The internet has transformed how we shop, with access to details and price comparisons creating a welcome transparency and ease of use. So it makes sense that we finally have online marketplaces for consumers to more easily find home improvement service providers.
Companies such as Home Advisor, Porch and Pro (the current top 3 among nearly a dozen) are online marketplaces for homeowners to connect with home improvement and home service professionals. While each company has slightly different methods for connecting the consumer to companies, they all aim to make it quicker and more convenient to find the right company.
Many remodeling marketplace networks are brokers who gather and vet interested contractors who pay to receive leads from the brokering agent. In turn, the broker receives a small percentage of the contractor’s fee for completed jobs gained through their agency.
What Does an Online Remodeling Broker Service Do?
Online remodeling marketplaces aim to simplify the consumer’s search for home improvement contractors that meet their project criteria.
While each marketplace referral site’s process differs slightly, in general, the consumer answers a series of questions about their project and is provided with a list of contractors that should match the consumer’s needs.
The companies that match the search criteria are pulled from contractors that have signed on with the broker to be included in the listings. Each broker has a different process for qualifying and vouching for the contractors they list, and provide a profile page about the contractor.
Most brokering sites leave it up to the consumer to contact the contractor directly.
Do Online Remodeling Brokers Make It Easier to Find a Contractor?
In theory, online remodeling brokers reduce search time by providing a pre-qualified list of contractors. But once the list is obtained, it still requires research and due diligence on the homeowner’s part, which is the most time-consuming and important part of identifying the right company to work with.
Also understand that the list of contractors are those who have agreed to pay for leads from the brokering agent. This automatically narrows the resources to choose from. The best company for a project may be overlooked simply because they do not pay for the brokering agent’s job-finding services.
Each agent uses slightly different standards to qualify their competing contractors, but all of them tend to rely on clean background checks, proper licenses to work in the state and proof of insurance as the criteria for approving a contracting company.
But there is so much more that qualifies a contractor that is honest and ethical, and performs quality work with professional customer service.
What is the Best Way to Choose a Home Improvement Contractor?
Even with the assistance of an online remodeling broker, a consumer still has to do the standard research on the listed companies, or suffer the consequences.
The most important and standard ways of finding the right contractor remain:
• A Better Business Bureau (BBB) search for a company’s accreditation, rating, reviews and performance record.
• A consumer groups and social media search for reviews and insights to the company’s culture.
• A membership in local and national remodeling organizations to verify their experience and accountability.
• A recommendation or referral from family or friends who had good experiences with a BBB-rated company.
Many of the remodeling brokers do not appear to prioritize a listing or rating with the BBB as an important requirement for their recommended companies, even though the BBB has long been a consumer’s best line of protection.
An illuminating example of how contractors are qualified for a brokering agency is a Porch.com search for a bathroom remodel in the Missouri zip code 63122. See the search results for this example.
The broad search nets 7,940 “Guaranteed Professionals” in the Porch database.
Narrowing the search to those that are BBB-rated reduces to 560.
Further narrowing the search to those that are BBB-rated and “verified license” nets 43.
In this example, a Porch client is best protected by considering only those 43 contractors who have proper licensing and a BBB rating. And once that list is further narrowed down, it still requires personal research and interviewing candidates to find the best fit.
How Do Those Who’ve Used Online Remodeling Brokers Feel About the Service?
Employing a healthy skepticism creates a savvy consumer. Outside, third-party reviews and recommendations provide a less-biased overview of a company than those on the website of the company promoting the service. This is why people look to Consumer Affairs, Consumer Reports and other review organizations to round out the research.
A Consumer Affairs search for reviews about Home Advisors shows an overall 4.5 rating out of 5 for their remodeling brokering services. A general round-up shows high satisfaction for finding contractors for repairs or task-related jobs such as gutter cleaning, lawn care or HVAC, rather than more detailed remodeling projects. Low-ratings come from customers who learned the hard way that they had chosen from the list a company that was ultimately unreliable or badly rated elsewhere.
Some of the Home Advisors reviews on Consumer Affairs underscore the importance of continuing to research a company, which still must be done by the homeowner:
“While HomeAdvisor does put you in touch with contractors in the area, not all contractors reach out and are available. So patience is the key. A lot of research is to be done by the homeowner still.”
“I have used HomeAdvisor.com for home and outdoor projects, but did not hire every professional they referred me to, as some had bad ratings with the BBB, and others were only interested in high-priced solutions to the problem areas. I suggest you thoroughly screen anyone you plan to hire beforehand.”
“If you’re in search of quality contractors, Home Advisor is not the place to look. You’ll find a lot of average guys who can’t get jobs on their own. You’ll do better through the BBB, on Angie’s List, asking your friends or even doing a Google search.”
Another consumer safety check is to research an online remodeling broker on the BBB. and be sure to check all potential contractors with your local BBB. If the company is not even listed, strongly consider removing them from the list of candidates.
In Summary, online remodeling brokers can narrow your initial search results for a home improvement contractor, but cannot provide all of your options, and should not keep you from proper research and due diligence.
This research and field-testing of online remodeling brokers was conducted by St. Louis design-build remodeling firm Mosby Building Arts, a locally and nationally-recognized industry leader for their high standards of customer service and business ethics. They have earned two BBB TORCH awards. For help with all of your home improvement needs, call the Mosby office at 314.909.1800 or contact them here.