By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Rick Satori worked on a construction project a decade ago with a neighbor. Last year, he built a deck on his house. But when his roof needed repair, he asked for bids from three contractors. In the end, there were so many issues involved—insulation, mold, wiring, and others—he gave up trying to evaluate the quality of the projected work.
“We got one quote that was neatly bound, with photographs and even my name on it, but we did not go with that person, it was so complicated—we went with the cheapest bid,” said Satori, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect his privacy.
Such dilemmas are so widespread that a former construction and real estate entrepreneur has just dissolved all his businesses, sold all his properties, and started a company to help individuals like Satori.
The company, IDO, is designed to pair homeowners with superior contractors— those that are carefully vetted by the founder, Tien Ha, and his team.
“Most homeowners are very wary of hiring contractors,” said Ha in a recent interview. “And most contractors expect to be distrusted.”
Instead, for a subscription, Ha and his experts come out to your home, evaluate any future problems, then handle all contact with contractors.
Depending on the price of the subscription, a homeowner receives a given number of service tickets. One ticket might include a roof repair, depending on the complexity of the job.
“All the details are spelled out beforehand,” said Ha.
Another area where IDO can help is with home improvement, or what Ha calls “capital projects.”
Take for instance the case of Satori, who also recently had his kitchen remodeled—with a different contractor.
“He was great all around, but he would talk forever, he was just really friendly,” said Satori. “The thing that I would get nervous about is that a contractor charges billable hours, so if you have a contractor that is being really friendly and chatty and telling stories, are you getting charged for the conversation? It was awkward.”
If Satori had been a member of IDO, Ha would have handled any such sensitive issues. Satori might not have had to deal with the contractor at all.
Most contractors out there are bad, according to Ha. “That’s why we have a lengthy onboarding process.”
Another tiresome detail that would be eliminated is what Ha describes as homeowners sometimes feeling the need to impress a contractor with knowledge in order to not be taken advantage of.
Satori, who lives in a house built in 1910, at one point needed to have his furnace repaired.
“I did a lot of research before the repairman came so I would at least know the right vocabulary to use,” he said. “I wasn’t necessarily trying to impress the contractor, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being ripped off. With contractors, it’s a matter of trust. You are entrusting an expert to do something that you know very little about and you are forced to trust them and then give them money.”
In the end, his entire furnace needed to be replaced.
But Ha’s main goal is to give homeowners more time to spend with their families.
“The family dinner is extinct in America,” he said.
IDO’s soft launch was last week, meaning Ha is still tinkering with the final details (he took notes after the Northwest Asian Weekly interview).
For instance, down the line, he might offer the option of synching a homeowner’s schedule with IDO so he can assure that work is done when nobody is at home.
He calls it serving as a “house concierge.”
This might also involve providing copies of your house keys to IDO.
“You already do this for your car when you bring it in for repairs,” he said. “We are doing service for you as a person, we customize our service to serve your needs as a human being.”
A luxury model
IDO is aimed at luxury homes, for now. But Ha also believes millennials who are first-time home buyers or are in the IT industry will benefit from IDO.
Ha has experienced widely differing lives that make him sensitive to the needs of both sides of his business model. As a teenager in Vietnam, his family was so wealthy that he had servants who sat beside him and fed him, a custom for the extremely affluent.
“Until I was 15, I did not even have to pick up the food that went into my mouth,” he said.
But after his family gave everything up to immigrate to the United States, he lived in a basement with them in Kenmore, and worked in manual labor and construction with his father.
“After moving to the U.S., everything crashed around me,” he said. “I had to learn quickly to pitch in to clean toilets and do vacuuming.”
Eventually, he got his break when he spotted a faulty window on a construction site and mentioned it to the foreman. Decades later, he was the owner of a prosperous construction firm, HACT Construction, and an investor in real estate around the region.
Now he is coming full circle.
He said he chose to start IDO because he believes in providing service to others. He would rather do that than simply live off his investments, he said.
The name of the company symbolizes commitment to his customers.
“IDO stands for two things. It means ‘I do,’ as in a wedding, but in this case, you are marrying us rather than the contractor,” he said. “And like a marriage, it takes time to build up that trust.”
Besides trust, commitment, and loyalty, are the values that infuse a marriage as well as a successful business, said Ha.
IDO also stands for “I do, so you don’t have to,” he added.
“The service is for anyone that doesn’t have the time, doesn’t know about the construction industry, or doesn’t want to deal with a contractor,” he said. “We do it for you.”
Likewise, Ha said many contractors don’t want to deal with homeowners.
“Many homeowners challenge and question them,” he said. “Even the best of them get in the habit of putting up a shield.”
All of this can lead to delays, extra hassle, and—with bad contractors—poor service.
Finally, IDO acts as a record keeper of any repairs or upgrades done to the home.
“When you sell your house, you can reference our record keeper,” said Ha.
IDO’s team consists of 30 people, some of whom are devoted exclusively to data management.
Until the end of the year, when the service officially launches, Ha is offering a number of “freebies,” including free onboarding, which normally costs $450.
Customers sign up for one year and pay monthly. The minimum is $9 and does not include work orders, which are paid for separately depending on the scope. Subscriptions of $99, $149, or $199 include work orders. For instance, the $199 charge includes 10 work orders.
“One work order covers everything,” said Ha. “IDO gets all the contractors, and we manage the project.”
After his first day, Ha already had several customers.
For Satori’s part, he ended up hiring different contractors for different parts of his roof repair. Work is still underway.
“The process is time consuming, and if you don’t know anything about it, it is overwhelming. If you can go to one source, I definitely see a benefit for some people,” he said.
To learn more about IDO, go to idohomeownerrep.com.
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.