Looking for a contractor can be a pain. It seems like most of the time I call around to get work done, the contractor is either unavailable to take a call because they’re busy on a job and don’t have an office staff, or they’re booked out too far to be convenient, or they’re so unprofessional that the only reason they’re still in business is that I and people like me don’t know who else to call.
That’s where Angie’s List and sites like it come in. You can search for the type of service you need and see reviews (usually a lot of reviews) for the businesses in your area.
This type of site differs from searching on Google and seeing reviews left there because, on these types of sites, the company also posts information, and you can contact them directly. Each company page acts as a mini-website for that business with the addition of featuring customer reviews. Google lets people post reviews, which is helpful, but the details it gives on the business are scanty, often leaving you with more questions than answers.
Let’s look through a few of these alternatives to Angie’s List. You may just find a new favorite directory site.
I like the Houzz site in general because it really has three topic areas. First, it offers you helpful articles on home improvement. This is the Get Ideas section. It might show you examples of styles you can consider for your house, both inside and out, or offer a DIY tutorial on how to do something. The bulk of this section is photojournalism, so you get to see plenty of examples and can imagine doing the same thing on your property.
Second is the Find Professionals section, which is where you can search for and read reviews on the companies in your area. You start by selecting a broad category, such as HVAC Contractors, then narrow it down to a more specific job task. For HVAC, I found:
- Air Conditioning Installation vs. AC Repair
- HVAC Installation vs. Inspection
- Heating System Installation vs. Oil to Gas Conversion
- And more
So, you can really narrow down what you need to have done, and the site will only show those companies that have verified they do that type of work. No wasted calls or contact forms! But be careful when you choose one of these categories as the site will then take you through a series of questions, asking more about your location, budget, etc. It then sends you an email with what its algorithm says are the best matches for your inquiry.
I prefer to use the manual filters to further narrow the selection. You can do a simple location search and select the radius for where a business is located. Or you can select what the site calls Standouts. These might be things like Available Weekends, or References Available, or Woman-Owned, so you can really work with a company you feel good about.
You can also filter by Languages. Interestingly, English is not a choice, but if you’re a Russian immigrant, for example, you can search for a contractor who speaks Russian.
Finally, you can select the Rating. This lets you search by the average review score of the company.
Once you’ve set up all your filters, you’ll see the list of available contractors. Keep in mind that the list will only show you the companies that have created a page on Houzz. That’s where Google is more inclusive.
You then click the contractor’s page to read what they say about themselves, including photos of past work and their contact information. At the bottom are all the customer reviews they’ve received on Houzz, just like you’d see for a product on Amazon. You can choose to call or send them a message directly from the website.
The third featured category on Houzz is Shop by Department, where you can search for and purchase almost anything you need for your home repair or home improvement project, all narrowed by product feature, brand, price, and customer ratings.
Houzz is really an all-in-one site for home improvement. Again, the only complaint I have is how they want to collect your email address and the fact that they only list companies that voluntarily create a page on the site. It’s quite possible that the small business in your neighborhood is the best for your chosen task, but you won’t find them on Houzz because they haven’t taken the time to input their information.
Thumbtack is a much simpler site to use than Houzz, but they have a couple of features that set them apart. Let me give you a rundown of how this site works.
First, you can choose to Explore, in which case you’ll select a service category you’re looking for, then have the option to filter the selection, or you can type in your need and zip code to bring up the list of contractors around you. This second option is usually best.
Once the list comes up, you further filter the results based on relevant criteria. The filters are specific to the category, which makes this feature more useful than general filters, like price or popularity. You can see the average price of service, though, as well as the estimated service charge for each business. That’s one of the best perks of this site.
You can then click the profile for each business in your area and read their page. It should include photos, their credentials, and even how long they’ve been business, along with customer reviews and a contact form. Another feature is you can see how many people have hired them through the Thumbtack website.
Again, the drawback of this website is that it only lists companies that created pages and only provides as detailed information as the company volunteers. There are no how-to articles on this site or products to buy, and there may not be as many contractors listed as it’s not as popular of a site. The filters for finding a contractor, however, seem to be more relevant than those on Houzz.
Porch is trying hard to compete with Houzz in the advice and pro-matching departments. The Resources section focuses less on ideas, though, and more on helping you find out what different types of projects should cost. It’s helpful to read about your type of project before hiring someone so that you’ll know if the price you’re getting is reasonable or not.
As for finding a contractor, they have two main categories: Moving and everything else (Repair and Improve). In this second section, you can select a type of contractor or type of project. Input your zip code to narrow the results.
This is where Porch looks a lot like Houzz, where you have to answer a lot of questions about your project and input your email to receive a list of relevant contractors. There’s really no way to search the list yourself.
If you don’t mind this aspect, they will send you a list of contractors, along with all pertinent information. Of course, like the sites above, this is all based on what the companies have provided. My own preference is to read the Resources section for my project, then go to another directory site that’s more user-friendly. I don’t need to give my email address to every website I visit.
On Home Advisor, you have three options for finding a contractor. The first is doing a general search by project and zip code. You answer a few questions to help the site narrow the results for your type of job, then give them your contact information to send you an email with a recommended list.
The second option is searching for a job at a guaranteed Fixed Price. When you choose Fixed Price, you select the type of task you need to have done. Generally, these are one-time maintenance projects, like cleaning gutters or aerating your lawn, not large projects like installing a roof or creating a landscape feature. You then answer some easy questions about the job, select how many hours you’d like to pay for (they give you a suggested time frame), and the day and time you want the contractor to come.
Of course, you have to input your email. Adding a phone number is optional. This lets the site match you with available contractors. If you confirm service, you’ll pay through HomeAdvisor. Before you input your contact information, you can read reviews about the service in general. So, if you choose Roof Repair, for instance, you’ll see reviews based on booking a Fixed Price Roof Repair through Home Advisor, not reviews on individual contractors you could be matched with.
The third option is to Browse the Directory, which seems to be the most user-friendly option, but it’s kind of buried in the site. With this option, you choose your type of service and enter your zip. Or, you can click on your metro area to see a list of top-rated companies by service category.
When the list comes up, you can click on each business to see a brief description, contact info, and any reviews they’ve received. This is my preferred method of searching the site.
You can also find some informational articles on the site, though this is not a main feature.