I never thought I’d see the day, but I have to say that lately Home Advisor, the former Service Magic, is giving Angie’s List a run for its money.

Service Magic, you’ll remember, was one of the leading contenders in a field of “online lead providers” that used SEO to capture the contact information of consumers doing online home improvement research. That company and an ever-changing cast of competitors — Calfinder.com, QuinStreet.com, etc. — then sold the information to local remodelers, who would frantically vie to get to the phone first. Complaints about these leads were twofold. First, the homeowner might be out of the market altogether, or someone essentially not interested in that job or that product. (For example, the consumer was looking to have window screens fixed, rather than have windows replaced.) Secondly, the leads were rarely exclusive, and though some lead providers attempted to distribute that contact information to no more than three contractors, others would sell it to five or ten. Suddenly every company is baying for the business, and homeowners — who know nothing about how X or Y company came to know their name or even that they wanted windows replaced — were bewildered, if not seriously annoyed, or intimidated. How could they not be?

Along comes Angie’s List, which provides the names of contractors for its (homeowner) members, and the verdict of those members, via reviews, on that contractor’s performance. What also happened is that optimization on contractor websites improved, so lead generation companies no longer dominated page one of an organic search.

They’re Back 
Today, Service Magic, now renamed Home Advisor, offers a different business model. The company seems poised to compete with Angie’s List. Whomever reinvented the company has taken the best of both worlds — Angie and the old lead generation companies — and combined them.

Our company was approached by a manufacturer on behalf of Home Advisor. The firm offered half-price leads for the first month. I sent our zip codes and figured I’d wait and see how it worked.

Contractors who use Home Advisor are screened to ensure that they’re licensed and have necessary insurances. And unlike Angie’s List, homeowners who use Home Advisor don’t have to pay to join. You, the contractor, buy the lead — the contact information — and it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. What we’ve found is that the quality of those leads, at least for our purposes, is just as good as the leads we’re getting from Angie’s List. We’re dealing with the same customer, that is, an upscale, educated homeowner in a higher income bracket, our demographic bread and butter. Right now I’ve run about ten of the leads we bought from Home Advisor. Some converted and a few remain in the pipeline.

Home Advisor Reviews 
The other thing about Home Advisor is that it encourages homeowners to review the companies they use. So without paying an annual fee, homeowners who go to the Home Advisor site can get a sense of what it’s like to do business with the contractor.

The other change its made is that when the company sells you a lead, they provide all the information — name, address, etc. — except the homeowner’s phone number. To reach the homeowner, you have to call a special phone number, through Home Advisor, that tracks the call and also records it. Home Advisor then sends you a report listing the amount of time that elapsed between your company receiving the lead and actually contacting the homeowner. They also provide a list of tips to help you reduce response time.

Angie Vs. Home Advisor
Lead costs range but average about $50. I compare that with the $700 a month we’re spending to be on the Angie’s List website, and the fees — as a percentage of the total — charged for selling projects as a special on Angie’s List. I then factor in the annual shakedown by Angie’s List corporate personnel for the privilege of doing business with the company. The difference is dramatic. On the one hand, with Angie’s List, I’m compelled to wade through all these layers of bureaucracy and on the other hand, with Home Advisor, it’s $50 for a lead, clean and clear. I’m sold.