Online home-services directories can provide hundreds—or even thousands—of user ratings for finding a good contractor, plumber, and other remodeling professional. Here’s a look at five popular sites with our take on what they’re good at and what they’re not to guide you in your home improvement research.  

Good forNumber of Pros and Coverage AreaUnique FeaturesWhat We LikeCaveats
Angieslist.com


Currently about $10 per year; reviews and ratings will be free starting this summer

User review reliability1.2 million


National

Has a proprietary process for verifying that reviews are authentic, including an annual audit by an outside company to prevent service providers from reviewing themselves favorably or their competitors unfavorably.Ten million verified reviews. Our test search for kitchen remodelers in a Chicago-area ZIP code turned up companies with hundreds and thousands of reviews; user review sample sizes of that magnitude lend credibility to the resulting letter grades.

Contractors who advertise on Angie's List show up first in search results when the default search option "with coupons" is used. Using the "Recent grade: A-F" search option is a way around that.

Checkbook.org


$34 for two years

Price guidance and independent ratings not influenced by advertising45,000


Boston; Chicago; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Philadelphia; San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose; Seattle/Tacoma; and Washington, D.C., areas

Completely funded by its members and accepting no advertising, Checkbook surveys its own subscribers as well as those at Consumer Reports (which provided early funding in the 1970s) about their experience with local contractors. Home improvement pros can't promote themselves by buying ads or evade scrutiny by opting out.

Instead of using letter or star grades, Checkbook shows the percentage of users who rated the pro as "superior" or "recommended." Provides price info based on apples-to-apples comparison by secret shoppers.

Available in only seven metro areas.
HomeAdvisor.com


Free

Cost guidance and prescreening of pros116,000


National

HomeAdvisor matches you with up to four highly rated pros who are actually available to do the job. It also uses third-party sources to perform background checks of every service provider it accepts.

The "True cost guide" provides detailed cost estimates for hundreds of projects and jobs. Service providers cannot buy their way to the top of search results; all pay a $250 to $300 membership fee.

Checks for criminal convictions go back only three years; its search of civil judgments goes back only one year. The company also has limited ability to search criminal records in 22 states (including Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia), and it does not check for complaints filed at state attorney general or consumer affairs agencies.
Houzz.com


Free

Design ideas and inspiration1 million-plus


National (U.S. and Canada)

A huge archive of idea-inspiring photos of home interiors, exteriors, and design materials. Lets you search for the design pros and other contractors to do the work and to shop for the materials, appliances, and fixtures needed.You can search photos by room, style, budget, or other criteria. Add the pictures you like to your ideabook or share them with friends or your contractor. Click to contact the design pro whose work you admire.

Professionals who pay to advertise can buy a prominent spot in search results. In fact, "sponsored" listings with no Houzz user reviews or star rating can rank higher than top-rated professionals who didn't advertise. Paid results are marked "sponsored," but in light gray type that's easy to miss.

Porch.com


Free

Finding contractors rated by the Better Business Bureau3.5 million


National

Offers descriptions and photos of roughly 138 million home projects, which consumers can use to gauge what their budget will buy and browse lower-cost alternatives, such as a cabinet face-lift instead of a full kitchen remodel. The Ask Porch app provides free do-it-yourself advice from pros.

Easy access to BBB ratings and convenient links to contractors' websites.

Guaranteed pros must pass a "comprehensive background check," but CEO and chairman Matt Ehrlichman told us that it's based on user reviews, licenses, project history, and "anything we can find on the Internet."


Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the June 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.