20 Years of Housing HQ: Our Founder's Story
This year Housing HQ celebrates 20 years of providing 24-hour emergency ALE relocation service for the insurance industry. We sat down with our founder, Sarah Hackett, to talk about the beginnings of her company, the changes in the world and industry and the company's two-decade-long commitment to its founding principle of personal service. This is Sarah's story...
I grew up in a house that believed in hard work and keeping us accountable. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, I moved back to the Chicago area and began working as a waitress at the second largest grossing restaurant in the country. It actually taught me a lot. I learned you had to know everything about what you were selling, and so I became an expert in shellfish. The owner was a real taskmaster and that laid the groundwork for how I would–and wouldn't–run my own company.
Eventually, it became time to choose a more challenging career path. My dad worked in sales–actually in the insurance industry. So, based on his input and my own experience, I began to also consider sales. Talking to people all day, being out and about, getting rewarded based on my own performance... it sounded like a good fit.
After a few years of working for other companies, I had the opportunity to break out on my own and start a relocation firm dedicated to the insurance industry. I really liked it because I was making a direct difference in people's lives while still earning a living.
In the first years, this service was a completely new idea and there were very few companies doing what I was doing. I would present my services to unit managers and they would say, "That's what the adjusters do. Why would I outsource this to you?" Over time, these managers began to see the value. They saw that we could get families out of hotels and save the company money by providing this specialized service the adjusters just didn't have time for.
For policyholder relocations, I would talk to the family and find out their needs–just like we do today. But, back then, I'd put the families in my car and show them the house. It started on the phone, or via my pager, but there was always some direct personal contact. Often, I would be at the temporary home at move-in with a houseplant, a handwritten note and papers to sign so that I could properly invoice the adjusters. There was no email–this was twenty years ago. There was a lot of faxing going on. My fax machine was always cranking. I was living, breathing, eating and sleeping my work. My mom was my secret weapon. She would come over at night after a full day's work in the legal department of a large corporation to help me administratively.
I've always practiced sustained, careful growth. In the beginning, that meant running the business out of my townhouse. Once we hit five employees and we were storing the filing cabinets in my bedroom, it was time to move up and out. We've continued building the business organically. One claim at a time. One adjuster at a time. One insurance company at a time. We added new team members as we needed them. So, now 20 years later, we have five departments and dozens of employees.
I think the secret to our success has been my team really dedicating themselves to our service philosophy. I founded this business based on the idea of providing a personal touch. Even with technological advances and the growth of our company into a national business finding temporary housing for people throughout the United States, that's still the idea we're committed to.
For example, to this day, a person answers the phone in two rings in our office. Our experienced, full-time staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People can certainly email, text, go through our website or even use our new Adjuster Portal. Many people prefer those options. But, if you want to talk to your dedicated account team, we're always available.
Even more than service, it's about providing compassion on every, single relocation. What people don't always understand is that, really, every claim is different. You're getting deep into someone's personal life. How many kids do you have? Where do you want to live? What would you like the home interior to look like? We're also working with people on one of the most basic necessities of life: a roof over their head. Until a family's shelter is secured, it is very difficult for them to focus on the rebuilding efforts. In some cases, the family may even have suffered a tragedy, such as an injury or death in the family. We have to be aware of that and work through that with them.
Our founding principle is personal service. But, our value proposition to the insurance companies is controlling costs, saving money and retaining policyholders. There is such a massive spread to an ALE claim–we're talking tens of thousands of dollars. We know how to manage the process, estimate the expenses and keep the claim under budget. In fact, thanks to our vast experience and consolidated purchasing power with hotels, landlords and vendors, the cost for us to set up temporary housing for a family is less expensive than if an adjustor tries to do it on their own.
Plus, it's a lot for adjusters or their policyholders to manage. We know exactly which hotels, landlords and vendors to work with to set up a relocation, and we can do it quickly. That enables us to provide a good experience for the policyholders. To put all that on the adjusters–who have many other duties to manage–is quite a challenge. We're able to take this time-consuming work and immense responsibility off their hands while still leaving them in control of the claim.
But even beyond saving money, our true benefit to insurance companies is that we are a key part of policyholder retention. We know that having paid out a claim, it's crucial to retain that policyholder to earn back the ALE expense over time. We provide a superior customer experience so that the policyholder continues to remain loyal to your insurance company.
Truthfully, the fact that I'm still here twenty years later gets me emotional. To think of all those adjusters and companies that took a chance on me when I started... Many of those are still loyal and still trusting us to provide great service to their policyholders. Over that time, the business has become less about me. It's become more about our loyal customers and our dedicated team of compassionate individuals and the personal service they provide. I think that's the secret that will allow us to continue doing this for another twenty years. I look to the future with gratitude for where we have been and where we are going.
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