Before Choosing Service Providers, Check Their Ratings

Many of us have horror stories to tell about service providers of one kind or another: how we forked over a down payment, only to have them disappear after doing little, if any work; or perhaps how a project went vastly over schedule due to poor management.

There's no way to avoid every unhappy ending, but there's no need to take chances, either. Before you hire on a potential service provider for anything, investigate their reputation first.

Simple Ways to Start

Your first step should be to ask people you trust if they have anyone they can recommend. Take that with a grain of salt, of course, if the recommendee happens to be their brother-in law or nephew.

Once you've found someone who sounds like a good fit, call the Better Business Bureau to see whether they have any complaints against them. Be sure you have their complete and accurate business name, address, and similar data. The BBB won't tell you much, but they will tell you if anyone has complained lately.

Electronic Options

This being the age of the Internet, you can harness your computer's power to check into your potential provider's background. Start by searching for complaints under their full business name, and don't neglect public forums where people discuss their qualifications and ability to do the job.

Given that there's something for everyone on the Internet, so you can also find specialized sites specifically set up for rating service providers in just about every home maintenance and remodeling category you can imagine, from landscaping to flooring, roofing, HVAC, plumbing, fencing, etc.

Competing Lists

At the moment, the top service provider rating sites are Angie's List and ServiceMagic. Both allow customer ratings and reviews, and offer call center support if you need it (for example, if a project goes bad).

Angie's List boasts more than a million users all over the U.S., and collects 40,000 reviews a month on thousands of providers. It also accepts responses to the reviews from the providers, and offers certified data collection and access to a complain resolution team. The basic service costs about $13.25 a month.

ServiceMagic offers a network of over 80,000 service professionals, which it pre-screens for bankruptcy and felonies. Basic service is free for consumers, since unlike Angie's List, the providers themselves pay for the listings.

The Bottom Line

Don't just dive right into a contract with a home repair or maintenance service contractor, and never pay anyone money up front until you check them out. Whether you use word of mouth or resort to the Internet, be sure to investigate your service providers to make sure they're legit -- and worth the cost.

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