As a homeowner and landlord, I've hired a lot of people over the years to help fix things on my home and rental properties. I always get my hands dirty and try to fix things on my own first, but sometimes I don't have enough expertise or time to do certain repairs. Craigslist used to be my go-to source to find help, but I've learned that Yelp is so much better.
Ever since I paid $225 for 15 minutes worth of handyman work to a guy I found on Craigslist, I told myself never again. I've been trying to figure out what is the best way to improve customer service, get out of hostage negotiation scenarios, and stop getting ripped off.
It doesn't matter how much money you make or have. Getting ripped off is a bad, bad feeling. Not being able to resist a free lunch no matter how much you're worth is the same idea in reverse. Everybody wants to feel like they are getting a good deal.
After going through some bad deals with interior painters, electricians, and hardwood floor finishers, I've devised a solid system that should help me and many of you in the future.
The internet is the great equalizer that will save us all!
Get Better Value By Being Proactive With Yelp
I just finished replacing my roof and painting the exterior of my house. And I must say that I'm absolutely pleased with the results. Let me share some details.
Roof Project – Yelp Incentive
The roof cost me $6,500 + a $325 permit for about 1,400 square feet worth of coverage. They had to remove three existing layers of roof, put on a new membrane, and blow torch a modified bitumen roof on.
Furthermore, they had to change the roof tiles on the slanted portion of my roof as well, which takes more skill, effort, and risk.
Before he got started, he said there might be extra charges for fixing the wood beams due to rot once he removed the old roofs. “Might be extra charges” almost always means there will be extra charges, real or otherwise.
And one day the crew was working, I texted him asking to remind me what type of roof he was torching on because apparently there are many types. He responded, “Go check your contract.” Gee, what a nice guy.
Halfway through the roofing job, I decided to deploy my new Yelp incentive strategy. I told him that if he finished the roof on time and within the scope of the contract, I would write him a 5-star Yelp review.
The Coveted 5-Star Yelp Review
After he heard me say that I'd write him a glowing review, I could see his eyes perk up. He was a little grouchy beforehand. But his attitude changed after I mentioned Yelp.
Not only did he send me 10 pictures of the finished roof, he also showed me that the wooden beams were all in great shape. No extra work needed! I was already baking in having to spend another $1,000. The roofing guy gave me a 5-year guarantee and completed the project within the agreed upon five day timeframe.
But here's where the real bonus came in. I literally had 30+ garbage bags worth of thorny weeds in my backyard that needed dumping. My plan was to just take two garbage bags of weeds out front for the weekly trash guy to pick up, and be done in four months.
Instead, my roofer guy instructed four of his men to pick up all the trash and dump everything for me in an hour! He saved me hours of labor and months of eyesore thanks to the glowing Yelp review motivation I gave him midway through the project. I'd say he definitely earned that 5-star Yelp review.
Exterior Paint Project
I found my exterior painter on the front page of Yelp for my local area. He has an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 so I gave him a call.
Sean came out promptly and was very friendly. When I told him I had found him on Yelp, he was very happy. But, he said that he has about 15 hidden, 5 star reviews for some reason that was frustrating him. Perfect. I now know what he cares about.
Unlike many houses in San Francisco that only have a front and a back to paint due to the side walls of neighboring houses being built right next to each other, my house needed all four sides painted.
Having a double lot was part of the reason why I bought my house in Golden Gate Heights besides the view. It feels nice not having neighbors right up on you.
5-Star Service = Less Stress, Time Saved, Great Value
Sean displayed a great attitude and bid $7,200 to repaint all four sides of my house. My house hadn't been painted in perhaps 30 years and needed a ton of preparation work. Given the backside of my house faces the ocean, there was some trim rotting off my window sills that needed total replacing and painting as well. The new woodwork would cost extra, and I agreed to his price of $50 an hour.
8 days into the 10 day project, I told Sean that I had written him a 5 star review on Yelp that shows up for public view. He was absolutely ecstatic! So, he proceeded to give me a discount on the woodwork for my new window trim and broken fence. Then, he also power washed and painted my fence for free. But that's not all.
My garage door trim was bashed up because my contractor tried to force a huge trailer into my garage. Sean's men patched, sanded, and painted the garage trim to look like new. Finally, Sean fixed a loose balcony that was coming apart from the wall too. Definitely got 5-star service.
How To Use Yelp To Save Time, Money, And Stress
I love Yelp because it was, and kind of still is, an underdog that has grown to be tremendously helpful for consumers. Before Yelp, one could really only rely on Google for search results, most of which weren't very local. Given mostly all service businesses are local, and there is truth in numbers from real customer reviews, Yelp has really helped democratize the competition and make things more transparent for consumers.
Sure, Yelp has its own issues about how their search algorithm works and ranks businesses. But to be able to break Google's monopoly for search results and be a trusted destination for reviews is incredible. Below is the best strategy I can think of for helping you reduce stress and protect your budget when spending money on home remodeling, any type of service, or product.
1) Search “XYZ Yelp” to make sure Yelp's local rankings page comes up.
For example, search “Painters Yelp” or “Massages Yelp” or “Best Sushi Pacific Heights Yelp.” Yelp recently tied up with Yahoo for better local search in 2014 and is consistently improving its search results.
2) Call at least three vendors from the top 10 Yelp search page with at least 10, 5-star reviews.
There will almost always be someone who is disgruntled and who will write a bad review if you've been around long enough. Furthermore, the most common type of reviews are probably glowing reviews or spiteful reviews so there needs to be a good review count. But the more vendors you can call to get a bid, the better you will be.
3) Make sure you tell the vendor you found them on Yelp.
Once they know you've found them on Yelp, they will be much more attentive to your needs. Every single vendor I know on Yelp pays incredible attention to all their reviews. They know that in order to get recurring repeat business to rank well in Yelp's algorithm, they need to rank well and be attentive.
4) Tell the vendor before they give a bid that you are an active user on Yelp.
Vendors generally have the upper hand when throwing out a bid because that's their profession. My roofer does 3-6 jobs a month, every month, whereas normal people replace their roof once every 15-20 years!
By telling the vendor you are an active user on Yelp, it is implied that you will rate them positively or negatively based on their work. Hence, vendors who might think about taking advantage of you on price will think thrice.
5) Midway through the project rate them on Yelp.
If you are pleased with their work so far, then go ahead and write them a review of how great they are. Once published, tell the vendor that you wrote the review. They will be super motivated to work hard through the end and not screw you at the end with some “surprise” cost.
There are almost always “surprise costs” with any type of home remodeling project. The same thing goes for automechanics who try and sell you to replace some part “since we're in there anyway.” Up-selling is just a natural part of business that has been perfected by McDonald's with their “Do you want fries with that?” line.
No vendor wants to risk porking you for fear of losing out on the golden 5-star review. And if your vendor doesn't deliver as promised, you can always go back and easily edit or delete your review.
Leverage Yelp And The Net
The internet and sites like Yelp have really helped level the playing field for everyone.
I strongly feel that if you can figure out a way to incentivize people beyond money you'll not only save money, but get better work done as well. I remember so many times during my time in finance, all I wanted was a “good job” or some type of acknowledgement from my manager after working another all-nighter. Words of encouragement are free, but they go a long, long way in providing motivation.
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Any Yelp fans out there? Please share any specific strategies you deploy to get better quality work and lower prices.