Is Angie's List Worth the Money?

by Michael on May 9, 2013

Angie's List Logo

This morning, we awoke to water in the cabinet under our kitchen sink. Not a huge amount, but anything more than none is too much.

Normally, I deal with these sorts of things myself. But this time around, I didn’t.

For starters, I couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong. More often than not, these sorts of things are a simple fix, maybe even just a loose connection. But this time around it seemed like it would be a bigger job.

On top of that, when you combine the way things are set up under our sink (extremely tight quarters and a rather small opening) with my frame — 6’5″ and broad shoulders — I have a hard time getting in there to work.

So… I decided to call a plumber.

But who to call? We’ve lived in our current community for a little over six years and, though we’ve had plumbing problems in the past, we haven’t really been happy with the company that we’ve used.

I started by checking with our neighbor. Unfortunately, he’s used the same plumber that we’ve used, and he’s also had similar experiences. Hmmm, what now?

Angie’s List to the rescue?

Curious as to what all the buzz was about, I decided to check out Angie’s List. In case you’re not familiar with it, Angie’s List is an online service that aggregates customer reviews of service companies. It’s a premium service, which means that you need to have a paid subscription to make use of it.

Note: I have no affiliation with Angie’s List. I just though some of you might be interested so I decided to write up my experiences.

They bill themselves as an unbiased source of reviews. Companies don’t pay to be listed and reviews come from verified subscribers. That being said, there’s nothing stopping companies from setting up shill accounts and chalking up the cost as a marketing expense…

It’s also worth noting that, while companies can’t buy their way in, they do have the option of paying for enhanced listings that, for example, include special discounts for Angie’s List customers. So you have to be careful about just picking the guys at the top of the (default) search list.

Think about it. They’re now (since 2011) a publicly traded company so it should came as no surprise that they’re trying to maximize profitability.

Anyway, what follows is a brief rundown of my experience…

How much does it cost?

For starters, how much does Angie’s List cost? The short answer is: it depends. Fees vary by location. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is based in part on the size of their database for your area.

Note that, in some locations, membership is actually free. These are their “grassroots” chapters that are just starting out. Presumably, once they reach a critical mass of reviews, they will switch over to the paid model.

Assuming that you’re in a paid service area, you can choose from a number of membership terms when you sign up. You can opt for monthly, annual, two year, three year, or four year memberships. For us, the prices were as follows:

  • Monthly: $3.25
  • 1 year: $12.00
  • 2 years: $21.50
  • 3 years: $31.00
  • 4 years: $38.00

There’s also a $5 “account activation fee” that is re-applied if you let a monthly subscription lapse for more than 30 days or an annual subscription for more than 6 months. This discourages people from just signing up for a month here or there (or at least increases profit when they do so).

For annual plans they have a “110% satisfaction guarantee,” though I’ve never used it so I can’t comment on how easy it is to get your money back. Oh, and once you’re a member, you can apparently subscribe to additional cities at a discounted rate.

Angie’s list promo codes galore

Whatever the pricing structure in your area, be sure to search for promo codes before signing up. When I did so, I found several, including two that offered 40% off any membership plan (including the activation fee).

On top of this, you can (as of this writing) get 20% off by paying with PayPal. And yes, the discounts are stackable. Given this, I decided to sign up for a 1 year plan. After factoring in the discounts, it cost $8.16.

The primary annoyance is that it’s set to auto-renew and I couldn’t figure out how to shut that “feature” off myself. According to their website:

“All memberships come with the convenience of automatic renewal, unless otherwise requested, and can be cancelled at any time.”

Further down the page, it says:

“If you prefer not to have your membership renewed automatically or you want to join for one month only, please contact us to request renewal reminders or cancel your subscription.” (with a link to their contact page)

If you contact them (I did so via online chat) they’ll shut off the automatic renewal and instead send you e-mail reminders 90, 60, and 30 days before expiration asking if you’d like to renew. If you don’t, your membership will simply expire.

Searching for reviews

When I first logged in, there was a pop-over message asking how I heard about them and asking for my phone number both are required. Not sure why they need your number, but it may be to help combat fraudulent reviews. Then again, you could probably just make one up and they’d never know the difference.

I complied with their requests and pressed on.

Once inside, I punched “plumbing” into the search box and clicked the search button. I was promptly greeted by another pop-over telling me that there are “3 highly rated plumbers offering deals for plumbing” in our area. This is an example of one of the paid enhancements that companies can request.

The good news is that you can dismiss this behavior so you don’t have to see these offers again in the future. The deals are still there, you just have to click to a different tab to see them.

The default sort order is to put companies offering discounts for Angie’s List subscribers (and presumably paying a premium) at the top. Further down the list, I’m not sure how they sort them but it doesn’t appear to be based on rankings, location, or alphabetical order. Perhaps they pay for positioning.

Whatever the default sorting options are, you can switch to sorting by recent grades (A-F; based on the past three years), the total number of recent reviews (high to low; also based on the past three years), their distance from your home, or alphabetically by company name. Thus, it’s pretty easy to sort through things.

The grading is done based on price, quality, responsiveness, punctuality, and professionalism. You can view these separately, though there is also an overall grade, which is what really counts.

Reviewers also have an opportunity to enter a number of other details regarding their experience — what the work entailed, when it was done, how much they paid, and also free-form comments.

Though I was primarily looking for a plumber, I ended up poking around a bit…

Our old lawn service was listed, along with a few mediocre reviews that were more or less in line with our experiences. But our new lawn service — highly recommended by a neighbor — wasn’t listed at all.

At the same time, both the company that we’ve occasionally use for pest control and our family doctor were listed. And both had positive reviews, which was once again in line with our real-world experience.

So it’s a somewhat hit and miss, at least around here. Lots of companies are included, but some aren’t. And even if they’re listed, there might not be a lot of reviews available. But, based on admittedly anecdotal evidence, the reviews that I saw did seem to be reasonably accurate.

As for the plumber, I wound up selecting someone that was relatively nearby and who had very high marks. Unfortunately, he was booked until sometime next week. He recommended someone else who likewise had a relatively large number of reviews and very high marks. But he was also booked for the next couple of days.

I continued down my list, calling another plumbing outfit that had somewhat fewer, but still very positive reviews. They said they could be out sometime today, but that he’d have to call me back. About 10 minutes later, the phone rang and I was told that they’d be at our house in 15 minutes.

They arrived as promised, fixed the problem, and charged a reasonable rate.

As an aside, I sure am glad I called a pro. We wound up needing a new faucet — we suspected this might be the case so my wife had already gone out to get one — and it was a nightmare getting the old one out. They worked on it for quite awhile and ended up having to saw part of it off under the counter.

Is Angie’s List worth it?

So that brings us back to the original question… Is Angie’s List worth the money? That depends on a number of factors.

For one thing, the cost. Memberships are pretty cheap around here, so we don’t have to use it a whole lot to get our money’s worth. That being said, the coverage of services in our area isn’t terribly complete.

Honestly, I think the people who would really benefit from a service like Angie’s List are those who have recently moved to a new area and don’t really know who else to turn to for advice or recommendations.

If, on the other hand, you have a reasonable social network in your area, you can probably do at least as well by asking around for recommendations.

For the price, I’m going to sit tight and keep the subscription for the year to see how useful it ends up being. But I’m not sure I’ll end up renewing.


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