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Planning a move? Let a personal shopper find deals on utilities

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

October 20, 2014


DALLAS — Moving can be a pain. There’s an endless list of tasks, such as making sure you have electricity, cable, Internet and other utilities that make a house hum.

In North Texas, consumers can turn to a budding industry of utility personal shoppers who do the work of finding the best deals for free. Customers do not pay for the service; providers such as Verizon and AT&T pay the companies when they sign up customers.

"We want to make sure we give you the best rates," said Gabe Abshire, founder and CEO of Dallas-based Utility Concierge. "We’ll save you time, money and stress."

Abshire estimates that the average consumer could deal with 36 different people and nine companies when moving into a new home.

Utility Concierge is one of the bigger local players in the industry. Founded in 2009, Utility Concierge operates mainly in the Dallas-Fort Worth region with about 8 percent of the marketplace, Abshire said. The 25-person firm also operates in Houston, San Antonio and Austin.

The company focuses on the residential market, partnering with real estate agents, mortgage brokers, insurance agents and others to find clients. Abshire wants to eventually branch out to the commercial sector.

Linda Russell, a real estate agent, said she began referring homebuyers to Utility Concierge eight months ago.

Russell, who is not paid for making referrals, said Utility Concierge is an additional service that she can market to her clients. So far, Russell said she has gotten positive feedback from clients who have used the company.

"It saves them a lot of time and effort of not having to make all those phone calls," she said.

Utility Concierge got its start when Abshire started a satellite television installation company in 2004. Three years later, he bought a security company.

Abshire said he saw an opportunity to provide a full array of utility services and offer a seamless experience for customers.

Sales have doubled annually for the last four years, Abshire said, noting that Utility Concierge is profitable.

The company faces several competitors, including WhiteFence, a Houston-based company that provides online tools for consumers to compare prices for home services. WhiteFence was acquired last year by competitor Allconnect Inc. in Atlanta.

Utility Connect, based in Colony, Texas, began by helping customers find electricity providers and has expanded into cable, Internet, telephone, insurance and city utility services.

Utility Connect CEO and President Nate Steele said sales have increased 400 percent in the last year and a half as residents have become more aware of the service.

Because service providers offer similar fees for signing up new customers, Steele said the company does not promote one provider over another.

"We work with our customers and we make sure they know everything upfront and what they’re getting into," Steele said.

Likewise, Abshire said Utility Concierge is "agnostic" toward providers.

Both Utility Concierge and Utility Connect have received an A rating from the Better Business Bureau serving Dallas and northeast Texas.

While the service is free, consumers should still ask questions, read any agreement and understand policies related to resolving complaints against service providers that the companies recommend, said Jeannette Kopko, senior vice president of communications at BBB in Dallas.

Dallas resident Rachel Allen used Utility Concierge on a friend’s referral when she moved into a new home in January.

Because she had a short three-day window to move, Allen needed to quickly set up electricity, gas, Internet and cable, she said. Within hours of calling for help, Allen received an email detailing appointment times as well as service contracts.

"By Monday when we were moving in, we had everything we needed in terms of lights, A/C and gas," Allen said. "If you don’t want to use the service they find for you, you could do your own thing. It takes them no time at all to punch in your address and find the best rates. I would rather them do it than me."