When Lake Club Homeowners Are Away, The Private Concierge Keeps Stress At Bay

Posted by Mike Wilson and Nicole Wojno — December 11, 2007

BRADENTON, Fla. – (Dec. 12, 2007) – You’re a homeowner in The Lake Club – Florida’s newest prestige address – and you go away on vacation, a business trip, an extended stay out of state or overseas. Who will look after your house? Your pets? Your vehicles? Who will take care of the lawn, the mail, the alarm system? And, whether you’re away or at home, what about necessary errands that gobble up huge chunks of your busy time, such as taking care of home maintenance and upgrades, shopping, planning for leisure, entertainment and travel?Whom are you going to call? Answer: The Private Concierge at The Lake Club, the customized brand name of Perfect Neighbors, a Sarasota-based, personal-services company whose concept of providing concierge-type amenities has expanded from hotels to luxury-home developments, condominiums, apartments and office complexes.“We focus on the things you need to do, so you can focus on the things you want to do,” said Mark Sharman, vice president and chief operating officer of Perfect Neighbors, who with Sue Ashby, the company’s president, has made The Lake Club the very first development bearing its new brand, The Private Concierge.“As the most upscale community we have developed in Lakewood Ranch, The Lake Club lends itself to this kind of service,” stated Tom Danahy, president of LWR Communities, LLC, the developer of the master-planned community, Lakewood Ranch.  “With a projected 1,090 custom, estate homes and luxurious private clubhouse, a concierge service is ideal.”According to Carla Mandell, co-founder and executive director of the International Concierge & Errand Association (ICEA), “Over the past six years our membership has grown from 12 members to 640 members. There was a real need to create an association for the industry which focused on smaller, individual entrepreneurs who are becoming successful at providing personalized services to a smaller community.”Concierge. It’s a term that can apply to just about any type of endeavor or enterprise, and it symbolizes a high quality of service or array of services. With ICEA member Perfect Neighbors, it means any or all of three significant components:Home-watching. For as few as six days or as long as six months.Home concierge. Identifying individuals who professionally do anything and everything that needs to be done in and around the residence.Personal concierge services. All kinds of personal assistance, from routine shopping to obtaining take-out dinners, or even, as Sharman pointed out, planning, say, an elaborate dinner party for as many as 70 or more guests. “That can include,” Sharman added, “a murder-mystery theme in which the guests become the detectives and try to solve the mystery!”That, too, can mean providing services which give new meaning to problem- solving. Example: Perfect Neighbors once had to return a pool table it had disassembled and packed, after the sellers of a house accepted the buyer’s offer to purchase the pool table. “We had to say, ‘OK, guys, carry that back upstairs, uncrate it and rebuild it, please,’” Sharman said.Home watching can also mean pet-watching, reported Sharman, whose company charges upward of $50 per visit, every two weeks (or $100 a month) for the average 3,000- or 4,000-square-foot home. “We looked after a pair of cats for four days,” he says, “and had a five-page, typewritten list of instructions that was longer for the pets than the list of things the owners wanted done for their house!”Within The Lake Club itself, the range of services is identical to those provided to other clients of Sharman’s company, with two exceptions: residents and residences of The Lake Club will receive what he describes as “a more favorable pricing structure,” plus a special services branding. For example, when someone telephones The Lake Club, a live voice responds: “Lake Club Private Concierges. What can we do for you?” Lake Club residents can expect the kind of service and degree of care that current clients enjoy.Concierge services and home-watching add up to a concept that has struck responsive chords among Perfect Neighbors’ clients such as so-called “snowbird” residents Kathy and Robert Goldberg of Chicago, whose 7,000-square-foot, Mediterranean-style residence at Lakewood Ranch is home for about five months a year, beginning after the Christmas holiday season.“I don’t have any guilt – I don’t have to feel like I’m imposing by calling my neighbor and saying, ‘Will you look for a package outside my door?’” stated Kathy Goldberg, whose husband Robert is semi-retired as a career commodities trader and a former chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade. “This way, I’ve got Sue and Mark, Perfect Neighbors. They take care of everything. That includes having someone go and stay at our house to see that work is done properly, to keep an eye on the workmen. To make sure they did what they were supposed to do, and then to secure the house when they leave. It’s a wonderful sense of security. It’s just so easy to make a phone call to them. They’re very responsible, plus they’re very pleasant.”For her part, Kathy Chorny, a retired certified public accountant and another part-time resident of The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, said Perfect Neighbors makes life for her and her husband Greg, a retired attorney, “simpler and less stressful” while they live near Dublin, Ireland, six months each year.“When you’re 4,600 miles away, you want to make sure that someone capable is watching your house,” she explained, referring to their 4,500-square-foot winter residence. “Each week, they e-mail to us a checklist of all the things they looked after. They check everything from the temperature of the fridge to the pool pump. There’s a list of about 90 things they go through and check routinely. They start the cars once a month so you don’t arrive to a dead battery. They do a complete walk-around, both inside and outside. And if there’s an issue with the lawn, sprinklers or whatever, they identify that before you would have a huge problem.”What is it about society today that compels homeowners such as the Goldbergs, the Chornys and countless others to avail themselves of concierge services such as those offered by Perfect Neighbors?The answer is partly demographic, partly technological evolution, said Mark Sharman, who is New Jersey-born to British parents but grew up in England, where his bachelor’s degree in librarianship and information studies helped position him to observe societal trends empowering him and Sue Ashby to project a need for their services.“The big change involves the baby boomers, who have a relatively high amount of disposable income,” Sharman explained. “And today, we live in more of a 24-hour society, a busy society that seems to place more and more demands on all of us. One of the great things about the concierge, or personal-assistant-on-demand, services, if you prefer, is that it gives you back time because you can outsource some of the jobs that perhaps you’re not so keen to do yourself.”Kathy Goldberg, a mother of four daughters and grandmother to a grandson, said she grew up in Iowa (“I left my car keys in the car. We never locked the front or back door”), adding that technology has streamlined but also placed more demands on the lives of homeowners today.“Everything is so complicated, as far as the computers, the audio systems and the burglar alarms are concerned. You need sprinkler systems in Florida. You can only water on certain days and at certain times. It’s all on clocks. It goes off on a different time, you get fined. I think it’s gotten out of whack. That’s why their service is so successful. There’s a need for them,” she added.With Kathy Chorny, it comes down to managing not just multiple houses – whether it’s pressure-washing the exterior, cleaning the windows and the lanai or relocating patio furniture to the outside – but sometimes frantic lives. “I truly believe,” she says, “if you can make your life simpler, less stressful, it’s money well spent.”“The private concierge service is part of our effort to distinguish The Lake Club for what it is to become. This is just one component of the overall luxury services for our buyers,” said Tom Danahy.The private gated Lake Club is the newest residential Village in Lakewood Ranch, the award winning 8,500-acre master-planned community located in Sarasota and Manatee counties on the west coast of Florida. All Lake Club homes will meet Florida Green Building Coalition standards for “green” homes and landscapes. For more information on The Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch, visit www.theLakeClubLWR.com or call 866.498.LAKE (5253).

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