- May 27, 2022
Sarasota-based Murray Homes President Steve Murray was contemplating how to grow his luxury homebuilding firm’s connected side business, Murray Premier Services, when he got a cold-call email one day a year ago. A full-service home maintenance company, MPS was designed for waterfront and custom luxury-built homes. It had done well in a niche market. But Murray believed it could be much bigger.
The email sender was Matt DiMauro. A partner with Sarasota-based Praxis S-10, a national consulting group for residential HVAC businesses, DiMauro and his fellow Praxis S-10 executive Terry Nicholson, it turns out, had been researching solutions to Murray’s challenges. Only Murray and DiMauro were total strangers.
“Homebduling is an eat-what-you-kill business model,” DiMauro says, where builders, especially luxury ones, generate multimillion-dollar sales and then, after the first-year warranty and check-ups, move on to the next customer. Like Murray when he launched MPS in 2017, DiMauro and Nicholson — the latter is CEO of Praxis — believed there was a gaping hole in the luxury home services market. They thought a white-glove, Ritz-Carlton style home management service, for homes worth at least $2 million, would fill that hole. Not just in Sarasota, but nationwide. DiMauro and Nicholson wrote a business plan. They just needed a luxury builder to partner with. “Steve,” Nicholson says, “was headed in the right direction.”
That led DiMauro to hit up Murray. The trio bonded and soon started working on what they call Proper. The company, says DiMauro, is Murray Premier Services “on steroids,” charging an initial fee and then a monthly fee of anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $10,000 at the peak. Rates are based on the size and complexity of the house.
In return for the fee, the client/homeowner gets a personal home care manager who creates a detailed profile of the home. That manager then develops a customized care plan for the house, and using Proper’s proprietary software, manages all the repair needs, renovation and anything else home-related. All services are then available à la carte from Proper’s network of verified vendor partners at market rates, say company officials. “The best analogy I can think of is this like a concierge doctor” for your house, the British-born Murray says. “This offers piece of mind.”
DiMauro agrees, also likening Proper to a “fractional estate manager.” Proper also fits snugly into what DiMauro, a 2017 Business Observer 40 under 40 winner, considers a key business lesson he’s learned, in just about any industry: customers crave centralization.
The business partners launched Proper in January. Initial growth goals are modest — sign up 50 customers by the end of year in the Sarasota-Bradenton market, to go with others coming from Murray Premier. DiMauro says bringing on three to five homes a month is the right amount to not dilute customer service. With that proof of concept, the next goal is to franchise, targeting other luxury homebuilders nationwide sometime in 2024, DiMauro says, for a “business in a box.”
Murray is proof positive the Proper concept can resonate with other potential luxury homebuilders. His idea for MPS dates back to summer 2017 and Hurricane Irma. Murray and his family rode out the storm inland in a 3,000-square-foot Murray Homes model home — along with some 30 other people, colleagues and their families, and six dogs. When the storm cleared, Murray Homes’ personnel checked on all the homes the company had built, calling each client with an update. “The response we got from clients was incredible,” he says.
While Irma was an outlier, Murray began to think there was a business opportunity in full-circle luxury concierge home services. Something deeper than just checking on a home when people are up North. “How can we create a one-stop shop for all this?” Murray wondered.
Murray started with low-hanging fruit: Murray Homes clients. Now the business has a few non-Murray customers, too.
Proper required a minimal financial investment from the three founders, but a considerable amount of time logged between them, DiMauro says. The company opened with five employees, including two full-time home case managers.
Nicholson, with a long career building home services franchise brands, in addition to helping to grow a national franchise physical therapy business, says despite it being new, he doesn’t consider Proper a startup. He’s fully confident in the model, not as much as the unknowns. “Our success won’t be based on concept,” Nicholson says. “It will be based on execution.”