With home remodeling on the upswing, so is the proliferation of websites – a number of them venture capital start-ups – that help consumers find and vet professional cabinetmakers, finish carpenters, flooring installers, as well as designers and remodelers.
Angie’s List and Houzz.com are the most firmly established in the business, and each issued its “Best of 2014” announcements earlier this year.
Angie’s List is highly focused in its mission: consumers pay an annual fee, comparable to Consumer Reports, and have access to lists of recommended professionals in all types of services, including plumbers, electricians, even doctors. Angie’s List issues its Best Rated badge to professionals who have the best track record with consumers. Its ratings are not anonymous, and only paid members (it has 2 million) participate. This filters out chronic complainers and mean-spirited competitors who are the bane of businesses rated at free sites. A sampling of Angie’s List Best Rated cabinetmakers is included within this article, and a complete list for 2014 is online.
Houzz.com issues it’s Best of Houzz 2014 badge based on the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2013, so the evaluation is somewhat subjective. But with 16 million monthly users, it’s certainly influential.
Village Handcrafted Cabinetry, Landsdale, PA, is a beneficiary of positive reviews by Houzz visitors. Family-owned and operated for more than three decades Village Handcrafted Cabinetry earned a Best of Houzz 2014 rating for service in its custom cabinetry and millwork offerings, produced in a 24,000 square foot plant. Village works in cherrywood, mahogany and walnut. It’s production vocabulary includes customized, carved corbels, hand-turned spindles, intricate mouldings and mortise and tenon joinery.
Usually top ranking in one system corresponds to awards and high ranking in other venues. Village Handcrafted Cabinetry is a perennial winner of the CotY Contractor of the Year Award, including a regional 2014 CotY for a kitchen.
Another Best of Houzz 2014 is NK Woodworking, featured on this issue’s cover. Owner Nathie Katzoff won four top awards for his Seattle company’s specialty – hand-carved staircases – at the annual staircase association.
Staircases figure big on NK Woodworking’s Houzz.com page as well, where the company displays a Best of Houzz 2014 badge for service. The portfolio at the site shows a live and sculpted edge, maple, sapele and douglas fir kitchen counter, which “opened up and added jazz to the room,” according to Katzoff. The Houzz site also features a striking wooden bathtub, a sideways hint at another specialty of NK Woodworking: boatbuilding and restoration.
Home Depot and Lowe’s
While Angie’s List has for several year’s set the standard for consumer reviews for professional services, it now has increased competition. Houzz has made a concerted effort to link consumers to service providers, and its subject areas are tightly focused on home interiors, furniture and cabinetry. Houzz also actively courts professional services providers, and now has more than 400,000, including NK Woodworking and Village Handcrafted Cabinetry.
A number of other services have arrived to help find professionals for remodeling and home improvement jobs. Recent arrivals are Porch.com, BuildingBlok.com, and Pro.com. Consumers use these as smart phone apps (or at corresponding websites) to locate professionals and bid out home improvement jobs. As they gain usage, the ratings will begin to matter.
Lowe’s and Home Depot have also joined in the effort of linking professional remodelers and trade services to consumers. The two home improvement giants see it as a way to sell more cabinets, flooring, windows and plumbing.
Redbeacon, a home improvement services finder launched by former Google execs in 2011 (it was originally funded by venture capital firms Mayfield Fund and Venrock), was acquired in 2012 by Home Depot – for an estimated $65 million. Consumers use Redbeacon to bid out jobs to thousands of qualified local service professionals, who bid against each other. A proprietary algorithm also incorporates the consumer’s own Facebook social profile in recommending professionals.
Redbeacon leverages its Home Depot relationship by offering its professional service providers discounts on purchases there. Home improvement pros gain standing with a Redbeacon Score that reports customer satisfaction and lists the number of jobs completed within the system.
Lowe’s countered this initiative by partnering with Porch.com. The start-up launched just before the January Builders’ Show, where it exhibited inside Lowe’s for Pro’s booth.
A cross between Houzz and Angie’s List, venture capital funded Porch.com finds remodeling and construction services providers for consumers, while marketing professionals to consumers. The web-based Porch.com is mobile-enabled to reflect the increasing reliance of consumers on smart phones and tablets.
Porch began it’s Lowe’s roll out with 139 stores in North and South Carolina and in the Seattle area, where it is based. Porch helps homeowners locate local professionals based on their neighbors’ or friends’ endorsements. Unlike Yelp or Angie’s List, professional service providers registered at its site, pro.Porch.com, receive endorsements, but not negative reviews, Porch.com says.
Porch.com expanded its offerings to service professionals to provide smart leads, client analytics and profile amplification.
Porch will continue to offer home improvement professionals its free service, allowing businesses to claim a profile on Porch, upload projects, track endorsements, and appear in search results. Porch says its search results will continue to be based on data and not Porch Premium Service subscribers.
Available now to every home improvement professional in the U.S. through a monthly subscription with no contract or hidden fees involved, Porch Premium gives professionals the ability to target specific neighborhoods through zip codes
“We believe Porch Premium will be a difference maker for millions of home improvement professionals because of the overall service and new business they will generate through our network,” says Matt Ehrlichman, Porch.com CEO. Ehrlichman said a pilot program found a 12X increase in lead generation.
Pro.com, another Seattle venture-capital- funded services finder, uses a different model. Launching its beta version last month, the self-service real-time price estimator for home services, Prestimate, lets users price first, then book when they are ready to schedule. Home improvement professionals pay nothing to be profiled at Pro.com, but do pay a percent of the project as a finders fee. Consumers can book instantly without having to make a call.
Pro.com recommends home service professionals based on over a dozen specific attributes including proximity to customer, expertise, and ratings.
Pro.com assigns each of the service professionals on the site a rank for any Prestimate created. It collects verified customer reviews before certifying the pro and following the completion of every job.
Pro.com says it will offer local area custom Pro Reports. The Pro Report will provide recommendations for qualified pros.
Pros Find Pros
Another recent professional finder start-up, BuildingBlok.com, is a little different, in that it matches contractors and subcontractors. The system has a comprehensive suite of features that include invitations-to-bid, file manager, daily reports, financial management and numerous other capabilities.
Users manage their budgets online, and the system tracks, and automatically administers, the approval process for change orders, pay applications and invoices.
The latest release is available with optional archival storage for a project’s electronic records for completed projects whose digital record reduces the reams of files, scattered notes and other paper trail compiled during a project’s duration.
BuildingBlok also offers data security, with every document and the entire chain of communications backed up twice and stored behind encrypted firewalls.
According to the company, its tools are designed to manage a project efficiently, from a PC or any mobile device. It consolidates all communicate to a single platform.
Stakeholders work in real time, sharing documents, photos, financials and other critical daily documents. It is all secure in the cloud storage to avoid loss of any data or directives that can cause confusion, delays and conflicts.
BuildingBlok’s Pro package allows an unlimited number of projects and authorized users to be added to the system.
A network directory enables registered users to promote their own business and to connect and partner with other service providers.
BuildingBlok connects subcontractors, with the network similar to LinkedIn. Subcontractors build and maintain their profile information in the network so that they can be found by other partners. “We have the fastest growing network of subcontractors in the industry,” says a spokesperson, with subcontractors rated for performance by contractors.
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