For many homeowners a major question is where can I find an electrician? A carpenter? Tiler? Gardener? Debbie Farson has come up with an answer in Home Solutions Connection Inc.
A stay-at-home Mount Vernon mom turned entrepreneur, this Georgetown University trained lawyer and member of both the Virginia and District of Columbia bars, successfully practiced law for seven years before having her first child.
As the family grew — she now has three children — and home life developed into her primary focus, Farson became more aware of the difficulties inherent in finding, scheduling and following through with quality home improvement and repair professionals. Believing there must be a better way she began developing a business plan. That was 2001.
Today, Farson is the president of a firm that evaluates, screens, and serves as matchmaker between contractors and home owners. It is "a comprehensive referral network linking homeowners to prescreened home improvement contractors in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md." And, unlike Internet and other mass marketing similar services, she stays connected to that relationship until each job is completed.
"We've owned several homes ourselves and I began wondering why so many people were going to the Yellow Pages and virtually playing Russian roulette with finding a competent contractor. I knew there had to be a better way," Farson said.
That "better way" was her new company. "After receiving a request for referral from a homeowner, Home Solutions Connection, puts them in touch with a pre-screened contractor. Once that connection has been made, we follow up to make sure the project is completed to the homeowner's satisfaction. I survey the homeowner upon completion of the project to ensure that my network remains of the highest quality," Farson said.
Although there are similar services locally and nationally, what sets Farson's business apart is:
* There is no cost to the homeowner for her services.
* Contractors must be invited to join her network, they cannot buy in.
* Contractors pay a fee only for leads that result in jobs.
* Contractors must meet all licensing and insurance requirements and adhere to the highest quality work and service standards.
* Homeowners can choose to access the service through the Web site or communicate directly with a Home Solutions Connection representative via telephone.
* The firm has access to trained professionals in even the most specialized project areas.
* Farson follows each project through to the end to make sure the homeowner is completely satisfied.
* Farson's firm is not a general contractor and does not represent any contractor exclusively so she has the flexibility to recommend the best professional to meet each homeowner's needs.
"We put two parties together and then step back. But, after each job we do a satisfaction survey. Then we invoice the contractor at the end of the job," Farson explained.
THAT METHODOLOGY and end result was buttressed by both contractors and satisfied homeowners. "We've been working together for at least three years. It's been a win/win situation for everybody," said Jeff Sellers, owner, Merrifield Paint & Design in Arlington.
"She provides a great value to homeowners. And, it's a way for any homeowner to get a reliable contractor for any type job. That's a rarity in this area," he said.
Sellers' assessment was buttressed by homeowner J. David Byrd. "I've used her services three times for various plumbing and electrical jobs. The professionalism was basically out of the ballpark each time," he said.
"Everyone she recommended has worked out very well, their prices were reasonable and the work was done on time. The people she has recommended are all very professional. And, she is very good about follow up," Byrd said.
His reaction was verified by Ginnie Webster, another satisfied client. "She is really good with follow through. She's very thorough and she does a lot of upfront work to make sure what your needs really are," she said.
"She also follows up and is great on customer service. I've been back to her three or four times for a variety of jobs such as painting, plumbing and handyman services," Webster said.
From another contractor point of view, Jack Canan, owner, Like A Rock Construction, Inc, said, "The clients she provides are very good. Because of her they are better schooled in budgeting for the jobs they want done and have a more realistic view of pricing."
Canan saw Farson as, "A good contact for local people. She does her homework before recommending anyone."
A NATIVE OF TEMPE, Ariz., Farson came to the Washington area when she enrolled in Georgetown University Law School in 1989. There she met her husband, Steve, who from West Virginia and was in his third year of Georgetown law school. He is an attorney with the U.S. Treasury Department.
After practicing law for seven years with an insurance defense firm Farson became pregnant with her first child David now 11. Since then Kattie, 9, and Carrie, 5, have entered the scene.
"Although I really loved practicing law I realized you couldn't leave it at the end of the day. So that's when I decided to become a full-time mother," she said.
Owning homes in Old Town Alexandria and Villamay before moving to the Williamsburg Manor area of Mount Vernon District, Farson realized all the various elements that go into making a house a home, including the structural and maintenance elements. Thus Home Solutions Connection, Inc. was born in 2002.
Her firm focuses on both Fairfax and Montgomery counties. "Although I refer all over Fairfax County my main concentration is in southern and central Fairfax County, Arlington, and Alexandria," she said. "Today, the business is more in Virginia than Maryland."
Having helped more than 1,000 customers since she started, Farson verified her business has been profitable. "The challenge has been keeping a lid on it. I have to remind myself why I started this — to be with my children. Once they're all in school I may consider expanding," she said.
"I've thought about getting office space and hiring personnel, but that has to wait or I'll defeat the original purpose," Farson said.
She now has more than 50 contractors in virtually every specialty in her network. She works with 25 to 30 of them on a regular basis.
Once she puts a homeowner and contractor in contact with one another, Farson follows up within a week to see if its a match or not. "Our follow up distinguishes us from an anonymous internet company with no human contact," she said.
As her card says: "Your local resource for skilled desirable contractors." For additional information Farson can be reached by phone or FAX at 703-360-8222 or on her Web page at www.homesolutionsconnection.com.