This post was originally published in June 2018.
When searching for a home remodeling or design-build contractor, there are several options at your disposal - some better than others. Having the professional opinion of a true expert can make all the difference. It’s important to keep in mind that, one way or another, referral services get paid for providing leads to contractors. Sometimes the cost is per month by geographic region, but it can also be by the individual lead or a percentage of the overall contract.
Either way, as the consumer, you’re likely to be paying for those fees in the form of marked up project costs. Before you consider using a referral service, it’s helpful to know a bit more about the good and bad of the more popular contractor referral platforms.
Formerly Angie’s List, This platform is unique in that consumers pay to be members in order to have access to their network of contractors. For small home improvement projects that require only one trade, Angi MAY be ok. When it comes to a major remodeling project where design and permitting is involved, Angi is a mixed bag of contractors and generally not a good solution because their reviews and grading system is unreliable.
HomeAdvisor is even more dangerous than Angi because they do not discriminate among contractors and remodeling professionals. As long as a contractor is willing to pay for leads, Home Advisor will accept them. Even worse, HomeAdvisor uses misleading online strategies to divert homeowners to their own contractor network. Once again, for major remodeling projects where design - build is the best approach, Home Advisor is not where to go.
Pro Referral by Home Depot (formerly Redbeacon)
Home Depot has been referring installers for their products ever since they opened their doors. Home Depot installers are known for completing work without plans, permits, lead - asbestos testing or adequate supervision. In fact, Home Depot has been fined by the EPA for not following regulations. This can be unsafe for you and your family, as well as bad for resale. Frequently consumers have told me that they had to babysit projects handled by Home Depot installers to ensure they received what they paid for. Often installers had to redo work sometimes twice before it was completed properly.
We’re fairly certain that anyone who has owned a home in the last 2-3 years has heard of, or used Houzz. But for all intents and purposes, if you are reading this and have never heard of the home design platform Houzz, it is essentially the “Pinterest of home design.” Homeowners and renters alike can browse through endless home design content that aims to educate searchers on the latest and greatest trends in the industry.
One of the features that makes Houzz so valuable is the ability to search for top rated professionals near you. If you’re considering a home renovation and own a home in San Diego, you can easily narrow down your search to the highest rated pros in your local community. Houzz breaks down the “Find Professionals” section into organized categories, so you can quickly and easily search for the businesses you need most. Industries span far and wide, but you can expect to find pros in the following categories:
- General Contractors
- Design/Build Firms
- Home Builders
- Interior Designers & Decorators
- Kitchen & Bathroom Designers
- Landscape Architects
- Landscape Contractors
- Pool Specialists
- Garage Door Specialists
The Houzz platform is particularly useful because searching is so efficient. Once you narrow down your location and speciality service, Houzz will rank the results by “Best Match.” Additionally, you can customize your search based on who is most popular or who has the highest reviews. Then, you can narrow down your search by reading the trusted reviews provided by a company’s actual clientele.
GuildQuality is first and foremost a software tool used by professionals in the home building and remodeling industry. They offer a platform that allows for seamless management and collaboration of home renovation projects. What most homeowners don’t know, is that GuildQuality has a consumer-facing section of the website that allows for searching for contractors.
GuildQuality allows you to search for just about any type of professional in the home improvement industry. From general contractors, to electricians, aging in place pros, carpentry experts - the options are just about limitless.
Searchers can narrow the results by location. Once the search results appear, it is easy to toggle through the options. Each search result displays a survey of the business which rates their overall communication, professionalism, value, follow up, project management skills and more. Searchers can read from a collection of personal testimonials of each business, as well as scroll through albums of previous projects.
We find GuildQuality to be a valuable platform for vetting home improvement professionals because of its focus on actual project reviews and client testimonials.
For better or worse, Yelp remains a go-to resource for people looking for word-of-mouth referrals. Whether you’re in search of a new restaurant, plumber, or legal professional, Yelp can certainly help you find what you need.
As Yelp is the most popular referral resource available today, we had to include it in our lineup of favorites. The home improvement industry is highly active on this platform, which means you can be confident there will be plenty of contractors and remodeling companies to choose from. Major downsides to Yelp, however, include rampant false reviews and an a “pay to play” business model that favors paying companies over those who may actually be better service providers.
Thumbtack started out as a home services referral platform in 2008, but has since grown into a place to find and hire professionals in everything from web design to massage therapy. Thumbtack works much the same as the other referral platforms on this list: users browse through a list of providers in the service area of interest, using price and other filters to narrow their options. From there, users can chat directly with service providers to discuss their project needs before determining a schedule for their project and deciding who to hire through the platform.
Thumbtack originally was primarily a platform for small home projects that can be completed in a few days, i.e. the type of job you would hire a handyman to complete. The platform has since expanded into major remodeling and renovation both design - build and general contractors. Like other national referral lists, Thumbtack is subsidized by companies who pay for leads, so keep in mind, the fees are likely tacked on and the consumer is paying for it. Most reputable companies in home improvement would not “pay to play”, so the odds of finding quality here are highly unlikely.
The homepage at buildzoom.com greets visitors with the tagline, “Find a contractor you can trust, for free.” Pretty compelling, but how does the experience stack up? For starters, the experience for homeowners using BuildZoom is a bit unique compared to the other contractor referral services we’ve covered. Users start off by completing a form that outlines their project needs, goals, budget, and preferences. From there, they are matched with their own BuildZoom project consultant whose job is to help homeowners throughout the entire process.
BuildZoom consultants help users identify and meet with a list of matched contractors, with all communication, notes, and estimates documents within BuildZoom. Users can then compare and hire the best contractor for their job.
Quick Comparison: Home Contractor Referral Services
|Referral Service||Quick Description||Gregg’s Take|
|Angi||Good for small, single-trade home improvement projects. Unreliable reviews and contractor ranking system.||Angi spends a lot on advertising which should raise a red flag. Maybe ok for simple one trade services, but not for large projects.|
|HomeAdvisor||Less discerning than Angi when it comes to contractors allowed on the platform. Favors “pay to play,” which means less qualified contractors may be featured and recommended more often.||See above. Angi and Home Advisor are the same company. Another red flag.|
|Pro Referral (Home Depot)||Long history of referring installers and other home contractors for their products. Contractors may or may not have proper credentials, training, or expertise. Hire from this platform at your risk.||Home Depot has had fines for not following licensing and EPA rules. Besides DIY and simple installations, I would not recommend.|
|Houzz||Great for generating ideas and inspiration for various home remodeling projects. Solid search features help users uncover local top-rated contractors across a variety of specialities.||A great tool to share ideas. Unfortunately it has become very sales forward and pay to play site. Companies that pay, show up at the top of results and may night be the best choice.|
|GuildQuality||Primarily software used by contractors, but also provides a consumer-facing product that allows for contractor searches by homeowners. Highlights and prioritizes contractors based on actual project reviews and client testimonials.||Guild Quality is by subscription only. Contractors who subscribe send surveys to homeowners to measure performance. What’s important to know when evaluating providers is subscribers can surpress unfavorable information.|
|Yelp||A necessary evil for nearly every local business today due to its popularity. Rampant false or skewed reviews makes Yelp a dubious platform when searching for a contractor. Use with extreme caution (and certainly not in isolation).||Yelp has their own review algorithm that is not fair and balanced. Buyer beware. Also, businesses show up based on home much they pay, not by merits.|
|Thumbtack||Clean and simple referral platform. Database of contractors and home service providers is relatively limited compared to others on this list. Ability to quickly connect with and schedule contractors is a plus.||To sum Thumbtack up, unless the business provides a credit card number, they do not show up in search results.|
|BuildZoom||Dedicated project manager is a great feature. Good platform for home owners who are fairly far along in their decision making process and have a clear idea of their project goals, budget, etc.||The good is there is a dedicated project manager. The bad is they are commission-based sales person. The ugly is consumers spend a lot of money for plans, only to find out they can’t afford the work|
Things to Prioritize When Choosing a Remodeling Contractor
Area(s) of Expertise: Don’t select a general contractor if you have a specialized project in mind. A remodeling contractor who excels at bathroom remodels might not be a good fit if you what you’re looking for is a second story addition.
Contractor’s Company Profile: How long has the contractor been in business? What are their customer reviews and testimonials saying? Do they appear to have a solid track record of success?
Personality and Culture Fit: Communication is crucial to a successful home remodeling project. Make sure the contractor you go with is easy and comfortable to communicate with.
Project Delivery: How a remodeling project is undertaken and ultimately delivered can have a significant impact on the overall timeline, budget, communication, and client experience during the process. Be sure to ask about the contractor’s project delivery process.
We’ve put together a Complete Guide to Choosing the Right Home Remodeling Contractor, which covers everything you need to know in order to hire the best remodeling company for your specific project needs.
There are not enough competent, reputable and reliable contractors around to service all the homeowners in need of remodeling, so using a referral service for major home improvements is extremely risky. The type of companies who subscribe to referral services are a mixed bag too. You can find large firms who are just looking to increase revenue as well as small firms that are unqualified. Before you consider using a referral service, do a Google search for “Angi Reviews,” “Home Advisor Reviews,” or “Redbeacon/Pro Referral Reviews” and you’ll see the many consumer complaints. When you are looking to remodel your home, I recommend using unbiased, trusted resources to check out contractors. These include www.bbb.org, your local contractor’s license board, local building officials, friends, neighbors and family.
Referral services are more risky for anything other than minor remodeling projects where designs and plans are not required. Those services would be small plumbing repairs, HVAC replacement, replacing fixtures in kind etc. Be aware, almost all remodeling, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing projects will require a permit. You will frequently find unlicensed people through referral services who most likely will not pull the required permits, putting your project (and your pocket book) at risk. Consumers should still take caution and vet anyone from referral services thoroughly on their own. The best way to find qualified home improvement professionals is by word of mouth, reputation, referral, online research etc.
Keep in mind, successful, reputable contractors regardless of their size, thrive on satisfied clients. That alone should demonstrate the importance of viewing contract referral services with a discerning eye, and why you should always conduct your own vetting outside of these services.