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By Pete Carey
San Jose Mercury News
Furnace dead? Plumbing sprung a leak somewhere?
Many homeowners know the dread of a repair they can't fix, with nowhere to turn.
But help is as near as your mobile phone or computer. In the past year, several major players in the increasingly competitive online home repair business have moved to strengthen their positions, beefing up their offerings and applications.
Angie's List went public last fall, Home Depot acquired Silicon Valley startup Red Beacon in January, and ServiceMagic this month changed its name to HomeAdvisor and added other features.
I gave all three a try recently after finally deciding to do something about some fogged-up dual-paned windows that have been bugging us for years. The job is a small one, but with complications because the panes are installed with some kind of superglue, requiring superhuman efforts to remove them. The last window specialist to try replacing some of these window panes fled with the job unfinished.
Each service boasts different strengths. Angie's List, the oldest, has a huge stable of contractors and more than 1.5 million subscribers who can submit reviews; HomeAdvisor says it has the quickest response time and more than 80,000 home repair specialists nationwide, and Red Beacon boasts the backing of the 800-pound gorilla in the home repair space. Of the three, only Angie's List requires a paid subscription.
Home Depot already has many contractors that can be reached through an 800 number for bigger jobs, said Kevin Hofmann, vice president for services at Home Depot.
Founded in 2008 by three early Google employees, Red Beacon is being pilot-tested in four metro regions, including one in the San Francisco Bay Area, in which contractors, plumbers, carpenters and handymen who buy their materials at Home Depot can earn enough points to make the service free to them.
"We're very different than what exists in the space today," Red Beacon's Chief Executive Officer Anthony Rodio told me recently.
On RedBeacon.com, you fill out some forms describing your project and your general location. That is sent out to nearby contractors in the Red Beacon stable. They can either e-mail or call with a bid, or what seems more likely, schedule an appointment to evaluate the work that you want done.
These three big online home service referral companies are competing for your clicks.
Red Beacon: Part of home services giant Home Depot. Free to customers, who submit projects and receive four bids from pre-screened service providers. Home Depot pilot program in progress in four locations. Also has mobile app. redbeacon.com
HomeAdvisor: Formerly ServiceMagic. Touts a speedy response from more than 80,000 pre-screened contractors. Free to customers. Contractors pay for leads. Suite of mobile apps includes Home911 for emergencies and HomeSavvy for home maintenance alerts. homeadvi
Angie's List: A big stable of contractors rated by consumers. Costs $29 a year in the Bay Area for a list of consumer-rated home repair service companies and auto repair services, or $46 for those services and an additional list of health care providers. Also publishes monthly magazine. About 1.5 million paid households, 3.5 million reviews on 970,000 service companies. Also offers call center and mobile app. angieslist.com