There’s an almost dizzying amount of information on the internet, and much of it’s untrustworthy. Every company wants to look good, while making their competition look inferior. Unfortunately, some will do just about anything to paint the picture they want you to see.
With so much money on the line when it comes to home repair and remodeling projects, who can you trust? Traditionally, your best bet has been to get a recommendation from a friend or neighbor, but that doesn’t always work.
When my home needed some roof repairs, I called a friend’s roofer. The company sent a representative to inspect my home, but never followed up with an estimate. Several phone calls and a few weeks later I finally gave up and struck out on my own. Here’s what I’ve learned about some of the most popular online sites for investigating home repair businesses.
A lot of people are turned off by the fact that Angie’s List charges a fee to join. However the company’s argument is that by charging the consumer, and not charging the businesses, they remain unbiased.
The money goes to some kind of super secret system they have for checking reviews before they post them to ensure vendors don’t give themselves positive reviews and their competitors negative ones. There’s probably no 100 percent fool proof method of eliminating fake reviews. But by charging for each membership (i.e. each potential reviewer), Angie’s List does make it more challenging to cheat.
Pressure from free review sites seems to be driving the prices down. In my town, Austin, Texas, you can pay as little as $3.76 for a one month membership with no signup fee. A four year commitment costs $23.97 which averages out to about 50 cents a month. Keep in mind the cost varies by city.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB)
If you see that a business has had complaints to the BBB, it almost always means the company is not responding appropriately to issues that arise with their customers. If you see that they have unresolved complaints with the BBB, you absolutely do not want to do business with them.
I had a retail store for five years and I never had a complaint with the BBB. That’s because I addressed customer concerns with the customers, to their satisfaction. Businesses with complaints to the BBB don’t do that. They may have lots of good reviews online from people who were lucky enough not to have problems, but you don’t want to play Russian roulette with your home repairs. Choose a company that’ll make sure you’re satisfied even if something goes wrong.
The BBB also reports information on any lawsuits that have been filed against the company and any government action that has been taken against them. Again, these are major red flags that should alert you to look elsewhere.
The one negative with the BBB is that they do charge businesses for memberships. They claim that they won’t “accredit” a business that doesn’t meet their standards. But I encountered one truly unscrupulous company that was BBB accredited and had an “A-“rating with them. The business had more than 50 resolved complaints. That’s a “C” at best in my book.
As a general rule I find that when the BBB has negative information about a company it’s credible, but you can’t always trust the positive grades. The review page discloses whether or not the business is a BBB member, so always take that into account.
Yellowpages.com, Citysearch.com and Yelp are just a few of the many free review and information sites on the internet. You can find lots of useful and accurate information on these sites; however, you want to proceed with caution.
All of these sites make their money from businesses that advertise with them – in some cases big money. Yelp in particular has been accused of favoring their paying customers in the way they filter reviews and sort query results. Any site that only requires an e-mail address to sign up is opening the door for businesses to manipulate their reviews by creating fake ones.
That doesn’t mean all the information on these sites is useless. Most of the reviews are genuine. In general the more reviews a vendor has, the more you can trust the overall pictures those reviews paint.
The key is to check several sources, and look for a pattern of customer satisfaction. I always check the BBB and at least two other on line review sites when evaluating vendors for a project.
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