Learn how to find the right contractor for your next home improvement project. Find out why Angie's List is a great place to start your search, and get tips on what questions to ask references.
LESLIE: Well, when it comes to starting a home improvement project, one of the first super-important decisions you need to make is really to decide can you do it yourself or should you hire a pro ?
TOM: Definitely. But if you decide to hire a pro, how do you find the right one for your project? Joining us now are two experts who know a lot about that topic: Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List , a website devoted to helping consumers find the best professionals for their projects and service needs, and Kevin O’Connor , the host of TV’s This Old House .
ANGIE: Well, thanks for having me on the show. It’s nice to be here.
TOM: And hello, Kevin.
KEVIN: Hi there.
TOM: Now, how did you get started with Angie’s List? Can you tell us about maybe some of the early years, before the internet really changed the way consumers are searching for contractors?
ANGIE: Angie’s List started 17 years ago. We started in 1995 as a magazine and a call-in service. You know, we really felt like there should be a better way for consumers to share information with one another about the local service companies they were hiring. My co-founder was actually in the process of renovating an old house in Columbus, Ohio and was having trouble with a heating-and-cooling company. So we thought there should just be better information available to make these important decisions.
So we started collecting reviews on local service companies and this was pre-internet days. So consumers would call in to find out which companies were the best and then, obviously, as the internet evolved, it turned into a great expansion opportunity for our business.
KEVIN: One of the ways most people seem to find contractors , at least for decades, was to ask a friend or a neighbor because those are the people who they trust. How does that sense of trust come through when you’re doing a search process online?
ANGIE: At Angie’s List, we are really trying to magnify that same word-of-mouth networking people have done all the years: ask your neighbors, ask your co-workers who they’ve used. The problem is, as an individual consumer, the number of experiences you might be able to tap into can be somewhat limited. So by aggregating experiences from thousands of people within a city, you can get a lot better picture of the local service landscape. And the idea of getting trusted information has always been a foundation of Angie’s List.
For example, we do not allow anonymous reviews. Consumers join Angie’s List. We allow companies to respond to reviews. All of this foundation is really what leads to consumers getting really good, reliable information.
TOM: Now, what about references? We always get the advice to check references  but what questions should you really be asking?
ANGIE: Well, when a consumer is thinking about checking references, I always remind them every company should have references. And if they’re not willing to give you references, that’s a red flag. But also keep in mind they’re probably giving you some of their best customers, so ask very open-ended questions about the experience instead of yes/no. Because you’ll oftentimes get someone talking and get a better, holistic view of the experience.
Additionally, when you’re asking about references – especially on a remodel job, for example – ask for a reference for someone that maybe the contractor is currently doing work with, maybe someone who had – they did work with potentially – just finished a job on. And then find someone that they did work for maybe six months ago because that’ll really help you get a better perspective on what it’s like within the job, how the contractor finished up last-minute things and then, also, how the project held up over time.
KEVIN: I suspect you guys get lots of reviews on your website? I mean are there any surprises out there? Anything surprising that your members have to say?
ANGIE: Yeah, I think one of the things that, over the years, has always, always just kind of perplexed me was just the fact that probably the biggest complaint that we get is that service companies don’t return phone calls. So we’re always looking for ways to help that communication process because even today, it can be – it could be a little less than perfect.
So, we know that consumers are busy and wanting to hire services, so how do we make sure that they get connected quickly to great companies?
LESLIE: So what if you’ve got a member that’s got a concern with a business? Do you then go ahead and help that member get that issue resolved?
ANGIE: If a consumer does have a – gives a low grade on a company, we always offer our complaint-resolution service where we will reach out to the company on the consumer’s behalf. We’ll ask the consumer to articulate what an acceptable resolution would be for the situation and then we’ll step in as that independent third party, which a lot of times can help in that communication process.
Because many times, I find that it’s a miscommunication – is kind of what led them to the problem at hand. And then we’ll work to get that resolution the consumer is looking for. And we have a lot of success with that just because of the strength of the member base. Then, if a company fails to respond to us or if they agree to fix something and then back out on that fix, they’ll end up in our penalty box and nobody wants to be in the penalty box.
TOM: Now, Angie, so many consumers today are looking for ways to kind of go green with their home improvement projects . Do you help them identify contractors that really specialize in sort of being eco-friendly in doing those improvements?
ANGIE: Well, the trend we’re seeing more and more these days is consumers looking for eco-friendly contractors and that’s also a designation that we show on Angie’s List. And that has been a growing phenomenon and a great way for consumers to think about how they can do renovations and also be good to the environment.
TOM: We’re talking with Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, and Angie Hicks, the founder of AngiesList.com, about how Angie’s List helps consumers find the best home improvement contractors for their projects.
Kevin, let me ask this question to you. One of the most common things that I’m asked about is: do I know a good contractor to do something? This is a long process involved in finding that right guy. There’s a lot of relationships involved; there’s a lot of tools, like Angie’s List, that can help. Once you find them, you like to hold on to them, right?
KEVIN: You definitely want to hold on to them. If you have a good experience with a contractor who does work in your house, chances are you’re going to need work done again in the future and you’re going to want to go back to that person who you trust. I think about my own experience on the show.
First of all, the guys that I work with regularly have been on the show for 33 years. They’ve been doing it forever. But we’ve got lots of other people who they work with – subcontractors and such – and they’re the same folks who we invite back year after year after year. They perform well, they’re trustworthy, they get the job done. You don’t want to take those guys out of your Rolodex. It’s a long-term relationship that you’re setting up, so go into it thinking about it that way.
TOM: Great advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure. Great to be here.
TOM: And Angie Hicks, the founder of AngiesList.com, thanks so much for filling us in on the best way to find a pro to help with your project.
ANGIE: Thank you.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos on many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com. And for help finding a great pro to tackle your project, visit AngiesList.com.
TOM: And Ask This Old House is also brought to you by Angie’s List. Angie’s List, reviews you can trust.