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Monday, July 17, 2006

Indy-based Angie's List in the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal's Steve Stecklow wrote an article published July 15 about one-line referrals for handyman services.

He mentioned Indianapolis-based Angie's List as one of the providers. Bill Oesterle, Mitch Daniels' campaign chairman, is chief executive of Angie's List.

Mr. Stecklow noted three notable online contractor referrals:
Finding a reliable home contractor has always been a dicey proposition. Horror stories of botched jobs and endless delays abound -- and they have fed a dramatic expansion of Web sites that promise to match customers with professionals recommended by ex-clients.

Angie's List, which began in 1995 with a single call center in Columbus, Ohio, now has e425,000 paying members, up from 250,000 six months ago. By early August, the site will list contractors in 60 U.S. cities, up from 27 at the end of last year. At ServiceMagic.com, visits now approach 2.5 million a month, 20% more than a year ago. Several other contractor-referral sites, including GetVendors.com, serve smaller geographical areas.

Mr. Stecklow then test-drove ServiceMagic.com. He hired a contractor based on the ratings on ServiceMagic.com to install two storm doors. He wasn't particularly pleased with the result. He's now hoping to get the job done through a contractor recommended by Angie's List. However, he's not so sure the pre-internet way of getting contractor referrals might not be best.
So this is where I stand. I now have two new storm doors, one upside-down in the front of my house, the other in the basement. I'm out $130 (although Ms. Taylor says another check from the contractor is in the mail). And, after more than a month, I'm back to the beginning -- I still need a contractor. I tried Angie's list on Monday, but the site was down. A spokesman says, "That's not typical." I'm now considering the prehistoric solution: asking my neighbors for recommendations.

Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising. The other day, I came across a message from a contractor in an online discussion group, alt.building.construction. He said he had tried several referral sites to get jobs with little success. "If you think about it, what kind of person looks for a contractor on the Internet?" he wrote. "Not the brightest bulb on the tree, that's for sure."

I have a trial membership with Angie's List and look there from time to time and friends who own a car service are already listed there.

My concern is that only a handful of reports can easily be bogus.
Our local newspaper for example asks every year for votes for the best places to go for eating, car repair, etc. At that time all these family-businesses call their customers and friends to vote for them. I am sure they do the same with Angie's List entries. There is even no guarantee that these people ever got service from that business.

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