Where Are the Nation's Best Home Improvement Professionals?

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What is the most daunting part of any home improvement or maintenance project? Most homeowners will tell you it's the stress over who to hire … and who to trust.
As part of National Home Improvement Month, ServiceMagic.com has released the 10 metro areas with the highest rated home service professionals in its nationwide network. The results are derived from the percentage of more than 66,000 customers who said they would recommend the

What is the most daunting part of any home improvement or maintenance project? Most homeowners will tell you it's the stress over who to hire … and who to trust.

As part of National Home Improvement Month, ServiceMagic.com has released the 10 metro areas with the highest rated home service professionals in its nationwide network. The results are derived from the percentage of more than 66,000 customers who said they would recommend the professional they hired to a friend or relative.

The Top 10:

1. Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill, N.C.

2. Pittsburgh

3. Portland, Ore.

4. Sacramento, Calif.

5. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.

6. Charlotte, N.C.

7. Oakland, Calif.

8. San Jose, Calif.

9. Baltimore, Md.

10. Newark, N.J.

David Lupberger, ServiceMagic.com's Home Improvement Expert, says the first step is verifying that your home service professional meets state licensing requirements and has the proper insurance, but that is only the first step.

"You may end up paying thousands of dollars to this person, so be diligent in your research," Lupberger said. "Make sure you know that the contractor isn't likely to take off with your money, leaving you with an incomplete or sub-par project."

ServiceMagic.com is a free Web site for consumers anywhere in the country who want to find a prescreened home service professional in their area. The company has made more than six million of these matches since 1999.

Lupberger gives a firm warning to homeowners:

This is the time of year when more people posing as reputable home improvement professionals are looking for victims.

"These crooks aren't smart enough to run a good business. Unfortunately, they're slick enough to run a good con game, bilking trusting homeowners out of thousands of dollars."

However, service professionals who are allowed into the ServiceMagic.com network undergo a rigorous 10-point screening process, which checks business practices, licensing, insurance, and other requirements. The following list is based on the percentage of service professionals by area who applied to the ServiceMagic.com network, but failed to meet the criteria for acceptance. *

The Bottom 10:

1. Chattanooga, Tenn.

2. Little Rock, Ark.

3. Baltimore, Md.

4. Ocala, Fla.

5. Memphis, Tenn.

6. Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, S.C.

7. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, Va.

8. Nashville, Tenn.

9. Bergen-Passaic, N.J.

10. Los Angeles

"Most service professionals in these cities are fine, reputable business people," Lupberger said. "In fact, ServiceMagic.com has screened more than 3,000 home service professionals in these cities. However, some areas have a greater prevalence of fraud and unlicensed contractors. That really underscores the need for homeowners to use a screening service -- or to check out the background of a service provider thoroughly -- before writing any checks or letting the contractor into your home."

Lupberger, a former professional contractor, offers these tips for homeowners trying to protect themselves:

1. Scrutinize anyone who might perform home improvement services for you -- especially those who knock on your door and just happen to be in the neighborhood.

2. Always demand to see proof of their permanent business address, proper identification, and appropriate licensing and insurance BEFORE letting anyone into your home.

3. Work out the details of the amount of the payment, the payment schedule, and the scope of work (the details of what work is to be completed) before any money is exchanged and before work begins.

4. Get everything in writing. Asking for a written estimate might discourage a con-artist. Any reputable home improvement professional will understand they are competing for your business and should be happy to give you a written estimate. This is a great way to judge the differences in professionalism and cost.

5. Don't allow yourself to be rushed. Do your research. Through using the free resources at your disposal-- internet screening services like ServiceMagic.com, neighbors, and references -- you should be able to collect a great deal of information on your potential hires.

* Due to different methodology, some cities appear on both lists. The contractors in the "best" cities have the highest overall ratings, while the contractors in the "worst" cities failed to meet the criteria for entry, but were not rated.

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