Features Management

Surviving and Serving in the Wake of COVID-19

Liberty Home Guard Co-CEOS Ben Joseph and David Moreno on BronxNet Photo courtesy of Liberty Home Guard

Having one of its CEOs survive COVID-19 would be a source for celebration for any business. For Liberty Home Guard, a New York City-based direct seller of home warranty plans, it also provided a unique insight into how it will conduct its service business going forward.

Home insurance policies cover the structure of a home in the event of disaster. Liberty Home Guard’s home warranties cover the appliances and systems within the home. Business was going well, when on Friday, March 13, co-CEO David Moreno fell ill with a moderate fever, chills and an overall feeling of weakness. Within days, his fever spiked to 104.2° and he’d lost his sense of taste and smell, among other COVID-19 symptoms.

“I was immobilized for much of a 12-day term,” he said. “I had every symptom in the book. I slept with ice packs to keep the fever down. There were mind-numbing headaches, body aches and difficulty breathing. I’m a high-energy individual, so it was tough to deal with.” Ben Joseph, also co-CEO, was left to supervise the company’s 35 employees and continue a high-contact business in the middle of a pandemic. The fact that Moreno got sick on a weekend gave him the time to assess and prepare, especially important since 80-hour weeks aren’t unusual for both during normal times.

“I have a military background, so am good in high-stress situations,” said Joseph, who served in the Israeli Special Forces. “I just flipped a switch and told my wife, ‘You won’t see me much for the next couple of weeks.’ The best I could do is service my customers to the best of my ability, and that’s what we did.”

Essentially, Liberty Home Guard went into triage mode, Joseph said. “We assessed who we could help and who we could help first. We had processes in place. Fortunately, our team is passionate about bringing innovation to an industry where it’s way overdue, and that shows during times of trial.”

The company provides warranty services in 39 U.S. states including Washington D.C. Because it negotiates bulk discounts from suppliers, Liberty Home Guard says it can save clients anywhere from 30% to 50% on repairs and replacements. The company underwrites the typical appliances such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and the like. Keeping these and other systems in good repair have taught the two about what appeals most to potential homeowners — and how that can change.

“The heating and cooling systems are normally top of mind. You can be without a microwave for a month, but if you lose your AC in the summer, you have problems,” Joseph said. “But everything matters, especially now.”

But it also has underwritten more unusual features, including custom-made walk-in wine refrigerators and wine coolers, pools and grotto waterfalls, outdoor fire pits, outdoor kitchens, spiral staircases, home theater systems and even roof-based HVAC systems that would require a crane to repair. A new trend, Joseph says, is bidets that are installed within existing toilets. And recently, the company has handled a significantly higher number of calls related to refrigerators.

“When the pandemic hit and everyone lost their minds and ran to the grocery stores to stock up, they overloaded their refrigerators, causing the compressors and coils basically to stop working,” Moreno said. “Generally speaking, we’ve seen an influx of claims because people are home and they’re using their systems more regularly, probably more than they’ve ever used that before.”

In addition, many appliances now have more bells and whistles, such as Wifi controls, that add more issues. That means more repair calls. The company works with a network of 10,000 independent licensed contractors, all of whom must, obviously, enter a home to conduct repairs. Moreno’s experience — and subsequent consultations with doctors — have led the company to establish even more detailed safety procedures to protect the techs and the clients.

“We’ve put together a list of advisories we’re giving to our technicians and customers,” Moreno said. “We advise them wear gloves and a mask before entering the client’s home. Before they enter a customer’s home, we call and ask them to unlock and open the door, walk away from it and wait in a separate room to maintain six to 10 feet of social distancing.”

Both are asked to wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes.

Moreno was fully recovered by April. But the lessons both the company and their customers have learned will linger, Joseph said. Liberty Home Guard had already set up a mobile IT department in case of emergency (most likely a hurricane) to allow staff to work from home.

“That plan applied here and was very useful, especially when David was sick,” Joseph said.

The company will continue to invest in more technology, including learning more about various internet service providers so that some repairs could be carried out remotely.

“It’s definitely a new world after this,” Joseph added. “We’ve made it our mission in life to improve people’s experiences around their home. Renters can simply call a super to fix issues. We’re trying to bring that same convenience to homeowners, and we’ve done a good job. [COVID-19] was a test of our mettle. We passed it with flying colors.”