By Robert L. Cain
We see their ads constantly about being able to check out contractors and other businesses to get “Reviews You Can Trust.” I do that regularly and have had mostly good luck finding contractors to do work for me, but I had questions about how Angie’s List deals with the contractors and other businesses listed on its website.
Angie’s List advertises that listing a business is free, and up to a point, that’s true. But contractors have told me that they were paying over $600 a month for an Angie’s List listing. How does that jibe with the “free” claim on the Angie’s List website?
It’s all but impossible to get through on the phone to actually speak to anyone there. One contractor, who was paying $660 a month to Angie’s List, said he had to wait up to a half hour to speak to an actual person. Sounds about right.
My questions were about the “free” business listing, so I called and asked to speak to someone about that. At first they put me through to “member services,” that is, the department that handles consumers. Oh, “You need business services,” which is what I had asked for to begin with. He transferred me to permanent hold. I am not willing to wait a half hour, so I hung up after a couple of minutes and posted the questions on their support site. They are:
1. How much are businesses charged for listing? How is that done?
2. What if a business is listed and gets a review? Is that business charged?
3. How do you tell if a business has used shills to review it for good reviews?
4. Why do you offer deals from unlicensed contractors
Here are the answers I got from Melissa S:
Currently we do not charge service providers to be listed, we feel that charging the service providers a fee to appear on the List will undermine the overall quality of our content. (sic) Services that charge businesses for their participation often feature skewed results that don’t reflect consumers’ experiences with service providers. At Angie’s List, not only can you read individual, first-hand experiences, but you can also see the service provider’s side of a given situation allowing for a much more balanced view of the company’s business practices.
Providers who are listed as not licensed can offer deals for two reasons. First, if we have not did (sic) a background check on the provider we cannot verify whether or not they are licensed. Second, in some situations, depending on state laws, and the job, providers do not have to be licensed. [quoted with grammar and usage errors included]
For more questions, she referred me to the support site, the place that prompted my questions in the first place.
One contractor, Anthony Gravagne, a plumber who had done excellent work for me on three occasions, told me that he had originally had a free listing when he signed up in 2009. He received two or three reviews in five years. Then he signed a contract with Angie’s List where he would pay them $660 a month for a listing that covered all zip codes in the area plus a couple of other services. Immediately reviews poured in, several a day, he said.
Another contractor, Bostick Remodeling, pays about $185 a month. He says it’s worth it to him, so he keeps it up.
From what I could gather from speaking to contractors, if a contractor pays, he or she gets follow-ups by Angie’s list by email to the members who have searched for them plus a “storefront.” I never could figure out what that was when I searched on Angie’s List.
Look at any type of contracting business on Angie’s List and you will see that the businesses with the most reviews are at the top. That obviously means that customers have reviewed them, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of jobs they have completed, only the number of reviews.
Many companies push customer reviews. Anthony is a one-man-show. Travis Bostick has three employees. Neither has a marketing department to make sure that they get reviewed and Anthony is timid about pushing for people to review him on Angie’s List. “I just want to turn a wrench,” Anthony told me. Travis is not shy and does ask for reviews. And when I had not gotten around to reviewing Bostick Remodeling, I got weekly emails from Angie’s List asking for a review.
The multi-employee companies have marketing departments and gladly pay monthly charges. Anthony told me, though, it cost him more for Angie’s List than the business he was getting from it. He cancelled the contract with Angie’s List. Now he is “delisted.” I can’t find his listing under plumbers in spite of the fact that I reviewed him just last month and he had around 50 “A” reviews. So much for a “free” listing.
One example, of a top of the list company is the air conditioning company I called. They sit right at the top of the listings for heating and cooling because they have the most reviews. They are a large company with multiple trucks and employees. I spoke with the owner, who never “turns a wrench,” and he has all his employees push Angie’s List reviews. I had a less than favorable experience with this company, and when I posted a poor review, the owner, to his credit, called me and wanted to make it good, which he mostly did
The dirty little secret of Angie’s List is that if you pay, you can end up with a top listing. If you are a one-man-show, and you can’t afford to pay, you might disappear.
Finally, there is the licensed contractor question. I get emails with special offers from Angie’s List regularly. I was in the market awhile back to paint the exterior of my house. Angie’s List had what looked like a great deal for exterior painting. Remember Melissa S’s response to that question? I don’t hire unlicensed contractors to do work, so I went looking on the Arizona Registrar of Contractors website for this company. It wasn’t there. I tried three different searches, name, owner’s name, painters, and never could find it. Contractors of any kind must be licensed in Arizona if they are going to do more than $400 worth of work on a project. Yet, there it was, an offer to paint a house for something like $1800.
The problem was, I would be paying Angie’s List, not the painter, for the work. Presumably, they took their cut. But then, who was the contractor, the painter or Angie’s List?
That’s another dirty little secret. Unlicensed contractors can get away with doing work when they should be licensed if they use Angie’s List as a go-between.
I called Angie’s List’s Public Relations Department for comment and response and left a message, but they did not return my call.
Should you rely on Angie’s List for finding contractors? I have and still do, dirty little secrets notwithstanding. With a couple of exceptions, I have had good experiences with the people I have hired. Even so, it still pays to do due diligence after coming up with a list of possible contractors and never be afraid to scroll down to the end of the list for some possibly terrific contractors.