Study on Angie’s List, homeowner says he agrees with issues raised

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Rodney Ashburn says he got more than he bargained for when he began a major remodel of a home he had purchased. 

He planned to have the remodeling work done by the end of April but when we check with him Friday he was still living in his RV in the back yard.  

A while back he and the contractor parted ways. Both told us a somewhat different story about what kind of work the contractor was supposed to do.

Ashburn said his home wasn’t safe, and he was looking for another contractor to finish the job “when he can get the money together.”

Meanwhile, Ashburn had some issues with a popular home website which recommended the company.

“I found him on Angie’s List, and they recommended him, so I was thinking that Angie’s List would be a good way to go,” said Ashburn.  “But  I found out later that if the contractor pays that Angie’s List will advertise them, and the contractor had just started his business last September which I didn’t know.” 

A recent study from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) seems to outline some of Ashburn’s concerns.

“What’s happened over the years is that advertisers now dominate the service,” said Stephen Brobeck who is a co-author of the CFA  report.  “Basically, they (advertisers) fund the entire operation, and they are the only businesses that are recommended and almost all the advertisers have an A rating.”

Findings from the report include that Angie’s List:

1)  Gives a large majority of all service providers an A rating.
2)  Rates a significant number of service providers who have very few, sometimes only one customer review.
3)  Sometimes assigns overall grades that are not consistent with customer grades. 
4)  Shows some evidence of containing fake customer reviews. 
5)  Gives business advertisers access to personal information from customers, including phone numbers and email addresses, that advertisers use in their marketing.
6)  Prioritizes the promotion of these advertisers by selectively recommending them to individual consumers as “top-rated, certified pros for your projects,” even though there is good evidence that these businesses usually are not the best service providers. 

While Brobeck says advertisers may do as good a job as non-advertisers, he believes consumers need to learn more about how the website service makes its recommendations.  

“Only advertisers are recommended as ‘top-rated pros’ and only advertisers get the first listings for any service,” he told News 3. 

Angie’s List sent this statement:

We are disappointed with the many inaccuracies in this report. We pride ourselves in the millions of quality, non-anonymous reviews that have been collected over the last twenty years from the real-life experiences of homeowners. People come to Angie’s List looking for quality pros for all jobs in and around the home. This report is operating on key incorrect assumptions and a fundamental misunderstanding of the various ways that consumers can use Angie’s List. It is incorrect to assume that because part of our revenue is generated through advertising that our reviews are anything but fair and impartial. Companies that pass our certification process are allowed to advertise, but if they fail to comply with our standards their right to advertise will be immediately revoked. In addition, we do not give away data about our members to advertisers. When a customer wants a direct connection with a pro, they can opt-in to direct outreach from available pros. We are steadfast in our dedication to helping homeowners find quality pros to care for their home.

Ashburn confirmed that he had provided personal information to Angie’s List, so he could be contacted directly by a contractor listed on the site.  

“I went on Angie’s List and I got three recommendations, and he (the contractor) contacted me and came over and gave me a bid, and we hired him,” Ashburn said. 

Brobeck says the first three recommendations will normally be advertisers.  The report also said the service “does not always provide reliable information about businesses that charge the lowest prices.”

The report said in 2016 that Angie’s List paid $1.4 million to settle three lawsuits which claimed that advertising payments had biased the ratings, reviews and placement of local services. 

“I just want to let people know that if you find somebody on Angie’s List and Angie’s List is supposed to give you certified contractors then do a little checking yourself also,” said Ashburn.  

Brobeck says the report does indicate that Angie’s List can be helpful to consumers but says you must do your own research and ultimately use your own judgment. 

“You should ignore their recommendations,” he said. “Then go into their database and look for businesses, and they could include advertisers too.  We’re not saying all advertisers are bad businesses, some of them I’m sure are very good but you need to look at all the businesses with an A grade and then look at those with quite a few reviews (especially those that have been in business for a long time,) Read the reviews and pay particular attention to those that are lengthy and any that are negative. Then, utilize other sources and do your own Google search, etc.”

In terms of home remodeling work, other advice would always include specific work listed in a contract with clear terms on 1) what work is to be performed,  2) how much it should cost, 3) what the schedule for payment is and 4) how long the job is going to take before completion.

It’s also a good idea to ask for references.  While a contractor may only provide the name of persons he or she believes will give them a positive review, you can still question the references and ask questions about the time it took to do the job, etc. You may glean information that you did not have before.

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