Sometimes you just get it wrong — way wrong.
A number of years ago, on a panel at CES, I was asked for an example of how the internet would make a basic task for the average homeowner dramatically, measurably better. I had just finished some home repairs and remodeling, and the scars were fresh.
“In the future, we’ll be able to find local, reliable, highly rated contractors,” I said. “They’ll come in on time, and on budget, and you’ll reward them with prompt payment and recommendations to your neighbors and friends via social postings and attributed ratings.”
The audience smiled with knowing appreciation. After all, back then — before the web was part of our daily lives — everyone I knew had a painful story of contractors turning their homes, and their lives, upside down.
Flash-forward. It’s 2018. And we’ve arrived at the future I so confidently touted.
Enter home repair and renovation, the 2018 edition.
My journey began, as now most things do, with a Google search. And already there are surprises. The top search results are HomeAdvisor, Houzz, ResolvebyLowes, and HomeDepot — all paid. So much for Google’s free search results. It seems as if those who pay now fill up the entire first page of results. I tried “home renovation near me” and “home repair near me” — same results.
You learn very quickly that that these sites don’t provide services. They’re simply a way to capture lead generation and then hand them off to local contractors. If there’s quality control, I couldn’t find it. And, after talking to people who called me from both HomAdvisor and Houzz, I found they were boiler room calls, more to qualify leads than to help match customers to contractors. I didn’t try Sweeten.com because it wanted you to spend a minimum of $15k for the job, and I was looking for more modest repairs.
Next stop: Yelp. I was astounded to find that even when you search on Yelp, the page that is delivered is a muddy mess of paid and free results. And the comments, even when you know a contractor’s name, are often comments for the paid results that take up the top of the page.
I did find some local contractors. And there, the comments ranged from: “Fantastic, great job, on time!” to “Run, don’t walk, a total scam.” It’s almost impossible to separate the comments that seem to game the system from the handful of unhappy customers.
Others have worked hard to make outlier comments less relevant. In particular, TripAdvisor has solved for this. But on Yelp, no such luck. It’s like a yellow page that’s been gamed by paid posts and fake endorsements.
Finally, Craigslist, which used to be my go-to for local service providers, but it’s been a while. Now a search comes up with what is clearly an ad, with the same text posted over and over again. Lots and lots of keywords (i.e., we do “everything and anything”) and, big surprise, a shift away from websites and email.
Most Craigslist posters now favor a phone call, so I called three of them. Local repair contractors for sure, but no references, no ratings, no way to know if they’ve been vetted by the community or are trusted.
As I think back to my CES proclamation, it seems I was flat-out wrong. The web hasn’t made home repair more trusted, verified, or reliable. It’s just turned into a cesspool of lead-gen aggregators and hardworking independent contractors who are using their cell phones to capture jobs -- and then, as always, come by to scope the job and make an estimate.
How has technology created trust for customers and contractors? It seems that opportunity has slipped by.
Do you have a story about contractors and home repair, either positive or negative? I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about finding a good one.