Do You Use An Online Home Services Listing Provider?

August 24th, 2015 by Editor

Note: This article is by Drew Vass, a contributing editor for Window Film magazine.

Knock-knock. Who’s there? It’s Angie’s List and the other Internet-based home services listing providers looking to stake their claims in the home improvement industries. But before you slam the door, you should know that Internet giants Amazon and Google have joined in.  Those companies want to change the way homeowners shop for services the same way that they revolutionized online shopping and Web searching. And with some estimates for the home services market ranging from $400 billion to $800 billion, it’s no surprise that, whether you open the door or not, they’re moving in.

Move Over, Angie

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past 20 years, chances are you’ve heard of Angie—maybe you’re even on her list. Not too far behind her came ServiceMagic, in 1999, which was later rebranded as HomeAdvisor. In 2014, online retailer Amazon began packaging products like flat-screen televisions with installation services. Apparently that concept is catching on, because in March 2015 the company rolled out a full lineup of home improvement offerings via its new Home Services division.  Also in 2014, Google tossed its bets into the home improvement race by investing in Thumbtack, another listing provider that surfaced in 2010.

Amazon does it with a single click, via preset prices. (Yes, even for services.) HomeAdvisor even allows its users to access and add themselves to your calendar via a smartphone app.

Part of these services’ power is no doubt derived from their scope, which is certainly worth noting. HomeAdvisor reports that it sees more than five million unique users each month. Angie’s List reports that it has more than 3,172,000 consumer members. Thumbtack reports that its 200,000 service providers tackle $5.4 million worth of projects each year. We were unable to locate any independent sources with which to compare those numbers, nor can we say how many of their subscribers, customers or projects fall within your area. What we can say is that Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor and Thumbtack have all 50 states covered and, as of July 2015, Amazon served just 15 cities with its Home Services, but no doubt has its sites set on the entire nation.

Pay Per Lead?

Amazon is free to enlist with, but the company collects from 10- to 20-percent commissions on each sale it sends your way. Likewise, signing up for Angie’s List won’t cost you a dime, mainly because that company’s service is fueled by consumer members who pay anywhere from $10 to $60 per year. And Angie won’t take a cut of your invoices, but in order to appear near the top of her list, you’ll need to purchase advertising, which ranges from several hundred to thousands of dollars.

HomeAdvisor isn’t free—the company assesses an annual membership fee, which we’re told is “around a couple hundred dollars,” then charges fees for each of the leads it sends your way. A company representative for HomeAdvisor was unable to provide an exact amount for those lead fees, because they’re dependent on things like job type and location, but they assured us that they’re “nowhere near 10- to 20-percent.” (A number they clearly didn’t pick arbitrarily.) Lastly, signing up with Thumbtack is free and there are no membership fees for that service, but you’ll pay for each bid you submit in response to its leads by using Thumbtack Credits, which must be purchased and we’re told equate to approximately between five and 10 percent of your earnings per job.

 The Inner Clockworks

In terms of how each service functions, from a consumer perspective they’re all pretty similar—you either whittle your way through various home improvement categories, like Windows and Doors, for instance, or you just type exactly what you’re looking for into a search field (which, presumably, is compared against company profiles). Some services allow you to enter details, like the number of windows you’re after—all of which is passed along with leads.

When it comes to enlisting as a company, we found each service’s process to be fairly simple, though you won’t be able to jump straight onto their lists. That’s because they all provide at least one hoop to clear: A criminal background check. A representative for HomeAdvisor says that alone weeds out around 15 percent of its applications.

Amazon promotes that its professionals are secured through an “invite-only” process, in which they’re hand-picked through “media searches, online interviews and reference checks.” We investigated and discovered that there is indeed an invite process, but it goes both ways. In other words, you may invite yourself to be considered by visiting the Home Services website and clicking the “Become a pro” button. Thumbtack and HomeAdvisor are simple—you need only to sign up and create your profile. Once you’ve passed their background checks, you just pay your membership dues (or purchase credits in the case of Thumbtack) and you’re on their lists. Angie’s List is equally as simple; just sign up, create a profile, undergo the background check and you’re enlisted for free. But free won’t get you onto her list. At that point, the only way anyone can find you is by searching for your business by name. In order to return among Angie’s search results, you must first receive two A or B grade ratings and they must come from paid subscribers. (Though non-members can visit the service and log a review, those won’t count. Maybe spot a couple of past clients the minimum $10 signup fee?)

To be clear: Angie’s List isn’t the only site to lean on reviews. All of these services cultivate an environment in which consumers are conditioned to look for ratings before deciding on which companies to hire. And rest assured, bomb a few of those reviews and—if you aren’t escorted out of their listings—chances are you’ll fall so far down their lists that you’ll never receive another lead. It’s just a part of how they do business.

So then, what protects you from, say, a competitor launching an attack of bad reviews? Amazon solicits reviews only from registered customers. Thumbtack allows both verified and unverified reviews, but denotes them as such. Angie’s List employs a certification system that doesn’t allow for anonymous or self-provided reviews (so you can ditch the fake user name and forget it). HomeAdvisor solicits reviews only from registered customers, and while you may have past customers (that you didn’t land through the service) log ratings, forget about offering your buddies a free six-pack—the company will contact them to ensure that they’re real customers.

Let’s All Get Along

Because we live in a world where some customers are just disgruntled by nature, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor and Thumbtack all allow you to respond to poor reviews directly on their websites, as well as provide mediation services to help resolve any issues. Of course, they’re also there to protect your customers. On its prepackaged services, Amazon includes a “Happiness Guarantee” in which it warrants to make a service right or provide a full refund. That may include sending you back for a second chance, or calling in one of your competitors to play cleanup, but ultimately could include a customer refund of up to $2,500. Angie’s List will reach out to anyone providing a C grade or lower, as well as to their service providers, to seek remediation. If a resolution is reached, then those negative reviews are removed. HomeAdvisor places its service providers on hold when they receive a bad review, stopping the flow of their leads until the issue is resolved. Fail to respond to those efforts and you’re off the company’s list, at which time they’ll find someone else to clean up your work or issue a reimbursement. Receive a few a bad reviews on Angie’s List and she’ll boot you from her advertising programs, then demote you down the ranks of her search results. Should you unenlist, those negative reviews remain in place for anyone who searches for your company by name.

READERS: Do you use one of the services above? Tell us about it. Post a comment here or e-mail DWM editor Trey Barrineau at tbarrineau@glass.com.

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  1. I have been listed on most of these sites as an approved professional, along with others not mentioned, such as Porch and Houzz.

    Just like the defunct Service Magic (now called HomeAdvisor, hmmm), they will sign up businesses, rake in fees, then deliver few leads of any value.

    I’ve had it with all of them.

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