Handyman service helps North Jersey seniors stay in their homes

North Jersey seniors have a new way to paint walls in their homes, fix loose planks, and clean basements: ask a “neighbor” to do the chores using an online service.

New York-based Umbrella combines individuals over the age of 65 with local contractors to help them complete mundane chores and odd jobs for a reasonable fee so people can stay in the homes after they’ve stayed in the Having possessed it for decades can no longer do housework.

These tasks include everything from repairing the faucet to stopping food and tutoring.

“People are always amazed at the range of things we can do,” said Umbrella founder Lindsay Ullman. “We came to New Jersey because we had people in the church asking us to be there.”

The news about Umbrella, which hit the market nearly two years ago, has largely spread through word of mouth. The company now has thousands of customers and contract workers, and its Bergen County office marks its first expansion outside of New York.

“I mentioned it at the senior center,” said Hermina Magee, a Wood-Ridge resident who joined Umbrella in June. “It’s a great answer for seniors. It’s very simple.”

The Bergen Volunteer Center in Hackensack has a similar but more limited home improvement program, said Michele Ogden, the center’s manager for successful aging. When residents call the center with inquiries beyond the scope of their volunteer team, they will forward them to Umbrella.

“I make a lot of recommendations to Umbrella,” said Ogden. “It’s been very well received.”

The company is based on technology. Umbrella members can submit service requests online or through the company’s smartphone app. Other residents like Magee prefer to call for service requests.

Ullman says technology is not an obstacle for most of Umbrella’s customers.

“We’re seeing our members increasingly use and become familiar with technology,” said Ullman. “When we visit our members, they have Alexas in their house, they have doorbell doors, they have Nest thermostats.”

Umbrella membership costs $ 200 per year plus $ 20 per hour for a variety of services. A minimum of one hour applies to all tasks. The services are billed in 15-minute increments after the first hour.

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Umbrella’s independent contractors, known as “neighbors,” make $ 16 an hour. Neighbors are required to undergo an interview, a background check, and three reference checks before joining the network.

Less than 10 percent of the neighboring applicants are admitted. Most are retirees who “love these house maintenance chores,” said Ullman, adding that the company rarely hears complaints about failed jobs.

“They keep track of everything,” said Magee, adding that the list of services offered is expanding weekly. “You are always on time. I was very, very satisfied.”

Members are responsible for purchasing any materials needed for improvement, but they can have Umbrella neighbors collect them from a store.

The company also provides a 24-hour emergency number for issues like burst pipes, broken air conditioning, and lockouts.

For major corrections, the company connects its members with local experts. The cost of intensive projects will vary, but companies working with the company will also be screened and required to provide upfront offers and priority service to Umbrella customers.

“Older adults and seniors are very concerned about getting a fair price,” said Ullman. “There are many very talented professional companies out there who want to do a good job for all of the people they serve. Our job is to find them and study them. “

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