Whether settling down to start a family, putting down roots in a great location or simply expanding one’s space, home ownership can be a thrilling part of anyone’s life regardless of their reasons. However, it’s an unfortunate reality that LGBTQ people often must take extra care to ensure that the place in which they choose to settle down is affirming of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The joint LGBT Real Estate Report done by the federal home loan mortgage corporation Freddie Mac and the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals found that despite the fact that 72 percent of LGBTQ renters want to own a home, only 52 percent expect to do so in the next five years.
“Freddie Mac found that 70 percent of LGBT renters cite not having the funds for a down payment as the top reason they have not yet bought a home. NAGLREP members followed with a variety of reasons that LGBT homeownership rates are lower,” the report said. “Financial concerns, waiting for the right time, lack of awareness about the home buying/mortgage process and impact of discrimination played a role.”
That fear of discrimination manifests in various forms. The report surveyed almost 650 NAGLREP members who found that 64 percent of those surveyed were concerned about being welcomed into the community and 58 percent feared discrimination during the buying process. Perhaps one of the most striking concerns surrounds caution when hiring the “right professionals” — almost 36 percent worried that they would encounter discrimination if they didn’t have an affirming realtor. And even beyond the buying process, that fear can be transfered to other aspects of homeownership like home repair and service. That’s why for this year’s Defining our Home issue, Between The Lines reached out to three openly LGBTQ home service providers not only to learn about their businesses but to get their thoughts on why it’s important to be inclusive.
Claude Jones – Town & Country Door
Whether one’s garage door is a standard white 8-by-8-foot or an extra wide 18-by-8-foot mid-century modern fashion statement, Town & Country Door owner and founder Claude Jones is confident he can help with its installation. That promise extends to entry doors as well. Having started his business in 1996, he said that what’s allowed for its longevity is his and his employees’ dedication to service.
“Well, whenever I hire anybody, I tell them that, number one, I have never once taken advantage of a customer and I expect the same from them. And number two, I pay more than the other garage door companies, and I expect [my employees] to be the best and we all are here,” he said. “And when a customer has a problem, I just don’t [escalate it] and my guys aren’t allowed to do an argument with them or anything like that. Immediately, if it’s something that they can’t resolve out there — and 90 percent of the time they can — then I get involved and I will just always do what I can to make them happy.”
And at least part of keeping customers happy rests on fostering an inclusive environment for those who are LGBTQ and in search of service. An openly gay man himself, Jones is all too familiar with the pain surrounding a hidden identity. After learning the door installation business from his brother, he made sure to lay the groundwork for a business that ensured customers from all walks of life feel comfortable.
“I’m older, I’m 64 now, and I had to live a lot of my life — I worked in the transportation industry at the Free Press, was a Teamster — really not being who I was in the closet, if you will. And when things started evolving, I decided and I finally came out when I was 35 and I met my current partner [at 39],” he said. “… I just wanted to support our community and I just wanted to be me, and I have a lot of gay friends and I guess I just wanted to be part of the family in whatever way I could. … And when you’re a business, it’s about business of course, but, for me, it’s never been about the money. It’s always been about being good to people in whatever way I could. That’s just how I live my life. It feels good and it works. And I work very hard and work a lot of hours still, but a lot of good things come back to you when you’re good to our community, when you’re good to other people.”
To learn more about the services at Town & Country Door visit townandcountrydoor.net.
Jen Czach – Jen Czach Construction
Jen Czach has always had an interest in every aspect of home improvement, so at 18, just after high school, she began working with home improvement companies. Soon after, she enrolled in a school for interior design.
“I graduated in 2000, didn’t really like the industry a whole lot. A lot of it was interesting in terms of space planning and of course working on homes and such, but I didn’t really enjoy, honestly, the people a whole lot,” she said. “I was much more of a hands-on person and I never really liked to dress up, so that was kind of always an issue. But I started working for a high-end kitchen company in Birmingham and I was basically drawing CAD drawings of kitchens and was super bored. So, I quit my job and answered an ad for a drafting person for a home improvement company.”
Fast forward to 2006 and due to economic difficulties Czach and many of her co-workers were laid off. However, in Czach’s eyes, this was a blessing in disguise.
“A lot of people were very sad, but I was extremely happy because at that point I was sitting on a condo project in Taylor and was not getting to do what I wanted to do, so I was really excited — [it was] scary, but exciting — and that’s when I opened my own business,” she said.
Known as Jen Czach Construction, that business survived the recession and continues to specialize in remodeling projects. Whether it’s a brand-new kitchen or bath installation, a home addition or even a job from the ground up, Czach is able to meet her clients’ needs.
However, unlike most quicker home improvement services, the nature of Czach’s work requires that she enter the homes of clients for extended periods of time. When asked how she ensures that customers feel more at ease with the length, time and nature of her service, she said it starts first with being empathetic.
“Every time you have to be patient when you are in peoples’ homes,” she said. “I do realize that it is kind of invasive, so sometimes, so I’ll put plastic up that people can’t see through.”
Beyond that, she encourages new clients to research her work as well as via Angie’s List reviews her website. At the end of the day, however, she said that her secret to retaining customers and building her brand is taking personal responsibility for each of her jobs.
“When I worked for a bigger company, basically people had to give written notice that they didn’t like something and maybe we would argue with them, but mostly I try to look at it as if it was my own home, and I take a lot of responsibility,” she said. “We don’t do bad work, so sometimes somebody will call and say, ‘Oh, you know the electrician screwed up,’ and it’s simply a light bulb that’s out. You know, nine times out of 10 people will make something seem worse than it is and then we go through the process of why it happened, what our options are now.”
But in the cases where it is a blunder of hers, Czach said she does everything in her power to make it right.
“The other day I had somebody who didn’t like their hardwood floors because it turned out different than the sample that I showed them,” she said. “[It did look different] and it was my responsibility to finish them because it wasn’t what they saw on the sample.”
She added that she also actively works to dispel the myth that all contractors are looking to scam their clients.
“Yes, people are often defensive initially, and I hear horror stories about companies all the time,” she said. “And I can’t imagine operating that way; I don’t think I would be in business. I just want be extra good so I don’t have to deal with that.”
Visit jenczachconstruction.com for samples of her work.
Joe – Tyrrell Electric
If you’ve been an active member of the LGBTQ community in the Detroit area in the past 30 years or so you’ve probably not only encountered Joe Tyrrell’s work but used it, too. That’s because Tyrrell Electric’s services have been installed everywhere from the Pride Source offices to Affirmations, the Ruth Ellis Center, the Hayloft Saloon and Menjo’s. A family business, Tyrrell Electric can help clients install electrical work who are remodeling their homes, installing generators, service panels and it even extends to commercial buildings.
Joe Tyrrell is now in the process of purchasing the company, formed in 1985, from his father. Though Tyrrell himself didn’t kick off his career doing this work, he got his start in service after earning a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from Michigan State University in 1988. When asked about his priorities on a job, Tyrell’s educational background shines through.
“Communication, being organized, making sure that as a manager myself, my employees and the customer are all on the same page with all expectations, keeping copious notes, trying to be as organized as possible to not miss an item or step. And kind of being aware of each customer’s expectations,” he said. “Some are more worried about the price, some are more worried about how clean you keep their building, some are more about making sure every single cent they pay for is something that they’re getting value for. Each customer has different expectations and you just have to keep that in the back of your mind and just make sure you’re organized and that you pursue each customer the way you prioritize what they expect.”
A gay man himself, he said he’s spent a long time fostering relationships with the LGBTQ community and today gets roughly 20 percent of all jobs from LGBTQ-specific clientele. He said he takes care to ensure that people view him as affirming to all sexual orientations and gender identities because his positive reputation makes people comfortable.
“I think a lot of people start with that [comfort level],” he said. “And then we’ve got the right service regardless, but a lot of people start with that.”
That’s also why Tyrrell focuses on ensuring that those people he hires take care to treat clientele with the same courtesies as he does.
“They know who they’re working for, number one, and some of it’s family, but it just boils down to being respectful regardless, being courteous regardless,” he said. “And we just work in such a variety of different customers. I mean, you have to be open to seeing just about anything. We go to so many different peoples’ houses and for such a different variety of customers, but again, it goes back to knowing who their boss is. Obviously, that’s a prerequisite.”
Visit tyrrellelectric.com to see a full list of Tyrrell Electric’s services.