Reviews

Frontdoor’s ‘Telehealth for the Home’ Is Disrupting the Home Service Industry

Frontdoor, Inc. is taking a drastically different approach to home maintenance and repair as a service by making homeowners do all the heavy lifting—and it’s working.
Sophie Kaemmerlé Avatar
Frontdoor Feature
Photo: istockphoto.com

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One of the most difficult challenges for homeowners is keeping up with home maintenance and repairs (and budgeting for them). Unless a home is newly built, it can seem as if there’s a steady stream of inspections, repairs, and replacements: one day, the dishwasher is making a loud noise; another day, there are signs of water damage in the walls; and after a storm, there’s a new roof leak. And even when there are no repairs on the horizon, there are still seasonal home maintenance to-do lists that can seem endless and overwhelming.

Most homeowners are not experts in every aspect of home maintenance and repair. It would be difficult for the average homeowner to know how to diagnose the cause of every issue and then have the knowledge, skill, tools, and even licenses to fix it themselves. Home service professionals—roofers, plumbers, electricians, handymen, and more—are hired precisely for these reasons. But hiring for every issue, big and small, means spending time to find the right pro and having the resources to pay for the labor. Costs can quickly add up. And trusting a stranger to come into one’s home and complete the job satisfactorily can be a big hurdle for many.

That’s where Frontdoor comes in. Bob Vila.com editors Jeff Keleher and Evelyn Auer spoke to Frontdoor CEO Bill Cobb to find out more about what the app can offer homeowners in a pinch.

What exactly is Frontdoor?

Pay for the advice, but provide your own labor: That seems to be the philosophy behind Frontdoor, Inc.’s operation. While it can seem to be a rather ill-conceived trade-off at first, Frontdoor positions itself as a great middle-ground offer between the DIY route and hiring a pro. For a relatively low monthly fee, subscribers have access to home service professionals whom they can consult via a chat box or a video conference in the Frontdoor app—without needing to schedule an in-home appointment.

Conceptually, Frontdoor takes inspiration from the telehealth model, which is a rather novel approach to home repair services. By doing so, it helps eliminate some of the anxiety around home maintenance and streamlines the “hiring” process for homeowners.

Frontdoor video chat with dishwasher
Photo: frontdoorhome.com

In terms of cost alone, a fully digital consultation platform could be an affordable option for some homeowners. For those who are handy and looking to fix a malfunctioning home appliance or home system themselves, simply having the guidance of an expert may be exactly what they need.

In addition to the cost of expert repairs, one of the biggest pain points for homeowners is time spent. There’s a lot of time devoted to finding the right contractor, scheduling home system or appliance repairs, and waiting during a sometimes hours-long appointment window in the middle of the day with the possibility of a no-show. Frontdoor streamlines that process simply by eliminating it. What’s more, if the issue is pressing but not necessarily an emergency (examples such as clogged toilets, backed-up drains, and water heater malfunctions come to mind), it’s reassuring for homeowners to know that they can connect to a professional in just minutes, if not seconds, and resolve the problem without having to wait for a person to travel to their home.

Peace of mind can be an important consideration for homeowners when they’re hiring or simply speaking to a home service provider. Frontdoor all but eliminates doubt, as contractors on call (known as Frontdoor Experts) are employees of Frontdoor, as opposed to being independent contractors who are using Frontdoor as a platform to acquire more clients. Keeping skilled tradespeople on staff as full-time employees seems like a good way for the company to prevent some professionals from treating the job as a side hustle to their main contractor job and, as such, give it their full and undivided attention. However, this only applies to the video consultation aspect of the business; any on-site repairs would be handled by an independent contractor. In most cases, sending a technician on-site is framed as a measure of last resort or if safety dictates the repair to be performed by a licensed professional.

Frontdoor man on videochat
Photo: frontdoorhome.com

In practice, not every problem is diagnosable or solved with a DIY fix, even if it’s guided by a pro over a video call. And not every homeowner will have the right tools on hand (though a good place to start is by investing in one of the best home tool kits). The risk for larger or more technical and complex tasks is that users would be paying a fee only to be told that they actually do need to bring a professional on-site. But the idea translates well for services that a handyman would typically tackle, such as replacing a faucet or identifying the cause of an overflowing toilet. This is apparent in the data: According to Frontdoor CEO Bill Cobb, of all the categories of professionals that the service offers, requests for handymen are by far the most common and account for 28 percent of all calls.

Contractor image
Photo: frontdoorhome.com

Long term, there could also be other benefits beyond ease, convenience, and cost; homeowners could very well learn how to fix common issues with their appliances or home systems by walking through simple repairs with technicians. This could give them the confidence and knowledge to start down a path toward tackling more DIY jobs around the house.

Pros

  • Relatively cheaper than traditional hiring
  • Streamlined processes
  • Peace of mind provided
  • Empowerment of the average homeowner to DIY small tasks and fixes

Cons

  • Not every issue has a DIY solution
  • Homeowners may not have the tools needed
  • Pros dispatched to homes are third-party contractors

Frontdoor Plans and Pricing

Frontdoor offers two membership levels: one free and one paid. Both membership levels are available nationwide.

  • Frontdoor Basic: This plan is free. It includes one free video chat session with an expert and the option to upgrade membership.
  • Frontdoor Unlimited: This plan costs $25 per year and is an annual membership. It includes unlimited video chat sessions with experts, access to on-demand services, exclusive discounts (up to 50 percent off retail pricing) for heating and A/C system replacements with financing options available (but these options may not be available in all areas), and discounts and special pricing for home products and services that can be booked at any time (similarly, this will depend on the user’s location).
contractor with electrical box
Photo: frontdoorhome.com

Frontdoor vs. American Home Shield

At face value, Frontdoor’s highest tier sounds a lot like a home warranty policy. The best home warranty companies like American Home Shield have similar plans. At first glance, it may not be entirely clear what the difference between Frontdoor Premium and a home warranty is—in both cases, the customer will pay a membership fee and, if needed, pay a service fee to have a pro come out and complete the home repair. But it seems that this is no coincidence: American Home Shield, founded in 1971, has over 50 years of experience in the home warranty industry and is a Frontdoor brand.

Ultimately, according to CEO Bill Cobb, a traditional home warranty and Frontdoor each target different audiences. The typical American Home Shield customer is primarily concerned with budget protection, whereas Frontdoor customers are interested in quick, convenient service. However, there is a special emphasis on the idea that Frontdoor’s service is meant to complement traditional home warranty services rather than replace them.

Homeowners seem to love Frontdoor, but is it right for you?

Frontdoor’s messaging is landing with customers, and as of September 2023, the company surpassed 1 million downloads of its app. According to Frontdoor’s own earnings reports, the company also noted an 8 percent revenue increase in the third quarter of 2023 compared to the prior year period. It even released a series of quirky musical-leaning commercials centered around the core concept: celebrating the efficiency and empowerment the service can offer a homeowner.

Frontdoor women with app success
Photo: frontdoorhome.com

Frontdoor is a great alternative to traditional expert hiring processes in the home services industry. It has a lot to offer—but also a lot to prove. The creative solution to something homeowners perhaps never identified as a problem to begin with is a gamble, and only time will tell if the company is capitalizing on the virtual-first trend and if it has staying power to outlast changes in homeownership trends and rates. In any case, Frontdoor is making a compelling pitch to younger homeowners who are DIY-inclined and looking to cut costs associated with home maintenance and repair—and who may be slightly less patient than the previous generation of homeowners. However, homeowners who want a little more control over the entire hiring process may not be as enamored with the idea of Frontdoor; sometimes, hiring a top local small business can feel just as empowering.

Knowing that Frontdoor may not be the ultimate solution shouldn’t stop homeowners from trying out the app, especially if they find that fixing many of their home’s issues actually can be DIY projects. Frontdoor specialists can provide expert guidance and advice—so even if you just have a question about choosing materials or need to decide between repairing or replacing that dishwasher, a knowledgeable professional is just a few clicks away, ready to give their expert opinion and help you weigh your options to give you more confidence as a homeowner.