Soon after the monsoons last year, Bala Subramaniam needed to urgently execute water-proofing work in his ancestral home at Nariman Point to fix leakages that were damaging the walls. It looked difficult as the 65-year-old NRI (non-resident Indian) had to leave for Nigeria, where he has been residing for the past 30 years.
Animesh Dey, an engineer who runs a consulting business in Nashville, with his mother Kanika Dey
However, the work was done and that too, in his absence. He hired the services of Origin Home Care Services, which offers to look after the maintenance of second homes, mostly for NRIs, while they are away. “It is one thing to hire a contractor to fix the leakages, but another to trust them to do a proper job, clean up thereafter and ensure the safety of your home. Knowing that professionals were overseeing the site, I was at ease,” says Subramaniam.
The founder of Origin Home Care Services, Mikail Pardiwala, is a 24-year-old psychology student, who stumbled upon an idea when he saw his 80-year-old neighbour struggle to carry out maintenance paper work and tackle some legal issues while her children were abroad. Last November, he launched his company with three other partners. “My father is an interior designer and we had helped a few NRI clients rent our their spaces after completion of interior work.
Usually when NRIs come down, they spend the first week of their holiday tackling repairs, cleaning, payments and legal issues. It shouldn’t be so,” says Pardiwala, who has clients in Dubai, Canada, Hong Kong and the US.
Pardiwala offers annual packages as well as individual services, which can be customised as per the client’s needs.
The cost ranges from R1,200 per visit to R75,000 annually, depending on the number of services a client signs up for.
Mikail Pardiwala colour co-ordinates a tile sample that needs to be replaced at an NRI client’s flat in Khar. pic/Sameer Markande
The services include home inspections, utility bill and society maintenance payments, mail pick-ups, pest control, preventive maintenance, property tax payments and even comprehensive cleaning. Origin Home Care offers the services even if the home is rented out. For 40-year-old Suresh Modi, (name changed on request), Pardiwali’s company handles owner-tenant relationship. “They handle every aspect of our responsibilities as owners, including day-to-day operations pertaining to the property such as arranging repairs and dealing with the society. Recently, we faced a leakage problem coming from an adjacent apartment, which was causing damage to our apartment and others below it. Being based in the US, it was impossible for me to oversee the situation. Origin Home Care facilitated the entire repair plan and executed it too,” says Modi.
The trust factor
When you are away from your home, there are few people you can trust to take care of your home back here. And this mutual feeling is what is opening up a market, believes Pardiwala. “You can always ask relatives to help, but it doesn’t always work out. Hiring a domestic help is an option NRIs are forced to consider, but when you are hiring a service, you are convinced that professionals will handle the task well. We give clients timely updates on the status of their flat and any issues that may crop up and taking approval at every step. We even send before and after pictures to let them know how he work looks,” says Pardiwala, who relies mostly on word-of-mouth medium to grow his
One of the earliest firms to offer similar services was TTK Group, which started a health care plan for dependants of NRIs, even before cashless insurances came into existence in 2000. “We were, may be, a little ahead of our times,” says Suresh P, managing director of Your Man In India, a Bangalore-based company which was formed out of TTK in 2004 as a concierge service.
The idea, this time, was to offer NRIs during their lifecycle abroad, starting from students, to new professionals, to Green Card seekers. “Students need transcripts, new professionals need school and college documents and green card seekers realise that they need a birth certificate. And, owners of ancestral properties need someone to maintain their homes back in India,” he says.
Since 2007, property has been the top concern of clients, says Suresh. “Issues of encroachment on property, disputes with siblings are trending and applying for OCI (overseas citizenship of India) are our most-sought services, which are available across India,” he adds.
Support for parents
Similarly, five years ago, Animesh Chowdhury founded NRI Parental Company in Kolkata, which solely takes care of elderly people whose children live abroad. A software engineer in the US, he was faced with an emergency when his father fell ill back home. “My parents live alone, and there was no real support for my parents. Sure, relatives stepped forward, but after a certain point, they were on their own. That’s when I, along with my cousin in Kolkata, decided to open an in-house concierge service that helped ‘NRI dependants’ while they were away,” Chowdhury tells us over the phone. His company charges a reasonable cost of $15.99 for six hours a day, and a three month membership costs $175. Every visit to the home costs the client $1.50 an invoice is sent at the end of every month depending on the service usage, which could be grocery shopping, home visits, doctor appointments or mediclaim matters among other.
Many NRIs are relieved that such services are finally on offer in India. Animesh Dey, an engineer who runs a consulting business in Nashville, Tennesse, has been an NRI for the past 20 years. In 2008, he hired the Parental Care team as an added support for his parents. In the beginning, his mother Kanika Dey was vary of taking help from “outsiders”, seeing it as a “waste of money” but today the staff is an “extension of the family”. “I particularly appreciate the medical help they provided in terms accompanying my parents to the doctor and consulting them on medical insurance,” says Dey.
His mother, Kanika Dey, is excited when we call to her about the services she now ‘takes for granted”. “There is no work that they won’t do. They have been there for me since my husband was diagnosed with a kidney problem.
From bringing my weekly grocery to running errands and taking us to the doctor, the staffers assist us everywhere we face a roadblock,” she explains.
Presently, companies offering bespoke NRI services are few and can be counted on fingertips. This is because the demand is still warming up. In the next five years, the demand for such services will see a rise. Sadly there are some companies exploit the NRIs by overcharging them. “There are companies that charge its clients $60 for each errand, that is exorbitant, even if you are earning in dollars,” concludes Chowdhury.