When homeowners start thinking about a new kitchen, or a remodeled bath, or any other home upgrade, online dating is probably the last thing from their minds. But maybe it shouldn’t be.

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After all, finding and hiring the right contractor is a lot like finding the right boyfriend or girlfriend. You’re looking for someone who really gets you and what you want – whether that’s out of life or out of a home renovation.

With that in mind, when you’re heading online to find a contractor, it makes sense to keep your options as open as possible, and to communicate your expectations and desires as clearly as possible – just like when you’re looking for a potential partner in life.

That’s the idea behind Homecraft Advantage, a new online service that helps homeowners plan renovation projects and matches them with contractors interested in providing bids.

The service was developed by Mike Fortune, a residential contractor who previously worked for The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company. Fortune explains that Homecraft Advantage is different from other websites homeowners might visit to find contractors, like Home Advisor or Angie’s List because it shares homeowners’ requests for bids with all contractor members, rather than just three or four members paying a premium.

With other sites, “You think you’re getting exposure to the top 100 contractors in your area, but really they sell your information to three or four guys,” he says. “It’s like if you were on a dating site that only gives you three or four possible phone numbers. You want to see all of the options out there. You want an open, free, direct marketplace.”

When homeowners log on to Homecraft Advantage’s free platform, they are guided through an intuitive project survey to gather details, upload photos, drawings, plans, and inspiration photos to create a complete project package. Depending on the type of project, the survey can go into great detail – down to the type of finishes desired – though if homeowners do not initially know all of the answers, they can leave questions blank. Still, the list includes questions that will, eventually, need answers, which helps prepare homeowners for the process as a whole. They know what will still have to be decided.

Fortune and his team built the platform based on his experience on the commercial side of the business, where would-be clients “spec out” jobs in great detail to make sure they’re getting accurate bids from construction companies.

“In the commercial world, first you get drawings and specs, then you send out the bid and everyone’s on the same sheet of music,” he says, explaining that though right now, the norm in the residential world is a much more casual approach, including meetings and discussions between homeowners and contractors, having the specs written down improves the process all around.

This is more efficient for homeowners, who then wouldn’t  have to meet with contractors who might not ultimately be interested, or who might misinterpret the project and provide bids that are off base. It’s also great for contractors who know, up front, if the job will be a good fit and are able to correctly bid on the project from the get-go.

“Contractors are able to easily evaluate the projects posted in the marketplace without incurring the costs associated with meetings and travel. They are able to pursue the ones that fit them best,” explains Fortune.  “Ultimately, the final decision of which contractor to work with is up to the homeowner. This greatly increases the chances of a good relationship and a successful project.”

For more information about Homecraft Advantage and to check out the tool, visit www.homecraftadvantage.com

Kit Waskom Pollard is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributing writer. She writes Hot Plate every Friday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.