(WXYZ) - Hiring the right plumber, painter, or handyman can be hit or miss. Angie's List and other online rating services say they can help you find the best company with the help of millions of prior customers who write reviews. Consumer Reports' money experts checked how the rating services work and whether you can rely on them.
With Angie's List, be wary of jumping on companies at the top of search results. Consumer Reports found that businesses with "A" or "B" ratings that also pay for advertising rise to the top of default search results. It's a big advantage.
Consumer Reports Money Adviser also checked out other rating services, including Yelp and Google Plus Local. Google Plus Local didn't respond when asked how it verifies that its reviews are from real customers. Yelp told Consumer Reports that they have a way to identify and delete bogus reviews but admitted that the system has not been objectively tested. Yelp also allows businesses to buy their way to the top of the pack in search results. But unlike Angie's List, Yelp clearly labels the ad.
Consumer Reports found that ratings for the same business can vary significantly from site to site. But if you can't get a recommendation from someone you know, it may be worth it to look up a business on several sites.
In most communities Angie's List charges subscribers to sign up. Yelp and Google Plus Local are free. Another free service that Consumer Reports says is worth checking is the nonprofit Better Business Bureau. It deals with complaints against companies and rates them on how well they resolve the problems.
Action News reached out to Angie's list for a response, and here is what they had to say via email:
Companies can only advertise on Angie's List if they earn and can maintain an A or B grade from their customers, and only if they offer a discount on their services. So our members get a good deal from a company with a good customer service track record.
What sets Angie's List apart:
· We don't allow anonymous reviews and have a complex system to detect any attempts to game the system;
· Only consumers can assign grades and only to companies with which they've interacted;
· Consumer grades are a direct reflection of the service they received;
· Advertising does not impact or affect the grades in any way, and Angie's List has internal controls and an outside audit every year to make sure of that;
· Companies that choose to advertise must also offer a discount to Angie's List members; and
· Angie's List members control their search-result settings and can have them return first by advertisers (coupons), grade or location.