parties: Services are provided free of charge to the homeowner, and contractors represented by Home Remedies only pay a commission for any work they secure.
At first, Cohen worked approximately 15 hours to 20 hours per week; she now works about 30 hours per week. Last year, sales for Home Rem-edies exceeded $100,000. Cohen earns additional income by selling manuals and packages on how to get started in the referral business. (Her manual, The Complete Guide to Owning and Operating a Successful Homeowner Referral Network, is available at www.homereferralbiz.com.)