Angie's List Investigation Yields Results

Eight weeks after NBC 5 Investigates revealed advertisements from unlicensed plumbers pushing inexpensive deals on Angie’s List, the consumer referral site has flagged some of those companies, while others have made changes to get in line with city of Chicago regulations.

The Indianapolis-based website carries a reputation for weeding out unscrupulous or unqualified operators. Likewise, home repair companies fight—and pay--to get their names front and center on Angie’s List search results.

Chicago plumber Jack Blanton did that, until he discovered that his prices were being undercut on the site by companies which weren’t even licensed to do business in the city.

“I found out there were handymen, there were electricians advertising hot water heaters,” Blanton said. “There were everyone and their mother offering plumbing services at rates there is no way a legitimate plumbing contractor could compete with.”

Oddly enough, Blanton was an Angie’s List disciple. He even felt so strongly about Angie’s List that he appeared in a promotional video from the company. But all of that changed, he said, when he got an angry phone call from a customer demanding money back from what had been an otherwise-stellar job.

The woman complained that after she paid Blanton $207, she had gone on Angie’s List and found another contractor offering to do the same work same job for just $60.

“I immediately thought, how could you give two hours of plumbing work for 60 bucks?” he said.

Blanton says he went on the Angie’s website himself and started shopping deals for Chicago plumbers.

“There were 55 offers from 55 contractors, and only 12 of them were legitimately licensed to do plumbing in the City of Chicago.”

After Blanton told us of his findings, NBC5 Investigates took a look at the Angie’s List plumbing offers for Chicago and found similar results. Out of 56 local companies that advertise plumbing deals on Angie’s List, we could not find proper licenses for 24. And seven of those unlicensed companies are “Angie’s List Certified”, which means they meet higher “standards of certification”. Those include an annual criminal background check, good business standing, an overall member rating of A or B, and a promise that they have the proper licenses to do listed work.

We took our findings to Judith Frydland, Chicago’s Building Commissioner. Her office immediately reached out to officials from Angie’s List.

“Why are they putting their name behind people that aren’t licensed,” she asked. “I wouldn’t do that!”

And it appears Angie’s List has indeed taken some of those companies to task for their ads.

Three of the unlicensed plumbing companies we found are now “red flagged” as not meeting Angie’s List criteria. Seven others have actually changed their listings, to reflect that they no longer offer plumbing work in Chicago.

Two actually went out and got licensed, right after our previous story.

But NBC 5 still can’t find valid licenses for at least ten of the companies we originally exposed.

Frydland said she believes Angie’s List is trying to correct the problem. But she would like to see that happen.

“I would,” she said. “I would like to make sure that everybody they list as a plumbing contractor has a license number next to their name.”

After some back and forth correspondence, we found that Angie’s List officials did seem to be addressing some of the other companies we had mentioned. One of those was a contractor offering full-house re-piping services. An Angie’s List spokesman said they believed the company’s General Contractor license would suffice, but a Department of Buildings official said that was not the case.

On Thursday, Angie’s List agreed.

“We are assisting them with updating their profile to make it apparent that they are a licensed general contractor that subs out plumbing work to licensed subs,” a spokesman told NBC5. “In addition, Angie’s List is in the process of taking down all repiping eCommerce offers for this company since the main portion of work is subcontracted.”

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