Spring and summer are big home-remodeling seasons. But for many homeowners, finding the right plumber, electrician or general contractor is a risky proposition.
Before the Internet, we found contractors using the neighborhood referral system. If a neighbor had a roof replaced, and our roof was leaking, we simply walked next door to ask about the contractor.
Did the contractor do a good job? Was it expensive? How long did it take? And the biggest question of all: Do you think I should hire this person to fix my roof?
Many of us still rely on those neighborhood recommendations. A few summers ago, I asked my neighbor about the person who repaired her roof. A few months later, the same contractor repaired our roof.
The problem is my neighbors don’t always have the best experiences with contractors, regardless of the scope of project. So, we’re left to fend for ourselves when entering the labyrinth of home-repair options.
Enter Angie’s List.
Angie’s List was launched in Columbus as a way to connect residents in the surrounding area with reliable contractors (the original name for Angie’s List was actually Columbus Neighbors).
Although it’s been around for almost two decades, Angie’s List still is the go-to app for millions of people seeking reliable information about local contractors. More importantly, it contains useful reviews from my neighbors, if you consider my “neighbors” to be the residents of Northeast Ohio and not just the people on my street.
Thanks to Angie’s List and other referral sites such as Yelp, Porch.com and Google Local, my “neighborhood” can include anyone within a certain geographical range. Like other referrals sites, I provide Angie’s List some basic information about who I am, where I live and what I want to do. In return, the app gives me a list of potentially reliable options and provides me with reviews from people that used those options.
Those reviews come with grades, ranging from A’s to F’s.
And like Yelp, Angie’s List isn’t just about finding the right contractors. Because the model is built around crowd-sourced assessments of local businesses, you can find reviews of doctors and dentists, auto mechanics, cleaners and more.
Like any good social media app, Angie’s List isn’t without critics. They regularly solicit advertisements from businesses, which some argue creates a conflict of interest and impedes on their original philosophy. But some of these same companies (many with good ratings) also post valuable coupons (e.g., I once used an Angie’s List coupon to knock 10 percent off a $300 plumbing charge).
The other problem is that some people are reluctant to pay to access Angie’s List. The subscription service will cost you $9.99 for the year. If you’re feeling bold, you can get a three-year subscription for $20.98.
As always, you should do your homework when hiring anyone to work on your house (or teeth, or taxes). Ask around, get advice, but consider the referral apps as one of many tools at your disposal.
~ A version of this column appeared in the Sunday, May 3, 2015 "Connected" section of the Vindicator newspaper.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.