Even Groucho Marx might have joined a home improvement membership club.
The late, great comedian, as you likely know, had that famous quip: "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." But home improvement services are hardly snobby and exclusive. They'd be glad to have anyone with a pulse – and a bank account. It's a concept that plumbing, heating and cooling services around the country particularly seem to be gravitating toward.
Just as an example, and mentioning these companies shouldn't be considered an endorsement, some of what's out there includes:
- Stan's Heating and Cooling, in Austin, Texas, has a Gold Service Club that includes bi-annual AC tune-ups.
- Jason's Water Systems, another San Antonio company specializing in water treatment appliances, offers a yearly maintenance plan ($120 a year, $12 a month) that includes a full-service cleaning of its water softeners.
- Gem Plumbing, in Lincoln, Rhode Island, offers a VIP Membership Plumbing & Drain Cleaning for $15.95 a month, according to its website. Along with its maintenance program, members get a 15 percent discount off any plumbing and drain cleaning service and 5 percent discounts off things like buying a new septic or air conditioning system.
- Service Stars, in Danbury, Connecticut, has a plumbing and electrical membership and a heating and air conditioning club membership. Along with inspections, it offers things like a 20 percent discount on plumbing and electrical repairs.
The concept behind all these types of services is that your air-conditioning, your water pipes and your furnace are parts of your home that really benefit from tune-ups and general preventative maintenance. If you pay your service a monthly fee, it will periodically send out workers to your home for a preventative maintenance inspection, or if you have a problem, like a leaky toilet, you can get reduced plumbers' rates instead of paying full price.
The homeowner's hope, of course, is that by having regular maintenance, the heating and air-conditioning system will stay around longer than if it had never been serviced, and maybe this will protect against disaster – say, having your sump pump die without warning one rainy night, and suddenly your basement is flooded.
But are these home improvement membership clubs really worth it? Maybe. As with anything, it depends on your point of view. You really should ask yourself the following four questions before you decide.
Are you handy around the house? John Bodrozi, co-founder of HomeZada.com, a home management website, says he pays a monthly membership to an HVAC service, which comes four times a year to inspect his heating and air-conditioning.
"It's a system that is in regular use every month, and it requires electrical skills and product knowledge we don't have," Bodrozi says. "But other tasks such as draining the hot water heater or changing air filters are things that that we are reminded of with our home maintenance calendar, and have the skills to do the task ourselves."
So in other words, if you're mechanically inclined, and a true DIY-er, you could definitely make the case that you don't really need this.
Are you organized, especially when it comes to your home? If you've ever hired a heating and cooling guy, only to have him tell you that your heat gave out because you haven't changed your filter in three years, then you're probably a good candidate for one of these services.
Still, in many cases what these service people do isn't a lot of work, says Coleen Pantalone, a professor of finance at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University in Boston. "But like paying bills," she adds, "you need to set up a schedule and follow it. If you decide you just don't want to be bothered with any of it, then buy a membership and let the company do the work. But recognize you will still have to set up appointments and wait for someone to come to your house."
Do you really have the money for a membership? That's the key question. It's easy to get sucked into the marketing mission of these companies without crunching the numbers and asking yourself what $15 or $20 a month will do to your finances in the long run.
It is definitely a good deal for the service company, Pantalone says. "It is steady income and generally a nice profit," she says.
But that isn't to say these services don't make sense. Even Pantalone, who isn't a fan, admits that these services may buy peace of mind. But she doesn't think they'll buy you all that much time.
"We know that older water heaters are more likely to leak and older furnaces are more likely to fail, but that is about all we can predict. No matter how many times someone monitors your systems, problems like these will happen and are not all that likely to be caught by an inspection," Pantalone says. "Just like regularly changing the oil in your car, a little diligence and effort by homeowners is probably all that you need."
Is your house old? If you've bought a new home, you're already spending a small fortune on new furniture, maybe a lawn mower and you're adjusting to paying your mortgage. Your appliances are likely new, and it would be nice to think that they'll last for some time. You probably don't need plumbers and electricians servicing your equipment. It may be harder to make that argument, though, if you have an old home, or you've recently purchased a house that's only new to you but has been around for a few decades.
But whatever you decide, it would be prudent to start putting money aside, in a savings account, for when you need to replace your water heater, air-conditioning system or whatever you have that you fear won't be long for this world. As Pantalone observes, eventually, everything is going to leak and fail.
Williams got his start working in entertainment reporting in 1993, as an associate editor at "BOP," a teen entertainment magazine, and freelancing for publications, including Entertainment Weekly. He later moved to Ohio and worked for several years as a part-time features reporter at The Cincinnati Post and continued freelancing. His articles have been featured in outlets such as Life magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cincinnati Magazine and Ohio Magazine.
For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his Twitter page.
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