April 05, 2016
In 2011, Sweeten Founder Jean Brownhill Lauer, then a practicing architect, suffered more than a few headaches trying to find a general contractor for her apartment. When she finally did sift through listings and hired one who met her needs (or seemed to), the results didn't exactly leave her glowing.
The takeaway: Finding a good contractor is hard work, even for an architect.
By summer 2011, realizing that much, Lauer launched her matchmaking service for homeowners and general contractors, Sweeten, in New York City. Today, Sweeten expands its services outside of New York for the first time – in Philadelphia.
"Homeowners have a certain type of energy in New York, and Philly has that same excitement around home renovations," Preeti Sriratana, co-founder and chief operating officer of Sweeten, told PhillyVoice. "Why wouldn't we make it in Philly?"
Sriratana, who joined Sweeten after meeting Lauer at Harvard Kennedy School, was struck by this "energy" while living in Center City between 2009-12, working a consulting gig that had him here on a part-time basis.
How the service works: Homeowners, who access the service for free, fill out a form that includes standard information about the space being renovated, the desired budget and timeframe. An algorithm then matches the listing with three profiles of general contractors who meet their needs; moreover, if any of the three selected contractors are unavailable for the project, they're reached out to and replaced before ever being presented to the homeowner.
The contractors go through a fairly rigorous vetting process, too. Sweeten ensures all contractors are licensed, have updated insurance information, have passed a background check and are in good standing with the Better Business Bureau -- a "no ***holes test," Sriratana quipped. They also ask for three homeowners they've worked with to call as references and apply a homeowner-driven rating system once they're on board.
The service stands out, Sriratana explained, because it not only offers their portfolio of approved general contractors, but project managers from Sweeten follow homeowners all the way through the process to ensure no balls are dropped.
"We like to say we follow homeowners from Pinterest all the way through the punch list," Sriratana said.
That means project managers also work with homeowners to sort through the budget for and scope of the renovation before ever being matched with a general contractor. Sriratana added that it's an ideal alternative to, say, getting a recommendation from a friend, because a friend's home needs may not actually line up with your own.
Sweeten spent the past few months training about 1,000 of the 5,000 contractors in the region. Currently, a few hundred of those are already available for hire.
To boot, Sweeten has plans to open an office in Philadelphia "when the time is right," Sriratana said.
"Renovations are extremely local," he explained. "And in order to be able to understand our homeowners and build that trust, we want to be as close as possible.”