NEED A CONTRACTOR? SCOTT'S GOT A LIST
If you’re renovating or maintaining a historic home here in Lavaca and King William, you need to know about Scott’s List. It’s the neighborhood’s go-to reference for finding plumbers, electricians, carpenters, stonemasons, painters, landscapers, bathtub refinishers (yes, bathtub refinishers), and just about any other kind of contractor you might need.
It’s sort of a neighborhood Yelp for contractors.
Scott built his list the hard way -- he acted as his own general contractor and renovated two historic homes for his family.
The content on Scott’s list comes from people who have used one or more of the contractors on the list. They email Scott, and he adds their comments and their ratings to the appropriate contractor reviews.
Scott says that he currently gets about ten ‘referrals’ each month, and they come mostly from people in Southtown.
“This is a historic home contractor's list,” he explains. “There are probably a couple of exceptions in there, but if someone in the suburbs hires somebody to fix a sink, that doesn't really fit in.”
The list today has about forty-five alphabetized categories for contractors, ranging from A to W (or, more specifically, from ‘Architects and Designers’ to ‘Wood Furniture Refinishers’).
None of the categories is empty — there are even two bathtub refinishers to choose from. That’s because Scott has added categories to fit the referrals he has received. When he gets a referral for a category that doesn’t already exist, he adds it.
Contractors cannot nominate themselves for inclusion on the list. Such nominations happen — especially from new businesses that want to be included. But Scott is strict about that. “It's a referral list from homeowners that have hired people,” he says, “so when contractors ask to be added, I just tell them that that's not our policy, and I encourage them to have their customers send in referrals.”
The end result on Vance is the result of a lot of careful work on the part of both Scott and some specialist contractors.
HOW IT STARTED
The list developed organically.
More than twenty years ago, Scott Martin and his wife, Jenny Browne, were renovating their first home on Vance Street in Lavaca. Scott was acting as his own general contractor, hiring specialized sub-contractors for specific tasks, and he found that it wasn’t always easy to find the right contractor for each job.
Scott wanted to work with contractors who did good work, offered fair prices, and were sensitive to the special concerns of working in a historic home. That last part was especially tough. Scott points to electricians as an example.
“When you're doing electrical work on a caliche stone home, that requires some historical sensitivity. A lot of people might run ugly conduit and call it a day, but routing out the mortar and hiding conduit within the wall, for example, is a more historically appropriate technique.”
“When you get into woodworking, it's just so essential that you not be talking to a carpenter that builds sheds in the suburbs. You want someone that's familiar with historic species and appropriate varnish techniques.”
“It’s these sensibilities,” Scott says, “that really drive the list.”
MOVING THE LIST FROM PAPER TO THE WEB
As he did his research into contractors for the various trades, Scott kept notes. He developed a paper list of contractors and what he had learned about each one. Over time, the list grew, and word got out:
“Need a contractor? Check with Scott — he’s got a list.”
As those inquiries grew more frequent, responding to them became something of a distraction. Scott — a photographer and artist — had a real job, after all. So he decided to put the list online, where people could check it out directly.
In about 2003, he purchased a domain — scottslist.org — and threw up a primitive web page with all the information he had collected. The site, as Scott himself describes it, is ‘a really crude, awful, static HTML page with visible tables.’
It’s not pretty, but it does the job.
All his effort, Scott explains, goes into keeping the data up to date. “It looks old,” he says, “but it updates almost every month.”
For each reviewed contractor, Scott includes the contractor name, contact information, a star rating, and direct quotes from the referrals he has received for that contractor.
Scott takes his five-star rating system very seriously.
“I want to be fair to the contractors, and I also want the list to be fair to homeowners,” he says. So he has given a lot of thought to how he assigns the stars.
“One hundred percent of the referrals that come in are zero stars or five stars. No one ever suggests two, three or four stars. Not even once has that ever happened.”
“People have strong opinions, and one person might have loved a contractor for job A, but another person might have hated that same contractor for job B.”
So how does he deal with that?
The most important thing is to get lots of reviews — to ‘crowdsource’ them, as Scott puts it — so that those strong opinions average out a bit or get reinforced. “When you throw a lot of data together, hopefully it gets a bit more objective.”
The second thing is his mechanism for handling new contractors. When he adds a new contractor to the list, that contractor will always start with a three-star rating, no matter what the initial referral might say. Then, as more reviews come in, that rating will get bumped up or down, based on those additional reviews. So no contractor will start with one star or five stars, based on just a single review.
KEEPING IT VALUABLE
A lot of people have used Scott’s List over the years, but not all of them have added their own feedback to the list.
“The list needs active referrals, and feedback,” Scott says. “both for ratings and for basic information. If somebody dies and their phone number doesn't work anymore, I don't really realize that until somebody tells me. So I need that feedback. The list thrives on feedback. If people don't provide enough, it's going to degrade and not be useful.”
“This is our collective community list,” Scott says, “and the more feedback all of us can send in the higher quality it will be.”
“It’s not my list. I'm just a servant.”
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.
This is our collective community list, and the more feedback all of us can send in the higher quality it will be.