In the middle of the night last month, Dirar Abdallah found the kitchen and bathroom in his three-bedroom Dubai villa flooded with sewage. He had just signed up for an annual maintenance contract in December, spending around Dh5,000, and this was the first real test.
With emergency call-outs included in his package, he called the company and the team was on-site within 30 minutes. They opened up the main drain line, which was blocked, and “after finishing they returned everything including the artificial grass as it was before in a very professional and efficient way”, says Mr Abdallah.
“That’s priceless for anyone,” says the physician who has lived in the UAE for 10 years. “In the middle of the night, if you find someone who comes and does a perfect job for you, then you will not regret a single dirham you paid for them ... even if you don’t need them for the rest of the year.”
When it comes to deciding between an annual contract or paying per visit, Mr Abdallah says there is no contest. In addition to emergency call-outs, his package covers AC cleaning four times a year, electrical and plumbing checks three times a year, pest control twice a year and water tank cleaning once a year.
Experts agree that signing up for an annual maintenance contract will save you money in the long run, as per-hour or per-time services can quickly add up.
"You should definitely go for an annual maintenance contract because doing so would be much cheaper than paying for each of these services," says Bana Shomali, founder and chief executive of UAE online marketplace ServiceMarket.
Aside from the peace of mind that annual maintenance packages can give in times of emergency, preventive measures can help avoid future problems. Buying an annual maintenance contract for your home is a bit like regular servicing for your car. Perhaps your car is running smoothly, but you should still periodically change the oil and check everything from your engine to your brakes and tyres.
"Annual maintenance contracts are the same," says Ibrahim Colak, founder and chief executive of UAE online service marketplace Mr Usta. "Maybe there are very minor problems that can be fixed and you get it done, so you don't pay more later when it becomes a major problem."
Yet Mr Colak says less than 10 per cent of customers on the Mr Usta site — which also offers maintenance, home improvement, moving, cleaning, car, business and insurance services — buy an annual home maintenance package. The buyers are predominantly landlords who don’t want to deal with headaches or owners who have experienced major problems in their homes.
“Mainly people need to have a big problem to understand what an annual maintenance contract means,” he says. “When they don’t see the problem coming, they don’t want to invest. It’s a long-term investment.”
The prohibitive costs can be a barrier. Depending on the services included and the size of the apartment or villa, a package can range from Dh1,350 to as much as Dh12,000 a year, or even more.
It is therefore important to comparison shop, decide the services you actually need and work out the best deal before committing to an annual contract. Here we guide you through the process.
How do you choose a service provider?
There are two ways to get quotes for an annual maintenance contract (AMC): directly from the service provider or through a marketplace such as Mr Usta or ServiceMarket. Both marketplaces were founded in 2013 and offer a variety of services on their websites.
Mr Usta works with five vetted companies to offer silver and gold annual contracts. These are smaller providers looking for extra business, rather than large companies who “have their own databases of customers”, says Mr Colak.
The companies are first given tier two status and are tested through basic jobs. “We talk to customers. We check the jobs and the quality of the jobs,” Mr Colak says. If the companies are rated positively by customers and pass tests by Mr Usta, they can get upgraded to tier one.
“When we first started Mr Usta, we were an open marketplace and anyone could come to our platform and give a quotation,” Mr Colak says. “In the last two and a half years, we changed this model … we only work with the service providers we are 100 per cent sure of their quality.”
ServiceMarket has 18 AMC providers that are also vetted for quality. Customers can see the companies’ star ratings and reviews before selecting three to receive comparison quotations. Unlike Mr Usta, which offers the same price for the five companies, the providers on ServiceMarket offer their own quotes directly to the client to decide.
Customers can also request quotes from the companies themselves, either by email or phone. They must supply basic information, such as whether they live in an apartment or villa, the number of bedrooms and the number of AC units. They should also consider whether their community has its own service provider.
How much is an annual maintenance package?
Mr Usta’s packages start from Dh1,350 for a studio apartment silver package up to Dh12,000 for an eight-bedroom villa gold package.
The silver package, for example, includes yearly AC cleaning, preventive maintenance of plumbing units and electrical fittings, minor repairs, one handyman service and five emergency call-outs. The gold package doubles the number of preventive maintenance visits, handyman services and emergency call-outs, and adds on pest control.
ServiceMarket says its contracts range from Dh1,500 to Dh5,000, also depending on the size of the house and required services. The lower end standard package will usually include bi-annual AC cleaning, plumbing and electrical services, as well as emergency call-outs. More expensive packages may include pest control and water tank cleaning; some will even add in windows and pool cleaning.
When booking directly with a provider, the cost also depends on how established the company is.
“The more high-end, top-tier maintenance companies that have more certifications, a larger workforce, etcetera will generally charge higher than smaller, newer ones,” says Ms Shomali.
It is always worthwhile to ask for a discount and getting several quotes will make it easier to negotiate on price.
Is it cheaper to pay per service?
Call-out charges for companies outside a contract usually cost Dh150 to Dh200 per hour. That includes just coming to your home to diagnose a problem, which is usually then followed by a quotation for the cost to fix it. Typically, Dubai residents book handyman services six to eight times per year on ServiceMarket, says Ms Shomali.
Basic AC filter cleaning alone costs Dh150 to Dh200 per unit, while more extensive AC duct and coil cleaning costs Dh500 to Dh600 per unit, says Mr Colak. Pest control for a two-bedroom apartment costs around Dh200 to Dh300 and cleaning a small water tank approximately Dh500 while a medium tank costs Dh900.
“For a two-bedroom apartment, if you get a silver package, it’s Dh2,000. If you clean the AC units two times per year, you will pay Dh2,000. But if you get an annual maintenance package, you will get electrical, plumbing, handyman and also 24-hour call-out service,” Mr Colak says.
What services do you actually need?
Some service providers offer expensive packages with AC servicing and preventive maintenance four times a year, which can be unnecessary. It is possible to customise packages and negotiate on price accordingly.
“For example, a young couple in a small property may want to ask to reduce the number of handyman call-outs they can request in a year, compared to a family with kids in a bigger home,” says Ms Shomali.
Air conditioning servicing is a must in the UAE one to two times a year, says Mr Colak. “If you don’t do it, the air quality will be very low in your home and it will affect your health, too. This is another cost,” he adds.
Duct cleaning is more expensive, as it needs a special machine and sanitisation techniques, so it is often not included in annual maintenance packages. This, however, is recommended once a year.
Mr Colak says pest control should be done once or twice a year. “Maybe you don’t see those bugs, but they are there in the AC ducts or in the false ceiling,” he says.
Preventive checks of electrical and plumbing units, as well as water tank cleaning, should be done once annually.
What about exclusions?
When signing up for an AMC, read the fine print for exclusions. Labour is usually included, but parts are not. The contract will include the “scope of work” which should list excluded services. For example, one company’s proposal had 24 exclusions, such as: picture hanging, painting, home appliance repairs, internal leakages, carpet cleaning, broken window replacement and swimming pool repairs.
Why don't more customers buy maintenance packages?
Mr Colak says many in the UAE don’t sign up because they are “betting” they won’t need all the services, such as pest control, for example. It also depends on the general market environment.
“Lately, in the last one to two years, as people are changing their houses more or they’re worried about the economic situation … they don’t want to invest in a long-term contract, so they prefer to pay when they have the problem,” he says.
Mr Abdallah, who signed up for a package as soon as the one-year warranty on his home finished, says he has a friend living nearby who does it “the segmented way”. But he thinks it is more of a hassle, especially because the provider needs to apply for a gate pass every time to access the community.
“I believe always in preventive maintenance for anything in life,” he says. “To prevent something is better than to act on something after the problem happens.”