If you’re renovating your home, and looking online for reliable contractors to do the work, the founder of review website HomeStars has some tips to help you discern real from fake online recommendations.

Nancy Peterson, who founded the website, says it’s especially important to vet businesses hired to do work on their houses.

“Reviews should be the first step in your research because, in online reviews, it’s not like going to a restaurant and eating a meal,” Peterson told CTV’s Canada AM Monday. “You’re hiring someone that’s coming into your home.”

According to Patterson, some key components of a legitimate review include:

  • Expanded detail and descriptions
  • Pictures
  • Previous reviews of the company
  • A business licence and insurance

Peterson says about 15 per cent of submitted reviews are believed to be false, and are rejected before they make are posted on the site. HomeStars’ staff read all the reviews they receive and runs back-end software that detects any red flags such as previously rejected reviews, or people writing in with complaints.

“We did a look across all our 100-or-so categories, and we found that some that had the highest amount of cheating were categories like moving, locksmiths, painters,” she says.

Peterson says businesses, especially general contractors, often write their own reviews in place of customer testimonials.

“They don’t do very many jobs in a year,” she says. “So perhaps they’re just trying to get some testimonials up, and they’re doing it in a way that obviously they shouldn’t. They should be asking the clients to write them.”

While not all false reviews are misleading, Peterson says it’s important to consult real clients before making a hiring decision.

“It may be harmless, but on the other hand, you want to make sure that they are real clients that are writing these reviews,” Peterson says.

She says people tend to make a decision after reading one to three reviews, which is often not enough information to know the company’s overall and most recent performance.