Thursday, September 10, 2015

Yelp Help

“The House exterior doesn’t look good,” Mr. Wonderful said pulling at a flaking paint chip with his fingernail.
“I know,” I said grabbing 14 bags of groceries from the car and slinging them over my shoulders.
“It needs to be painted,” Mr. Wonderful said gazing at the trim.
“I know,” I said staggering under the weight of the bags.
“We should do it ourselves.”
“I kno— What?!”

Fixing up a fixer-upper House is a lot of work, You research, you sweat, you go to the home improvement store six times—In. One. Day. You drop everything to make The House look good. Look better. Look the best it can be. All by ourselves we’d fixed up the inside, the garden side and the poolside. But did we really have to do the outside?

I wasn’t being lazy, just practical, after all it was summer in Southern California: that glorious time of year when ice cream melts while still in the freezer. I could not imagine washing, sanding and painting The House’s exterior under a gray wintery sky not to mention under SoCal’s blazing summer sun. 

“I respect your DIY enthusiasm,” I said plopping the grocery bags on the kitchen floor “but shouldn’t we hire a specialist to paint the exterior?” 
“And trust someone else to do it?” Mr. Wonderful said examining the paint chip in his hand. “No way.”
“Many companies paint house exteriors. So they must be trustworthy to base their entire business model on it.”
“But they won’t do as good a job as me.”
“It’s 116 degrees outside. Do you want to paint The House?” 
He shook his head. “But where will we find a painter?” 

Mr. Wonderful may be the pro at deciding when to use a Phillips screwdriver or using… the other type of screwdriver, but I am the expert on getting information. With groceries stowed away, I bounded outside.

“Hi, Harold!” I hollered to our 86 year-old neighbor. “You had your house painted last year.”
“That’s right,” Harold said sweeping the dust from his car with a large, soft brush.
“Who did it?”
“I’m not telling you.” 
“Excuse me?” 
“You heard me.”
“But we want our House to look as good as yours.”
“There’s already paint flaking off. See?” he said jabbing a finger at his garage door trim. It was minuscule but if Harold didn’t trust this painter there wasn’t an ice cube’s chance in summery L.A. that Mr. Wonderful would.
“So you won’t tell me who did it?”
“Thanks for nothing.”
“You’re welcome for nothing.”

But Harold was not the end-all be-all of neighborhood news and Angie’s List-like recommendations. I had other sources like this little thing called… The Internet. BAM! Take that, Harold!

I googled “exterior painters” and got several listings on What an odd name for a review site since yelp means “to give a quick, sharp, shrill cry, as a dog or a fox.” On second thought it’s not any worse than’s name, where yahoo means “a coarse or brutish person”.

Choosing a painting company with a local address I read a review of it on Yelp. A customer said: This was the best painting job ever! I’m so happy I chose this company!

The very next reviewer said: This was the worst painting job ever! Choosing them was a bad life decision! Even worse than when I dated that serial killer. 

How could the same company get such glowing reviews and such horrible reviews? Did it do spotty work—excellent sometimes and poor other times? Or did it have less to do with the painting company and more to do with… the reviewer? Having been around my share of blocks, I had noticed that Yelp’s mixed-bag reviews phenomenon didn’t just happen with painters, it happened with restaurants, hotels and nail bars. People either love-love-loved something! Or hated it with a passion normally reserved for Nazi war criminals. I’ve seen Yelp “reviewers” give a restaurant a horrible review not because the food was bad (it wasn’t, it was actually quite good and affordable) but because the waiter didn’t serenade them with Happy Birthday Cha-Cha-Cha, give them a free dessert and tuck them in bed at night. 

It’s outrageous, really. I have actually chosen to go to restaurants with 
both great and terrible Yelp reviews and my finding was that the restaurants were very good. Proving my point that the disgruntled Yelp reviewer will complain about anything, even if it’s unfounded. Okay, especially if it’s unfounded. Actually it’s moniker fits: the reviewers are all giving quick, shrill cries… for attention. 

Nevertheless dropping some cash on a restaurant with mixed-bag reviews is not the same thing as rolling the dice on a large expense like painting a whole house. While Harold gave me too little information, Yelp gave me too much. Yelp couldn’t help me find a painter. 

Disheartened after spending hours online with nothing to show for it, I went outside to wrack my brain for a good painter and get the mail. Then BAM! Swinging from our front door was a door hanger advertisement for an exterior house paint specialist. The ad said the company painted historic homes in Pasadena and throughout Los Angeles, which intrigued me. But what really impressed me was that someone from that company was walking door-to-door drumming up business. In. This. Heat. 

Since they could tolerate this heat, they had earned my attention. I made an appointment for a free estimate. The owner visited The House himself to give me the estimate. I found him to be nice, fair and professional. Finally I had found our painter!

Afterwards I looked the company up online. A Yelp reviewer said: This was the best painting job ever! I’m so happy I chose this company! While the very next Yelper said: “This company hung a door hanger ad on my door! That’s the worst thing anyone’s ever done to me. Including that Nazi war criminal—”

All those Yelp reviewers: what a bunch of Yahoos.

NEXT: What Color to Paint The House?

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