When searching for a home improvement professional, 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.
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, Angie’s List may be ok. When it comes to a major remodeling project where design and permitting is involved, Angie’s List is generally not a good solution because their reviews and grading system is unreliable.
HomeAdvisor is even more dangerous than Angie’s List 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.
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 or adequate supervision. 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.
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 “Angie’s List 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 anf 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.