Mesa residents Matt and Judy Thometz thought they were buying into a dream when they signed the escrow papers for a second home in Payson.
The deal on the three-and-a-half-year-old house closed last November. Their first stay at the house Thanksgiving weekend was traumatic enough; Matt celebrated his 50th birthday. But their next visit, on New Year's weekend, was the one that almost did the couple in.
A faulty valve in an evaporative cooler had allowed water to leak through the roof for about three weeks while they were away.
The ceiling was bulging. Walls were bulging. The wall-to-wall carpeting was fully underwater in the hallway, all three bedrooms, and in most of the living room.
But this was their new home, so the Thometzes mustered up their pioneering spirit and decided to stick it out. As they climbed into their port-a-bed, a four-by-eight foot section of the ceiling collapsed.
All this happened, by the way, after Matt had been given a speeding ticket on his way to Payson, and his dog bit him on the nose.
"Judy and I were wondering if all this was a sign that we shouldn't have a house in Payson," he said with the kind of laugh that only time and distance can produce.
Within 24 hours, though, the Thometzes felt much better, thanks to a unique new Concierge Services program offered by their Realtor, Coldwell Banker Bishop Realty, and its head concierge, Kay Bell.
"We had no idea what to do," Matt said. "But we remembered discussing this program with our agent. So we immediately called Kay Bell."
Bell, in turn, interrupted her own holiday weekend to call the Thometzes' home warranty service, their insurance agent, and their home's builder -- who drove over the next day to help fix the problem, even though he bore no responsibility for it.
Bell also dropped by the couple's soggy homestead with a care package of sandwiches and goodies -- precisely one day before Coldwell Banker Bishop Realty was to officially kick-start its Concierge Services program.
Based on the similarly-named services offered by fine hotels, Coldwell Banker's program has been adapted to help the company's clients deal with the often overwhelming details of buying a home -- before, during and long after their move.
The Concierge Services program was adopted on a national level in January 1999 by the Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corporation, which has 19 Arizona affiliate offices with 1,100 real estate agents. Pugel began testing the program in September before moving ahead with it full force Jan. 1.
With the Concierge Service, all a homeowner has to do to surmount the challenges of home improvement, maintenance and repair is call Bell, who'll perform all the long, drawn-out, time-killing tasks new homeowners have heretofore performed themselves.
She'll arrange to have the utilities, phone service and cable television activated. She'll hook you up with the best landscapers, plumbers, interior decorators and fix-it folks in the area. She'll help you find valet parking for your housewarming, and hand you detailed information on any area of the community you're interested in.
She'll give you an official Concierge Services membership card and a monster three-ring binder filled with the names and addresses of quality-screened vendors, as well as discount and freebie coupons.
If Bell can't find someone among her 60 Rim country vendors to do your dirty work, she'll scour the Valley through the connections of her sister company, Coldwell Banker Success Realty, which has a network partnership of more than 100 vendors.
And best of all, everything Bell does for her clients -- all the legwork, all the phone calls, all the research -- is free of charge.
"The only thank-you I ask for is that they remember us," she said.
"The reason we know this program is working very successfully," said Coldwell Banker owner/broker Ray Pugel, "is that we're getting thank-you notes from our customers, to the agents and to Kay, saying, 'This is great, we've never had a move like this, it's been so easy.'"
The way Pugel and Bell have it set up, the concierge program is also a boon for vendors.
"In the Valley, some vendors have dropped their Yellow Pages advertising, because they don't need it anymore," Pugel said.
The listed vendors, Bell said, are "all high-quality, pre-screened service providers. These aren't just any companies; they're companies that come to us because we've utilized them, they provided excellent service, and they're continuing to provide excellent service."
Once they pass the screening process, vendors pay an annual marketing fee of $250 for inclusion in the Concierge Services book, where each company is given a full page and an ad on Coldwell Banker's Web site.
Pugel believes that programs like Concierge Services will soon transform not just the real estate industry, but other businesses as well.
Providing total customer satisfaction, before and after the sale, is always a winning business strategy, he said, and these days, saving customers time and aggravation is a valuable way to do business.
"Ultimately," Bell said, "we're doing this is for the customer. The customer comes first."
The service provides customers with more of that elusive stuff money can't buy and people can't seem to get enough of: time, she said.
"Just hooking up all the utilities alone can take from two to four hours, and that's just on one side of the transaction," she said. "If you're selling and buying at the same time, that doubles the time it can take. So right there, we've given you four to eight hours of free time and no headaches. That's a bargain at any price."
Matt Thometz couldn't agree more.
"I really don't know what we would have done without Kay. The program is absolutely wonderful. She is wonderful."
"After all that, we still want to have a second home in Payson."