Q: I know Angie's List provides recommendations for local contractors, cleaning services, etc., but I'm not overly fond of paying a subscription fee. Do you have any ideas to find reliable businesses for free?
- Rachel Research
A: Dear Ms. Research: Yes, indeedy, I do. While I subscribe to Angie's List both for personal and professional reasons, I also check out lots of other sites for recommendations and referrals. (Don't forget, though, that family and friends are still the best sources. In fact, go a step further and, once you've found a couple of pros, ask for at least 10 references and 15 is better. With a larger amount, you're more apt to get objective reviews rather than past customers with whom the provider may have a more personal relationship.) Here are some highly rated sites that I use. (All are free except Angie's List.)
Angie's List (angieslist.com) is one of the best to search for and read reviews about providers in all specialties. It works hard to weed out fraudulent reviews so don't try to post anonymously. Consumer Reports, on the other hand, reports that some of those highly-rated companies have bought ads on Angie's List, even though the site defends its policy of allowing companies with continuous good reviews to purchase ads.
Google+local (plus.google.com/local) is successful because a user must create a Google + profile, which ensures a real name and face, rather than anonymous reviews. Restaurants are the prime focus here. Along with reviews, look for city maps and the restaurants' websites.
Homeadvisor (homeadvisor.com) is a great source for individual pros, especially as its database is comprised of 80,000 service providers. These folks' specialties run the gamut from gutters to decorators and everything in between. Even better, Homeadvisor screens contractors and other providers and collects customer ratings.
Porch (porch.com) is a super site for home-improvement projects. Users search providers' profiles based not only on location, but also on specialization. For instance, while a reader might look up East Ridge or Fort Oglethorpe, he or she would also check for specific skills, such as house painting or child care. Unfortunately, the site has no customer reviews at this time, but it does tell how many of your neighbors have used the company which allows you to do some innocent snooping. Browse photos for thousands upon thousands of completed projects with many including actual costs.
Yelp (yelp.com) with 53 million reviews is the most popular of all sites that recommend service providers. Even though it allows some anonymous reviews, Yelp is filled with many varying services, such as banks, service stations, spas, health, pets, lodging, and the list goes on and on.
Once you've found the "perfect" person and he or she completes the project to your satisfaction, ask this pro to refer you to someone with another specialty you might need in the future. Good craftsmen usually know the folks they'd trust.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears each Sunday. You may contact her at email@example.com