- November 6, 2015
If you own a home, you know the pain of repairs.
Now multiply that by 1,000 homes a year and you get a sense of what Annalisa Xioutas has to manage.
Xioutas (pronounced “zootus”) is president and CEO of FFI Contracting Services, a Fort Myers-based company that repairs homes in foreclosure and other forms of distress in 38 states.
Xioutas manages thousands of repairs every year with just 11 employees thanks to software program her company developed. “We've learned to be lean and mean,” she says.
Software is the only way to manage the company's spectacular growth, but she says she had to hire a software programmer to write it because there wasn't any available. Without it, Xioutas says she'd need 20 to 30 people.
Previously, FFI was handling the work via email, but the process quickly became unwieldy. The work is divided among project managers at FFI who manage the process with task lists, due dates and other reminders for each client. The software system ties in with QuickBooks for accounting, and employees earn bonuses based on growing the business.
So far, Xioutas says she's spent $25,000 to develop the software — dubbed uniFFI — and expects the total bill to be $50,000 once she's added modules for customers. Once completed, customers will be able to view real-time how their projects are progressing via their computers and make comments.
Xioutas and her husband acquired FFI when it had just $400,000 a year in revenues in 2008. A former residential broker who hails from a construction and development family on Merritt Island, Xioutas says the business initially consisted of cleaning foreclosed homes.
“Our clients were field-service companies,” she says. Banks and investors hire one of a half-dozen field-service companies to clean and repair foreclosed homes for resale.
But cleaning margins were low and her husband, Jack Xioutas, tired of handling “trash outs” in the lingo. “He cleaned his last toilet,” she chuckles.
So FFI became a general contracting firm to do higher-margin repairs. Xioutas says being a woman-owned business gives her an advantage for work where a certain percentage must be performed by a woman- or minority-owned business. “Now all we do is repairs,” she says.
Over the last five years, Xioutas has developed a network of 1,500 subcontractors she can call on to bid on work. Once she assembles a proposal to repair a home, she says she wins 30% of the bids.
Finding capable subcontractors is always a challenge. She checks their complaint records and makes sure they respond promptly to requests for bids. “They have to be able to answer emails and send photos,” says Xioutas, who travels to some of the bigger job sites herself, sometimes with her 10-year-old daughter in tow.
The average repair ranges from $12,000 to $15,000, and it could go higher in the future because Xioutas is targeting higher-end homes. For example, one client has a 9,000-square-foot foreclosed home in Atlanta that needs extensive repairs. “It's not just anyone that can do it,” Xioutas says.
Xioutas estimates there's at least several more years of foreclosures to hit the market. “It just goes on and on and on,” she says. “There is a backlog.”
But Xioutas is trying to earn business from large investor groups that are buying hundreds of homes at steep discounts and renting them out. She envisions repairing these homes and later handling the sales when investors decide to cash out. “They're still in acquisition mode,” she says.