Life Hack: Use Yelp To Save You Stress, Time, And Money

New Roof Bitumen
New Modified Bitumen Roof

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

Bags of weeds. 70% taken away already.
A portion of my lovely back yard

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

Cracked Stucco
Cracked Stucco Needs Patching And Painting

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.

Related: Why Home Remodeling Always Takes Longer And Costs More Than Expected

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.

Further Reading

Any Yelp fans out there? Please share any specific strategies you deploy to get better quality work and lower prices.



29 thoughts on “Life Hack: Use Yelp To Save You Stress, Time, And Money”

  1. green_knight008

    Hmmm…I guess I never really realized it but I’ve done this with a few different service providers in the past, particularly the auto mechanic I take my vehicles to if I need something complicated repaired, although I’ve never used the fact to leverage improved service consciously. That is a great idea!

  2. Sam,
    I loved the post except for the bit about automechanics upselling parts replacement “since we’re in there anyway.” There are several situations in auto repair where it makes sense to replace parts that aren’t broken/bad because they have significantly shorter lifetimes than the main part being replaced.
    The best example I have is from replacing an oil seal on my car several years ago. It was like a $10 part with $1000 labor. The repair required removal of the timing belt and water pump (or was the water pump just exposed and easily removed at that point?…) At any rate, it made sense to replace the water pump and belt because they were quite old and likely to need replacing soon thereafter. Total additional parts cost was like $100.
    That being said, a good or honest mechanic should quote replacement of all the parts up front instead of trying to tack them on later.

  3. When I mentioned to a business that I found them on Yelp, they certainly raised their eyebrows. I don’t know if I got better service because of it, but it didn’t hurt. I will certainly try your tactic when I have the opportunity…thanks.

    I have used Yelp a lot to find things, but only recently started writing my own reviews. I like to use it for when I travel to remind me of where I went.

    To Susan, who commented on false reviews…most people are good and honest in this world. The few businesses who create false reviews on Yelp and other sites will get weeded out in the long run. This doesn’t mean you should not do your due diligence, but those businesses are clearly in the minority.

  4. For house repairs and improvements I always have three people come out to bid. This is usually enlightening as they generally have different recommendations or things to point out about the project; and their bids could sometimes be quite far apart.

    To find them I would ask friends (I found a great electrician this way) look in the yellow pages for ones that didn’t have giant ads (asking lots of questions cued me into how good they were). And cross referencing Angie’s List and Yelp, it was surprising that some didn’t get good reviews on one one or the other, so I’d pick ones that had good reviews on both.

    I think it’s now becoming more popular to review home service providers on Yelp, but sometimes there is a lack of reviews on Yelp (as opposed to Angie’s List). Offering to write glowing reviews on Angie’s List and Yelp has gotten me great service too.

  5. Great tip with Yelp. I’ll do that next time. My roof is finally wrapping up today. It took 4 weeks longer than expected, but it is a complicated roof…

  6. Money Beagle

    The first thing that jumped out at me was to again wonder (I wonder about things quite often) why so many homes in California and the southwest area of the country have cement block walls around their yards. Being from the midwest, I’d never seen such a thing until I first visited California, and it still sticks out to me when I see it.

  7. Try Angles List. I have had phenomenal results. The vendors, I find, are much higher quality than Yelp or ServiceMaster especially if you narrow your search to the chosen few that have won the “Super service Awarded”. That is an award given (I think) to the providers with the best overall ratings and reviews—given out annually.

    The vendors are high on the list in Angles are getting tons of business and they are really focused on getting everything right so that you do not ruin their rating.

  8. Please tell me how a publicly held company with a market cap of nearly $5 billion is an underdog. I mean, we all know the New York Times is a dinosaur, but in all due respect, one of the leading news institutions on the planet has a market cap of $2 billion. But let’s not stop there….

    Please speak with a dozen different small businesses (yes, a minimum of 12…you have the time) who do NOT advertise on Yelp and see what they have to say about the service.

    I was an early Yelper and reached Elite status for two years in a row before getting disgusted with what I heard…not just once, but repeatedly. And that doesn’t include the typical human penchant for reviewers to either one or five star businesses, often for seemingly whimsical reasons. I’m back on with a different account name now and I avoid the limelight.

    For your use case I’d suggest defaulting to different services like the ones mentioned by your other commenters.

    1. That’s easy. When your competitor, Google, has a $389 billion market cap, or 75X greater, you are an underdog in the greatest light!

      It’s all perspective. Yelp worked for me, and I’m sure Yelp or Angie’s List will work for others trying not to get held hostage by service folks. I just like Yelp b/c it’s free and it shows up well in my search efforts. And, I’ve gone through some good experiences.

  9. Todd Guthrie

    A while back I was getting quotes to replace a roof, here in San Francisco as well. One thing I noticed was that the tar-and-gravel quotes were thousands higher than the modified bitumen ones.
    I wondered why that was, what was the difference. I expected an answer like “Oh, it’s because tar lasts longer and is more durable”, whether or not that’s actually true. But instead of saying that, the tar guy responded it was because the bitumen roofing companies didn’t have to pay for a big tar kettle.
    Needless to say I went with the bitumen.

  10. With the recent news that yelp favors people who pay it (and withholds 5-star reviews from those who don’t), I’ve become a lot less enamored of them.

    That said, this is a great example of working the yelp system.

  11. FS –

    Could you ask Jeremy about the possibility of false or pumped up reviews on Yelp? The contractor I referenced in a response to your previous post had glowing 5 star reviews (too many which made me suspicious). Most of them mentioned how honest he was. He was the one who I looked up in the California contractors state license board and found that he had been prosecuted and fined for stealing materials. So now I am a bit skeptical about using Yelp, at least as my only source. Word of mouth is the best if you have friends or co-workers who are also having home repairs/remodeling/construction.

    1. Sure. I did ask about false reviews, and he said his engineers are diligent to make sure they are not fake reviews by people with incentive to fake. There is a policy on there about not writing fake reviews, but of course there are people who break the rules. There’s an algorithm in place + manual reviewers. Something will always slip through the cracks. Now it’s up to users, and you to write that negative experience review to help others!

  12. Even Steven

    We are big fans of Yelp and use it frequently, especially with new places and restaurants. I am less likely to use yelp(from experience) for contract work. Here are the things I have encountered:

    The 5 star guys are the busiest

    The 5 star guys are the most expensive

    Contractors are usually not the best customer service guys, so multiple calls may be needed

    I’m considering using Angie’s list in the future, we also stumbled across Thumbtack and through our one experience, it saved us hundreds of dollars from the 5 star rated yelp guys.

    1. Funny you mention Thumbtack. They are based in SF, and I think just raised like $100 million from GOOGLE Ventures.

      I bet Google buys them….. Google will buy everyone. But not Yelp because there’s history there.

  13. This is a great tactic I will try myself as I need to get a deck made in the next year or so. Incentivizing contractors with a good review instead of threatening them with a bad review seems a lot nicer too.

  14. I’ve heard of using the Yelp incentive to get a free desert but you’re taking it to a whole other level! I’ll remember this post for later.

  15. That is a great idea! Even as someone who has multiple fix and flips going as well as rental properties that need work, I have a really hard time with co tractors. They are always increasing prices, taking twice as long as they say and trying to cut corners.

    I have found a couple of good guys of off Angie’s list. I am going to write some good reviews for them on their as well as yelp and let them know about it.

    On the positive front I am closing on three flips this month that were very big rehab jobs. Three more should be finished this month. Work is starting on the other four soon and I am buying another on the 24th of this month.

  16. Love yelp for this reason alone, I always check what I am getting into but never thought of using it back to my advantage. Thanks for those tips!

  17. Interesting ideas. I’m a big fan of Yelp and always check out reviews before going to a restaurant or using whatever services I’m looking for. I actually found my mover on Yelp and they had excellent reviews. I don’t actively review most services, though I might do it now to incentivize good service.

  18. I’ve never looked at Yelp for services, but I’m a huge fan of Angie’s List. However, unlike Yelp it isn’t free; it costs whole $26 a year. That said, people are much more apt to be truthful.

    The other thing I like about Angie’s List ratings is that it places less weight on reviews where no work was completed and are complaining just to complain, e.g. “I left a message and they never called me back!! They have horrible customer service!!!”

    The only issue one might have, and it really isn’t an issue, is they will call you if you don’t submit your own reviews online (they track what companies you search for and view). It’s not a huge deal, since they are essentially doing you a favor and saving you time from typing. Also, like your experience with your roofer, active Angie’s List companies HATE to receive negative reviews and usually respond to each critical review with an explanation and corrective actions.

    Anyway, this sounds like a sales pitch, but I’ve found a lot of great sub-contractors through Angie’s List.

    1. We are big fans of Angie’s List, too. If you leave a negative review, they ask if you want help moderating between you and the service provider to come up with a better outcome, too. I find hey are better than the BBB and the local consumer support agencies when it comes to supporting the consumer. Well worth the $20/yr or so for us.

    2. Tom,
      I agree, and you saved me some writing. All through this post, I thought I could mentally replace “Yelp” with “Angie’s List,” and I could think of a half dozen similar scenarios.

      Feedback in a public forum is very powerful–just ask the head coach of a professional sports team! With sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, now all sorts of consumer-facing businesses have the same opportunity and the same danger to their reputation.

  19. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life

    I don’t typically use yelp for services (unless I’m checking a groupon deal and I want to make sure the place doesn’t have terrible reviews), but it’s one of my favorite ways to plan my itinerary when I want to travel! So many good tips on there- lots about saving money, discounts, and pricing too!

  20. Great thinking to use a free incentive to save both time and money! It’s amazing how much difference a good review online can make to a business and so how valued they should be to businesses.

    I frequently use online review sites (tripadvisor etc) for selecting hotels and restaurants.. but had never thought to spin it around and use them for obtaining better work from trades people. Thanks for the tip!

  21. I’m a big fan of Yelp, though I’ve never thought of writing a positive review midway through a service–good idea! We’ve used Yelp to find just about every service provider we need: doctors, dentists, vet, lasik eye surgery, restaurants on the odd occasion that we actually go out to eat—basically everything. It’s such a handy repository of local knowledge, which is vastly more valuable than generalized opinions. And, I appreciate the cost comparison abilities.

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