Best contractors among top 1 percent of Angie's List companies
Welcome to our 2nd annual list of Best & Worst Contractors, a compilation of the most exceptional and appalling homeimprovement companies from 2008. Our Best Contractors come from the most popular categories on the List.
They must have qualified for the prestigious 2008 Angie’s List Super Service Award, which requires them to have a total and overall grade of “A,” earned a minimum number of reports and no alerts with Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau.
They also must have a flawless record (not even the occasional B) and at least two glowing Pages of Happiness nominations. These additional requirements put them among the top 1 percent of the nearly 10,000 eligible nationwide for the 2008 Super Service Award.
To determine the Worst Contractors, we scoured member reports, scrutinized companies in the Penalty Box, sifted through court documents and interviewed scores of sources, basing our final selections on the volume or seriousness of the allegations and the amount of damage — both physical and financial — customers say they’ve inflicted. From across the nation to around the corner, read on to learn about this year’s list of perfect pros and consummate cons.
Jim the Happy Handyman
Dripping Springs, Texas
Jim Tolly, otherwise known as Jim the Happy Handyman, has been doing odd jobs all his life. "I was raised on a farm in Kansas, and that gives you a good backing in all the basics," he says. In 2006, Tolly went into business for himself - even his truck is a mobile workshop and billing station - and his diligence and skill have earned high praise.
"He works faster and harder than any other human being I've ever seen," says Beki Halpin, of Austin, Texas, who hired him to repair a deck and remove a broken hot tub. "He was very inventive in using materials to best reduce the costs." When the need arises, Tolly will also assemble an ad hoc crew to help others. From a church building project to a child seeking attention, "Jim's always the first to offer the shirt off his back," says wife Deborah.
Touch N Go Collision Centers
Michael Klein wanted his new Miata to be perfect for the Midwest Miata Gathering. But when he dinged the bumper two weeks before the event, he turned to Touch N Go Collision Centers to fix the car, and they turned around the repair in two days. Echoing the sentiments of other Angie's List members, Klein says, "They're really interested in what they're doing rather than just being there to get your money."
Touch N Go owner Larry Smith, who has 50 years of automotive experience, attributes his company's success to that philosophy. In one case, Smith and his crew wowed an older customer by searching for parts on two continents to find pieces to repair a rear-ended Jaguar. "She was jumping up and down like a 16-year-old girl again!" Smith says.
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Claudio Sanchez is one of two Best Contractors from last year to make the list again. The CGS Electric owner believes he received the honor because he does everything personally. "I'm not sending a bunch of flunkies," says Sanchez, who has been singled out for pet friendliness, among other things. "I'm responsible for all the work, and it's going to get the best attention."
Kristina Nasri is just one customer who appreciates Sanchez's tendency to help in unexpected ways. She hired him to install lighting, but while there, he fixed a countertop and installed a vent at no charge — even picking up the vent himself. "That was an added bonus," Nasri says.
Leith Heating & Cooling
West Dundee, Ill.
Angie's List members say owner Brian Leith frequently talks himself out of work. In one case, Holly Wisner says Leith showed her how to improve the performance of her water heater. "He could have sold us a new water heater, but didn't," she says. Leith learned both the trade and customer service from his father, who owned a similar company. "I remember working with him on late-night service calls and holding the flashlight or fetching tools," Leith says.
The HVAC pro believes in community service — his company sponsors a local Little League team, for example. He also believes that integrity and commitment pay off in repeat customers and referrals. "I want to do business with my customers for a lifetime, not one time," he says.
Boston Man Maid
Vincent "Vinny" Mirabito, who heads up Boston Man Maid's three-person crew, won't turn down a job because it's too small. "I'll do a small cleanup, and then I'll end up regularly maintaining their house and sometimes their yard," he says. That's exactly how it worked out with Joanne Wright, who recently hired him to clear out weeds in her lawn. "I'll be bringing him back in the spring to work in the backyard, and I expect I'll hire him for housecleaning as well," she says.
Customers say Mirabito puts them and their kids at ease, citing his friendly demeanor and attention to detail. Edward Perkins hired him to clean his house, including his young son's room. "Ryan's room is a complete disaster with toys literally everywhere, but when Vinny's done, everything's in its place and the stuffed animals are even lined up neatly on his bed," Perkins says.
Friebel's Quality Landscaping
Owner Jeffrey Friebel has been in business four years and still works on most jobs himself. "I do both design and implementation, plus everything else in the office," he says. Tony Firmstone, who hired Friebel to install a patio and landscaping, was impressed by his personal dedication. "He really went the extra mile to satisfy my interests," Firmstone says.
Ife Blount appreciated Friebel's ingenuity when he solved a water runoff problem on her patio, among other improvements. "He was the only landscaper who didn't propose rebuilding the entire patio, which was a huge plus," she says. Friebel believes good communication is key. "You need to be honest with people and not change prices on them they're not aware of," he says.
He also intends to maintain his overall perfect "A" record on Angie's List. "They say you can't keep everybody happy, but I want to prove them wrong," he says.
Brandon Jhun Painting & Drywall North
Las Vegas, Nev.
One of Brandon Jhun's customers says the painter must have been born with a brush in his hand. They're more right than they know. Growing up in Hawaii, Jhun was fascinated by his father and grandfather's painting work and picked it up full time as an adult. Now, he sometimes takes his own son and daughter out on estimates.
Angie's List members value his expertise. Mary Dillon says he was a big help in selecting colors for her exterior paint job. "He was as picky as any homeowner," says Dillon, who also appreciated his crew's focus on minute details. "At one point they removed a door, painted it and put it back. Someone else would have painted just what you can see, not the whole door." Jhun's dedication has put him on the list of Best Contractors two years in a row.
"I only hire people I know, and train them in the way I want things done," he says. "That's the way I grew up with my father: Keep people in the loop and everything comes back to cleanliness and quality."
Laura Hurst hired Tim Wesselman to repair a root-clogged sewer line. But she was also impressed by the time he spent on the phone telling her how to isolate problems and save herself a service call. "He really does have his customers' interest at heart, and that comes through in his work," she says.
Wesselman, a 14-year veteran plumber who went into business for himself in 2007, says it's all part of thinking long-term. "I'll tell [my customers] things others won't so I can save them money," he says. "Most companies want whatever money they can get right this second, and I want a customer for a lifetime."
Wesselman has a way of bonding with kids and animals, too. "He even stopped to make friends with my weird little dog!" reports one member.
Alex Freddi Construction
Owner Alex Freddi spent years in customer service — both in Oregon and in Italy — before he began working in remodeling, so he knows a thing or two about keeping clients happy. He and assistant Rob Felkel make a particular point of cleanliness — even on longer jobs, they straighten up at the end of each day. Their concern for children's safety while doing electrical work earns them praise from Angie's List members like Christina Luther.
Elisabeth Anderson was impressed that she could continue living in her house throughout a large remodel — and especially with the results. "My home went from a depressing, outdated '80's relic to a beautiful showplace," she says. Freddi also donates his skills to the community, working on river cleanup as part of a preservation and restoration organization.
4 Guys and a Roof
Jamie Wietrzykowski started 4 Guys and a Roof 11 years ago with, in fact, four guys who worked on a roof at a time. But he's grown since then — now it's closer to 20 Guys and Two Roofs. "People still tell me they think it's a catchy name, though," he says. "It's better than Jamie's Roofing!"
Julie Johns was particularly impressed with their ability to replace her roof in a single day, less than a week after she called them. "They always called me back the same day," she says. Other Angie's List members appreciate Wietrzykowski's habit of leaving a bundle of shingles behind at a job site so they can match color or style later on.
They also cite his willingness to come out years later to follow through on his warranty. "If a couple of shingles blow off a year later, we'll come out and fix them for free," Wietrzykowski says. "We don't want an easy $50. We want someone five or 10 years later to think about us when they're replacing their roof."
Find out who the Worst Contractors of 2008 are according Angie’s List Magazine.
Reporting by John Baracani, Matt Brady, Kristy Esch, Staci Giordullo, YaShekia King, Conor Lee, Jackie Norris, Brittany Paris, Paul F.P. Pogue, Daniel Simmons and Liz Vernon