Home Front: Home improvement gets high-tech

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by By RENAY SAN MIGUEL / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on May 22, 2009 at 11:16 AM

Updated Monday, Sep 28 at 4:14 PM

Video: Home Front: All about HomeSavvi.com

SEATTLE - Social networks are all the rage right now on the internet.

And a Seattle-based web startup company is trying to capture a little of that Facebook magic by providing a destination for consumers looking to put a new face on their homes.

The Sterns were cutting it close; they needed to remodel their kitchen and bathroom in their Bellevue home in time to host a daughter's wedding.

Eve Stern was hoping to find a match made in renovation heaven on the web.

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"You can find a lot of options on the internet, almost sensory overload, but it's people's experiences, anecdotal, the ratings, their firsthand experiences that matter, especially if it's local," she said.

Eve found all that on HomeSavvi.com, a 15-month-old Seattle-based Web site that's trying to marry the community features found on a social network - including blogs, ratings systems, and user feedback - with a listing service for home improvement specialists.

"It ended up being a go-to place for me, and if I didn't find my answers, I could put it out in the community and people got back to me," Stern said.

HomeSavvi founder and CEO Villette Nolon has two sets of customers - consumers looking for remodeling advice and names of contractors - and those contractors, the experts who pay for membership on the site to get access to those consumers.

There's already competition for HomeSavvi. Sites like Service Magic and Angie's List already provide online listings, and Service Magic says it has community features as well. Nolon maintains her web 2.0 tools will help her remodeling service providers stand out in that crowd.

"What we give them is a Facebook-like application where they are part of our online community, we also give them a profile and a link directly to the Web site that they've already got," Nolon said.

HomeSavvi isn't just providing an online community. Every month the company hosts speed savvy dating - real-world meet-ups for consumers with questions, and contractors offering their services.

It was a HomeSavvi speed dating event that helps STS Remodeling nail down a couple of new contracts worth thousands of dollars. Now STS' Craig Haveson is one of HomeSavvi's 40 business members.

"Because we've been referral-based for so long, we're really trying to go open our minds to the new things that are out there for us on the internet, because I think just like all businesses, if you don't adapt to the changing times, you're gonna get left behind," Haveson said.

But what about the changing economy? Will the downturn in advertising and home improvement keep this startup from getting started?

"Really great professionals are now beginning to realize that business that they may have gotten through word of mouth in the late 2000s, they're no longer getting business that way, consumer are looking on the internet, and those business are looking for new ways to be found," Nolon said.

Right now HomeSavvi has offices and Web sites in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Atlanta, with plans to expand to other major cities.

Also on deck for HomeSavvi: an online magazine and an e-mail coupon service. The Seattle Web site averages 7,000 unique visitors a month.

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