Home & Garden

Get a grip on work from handymen

The Associated Press
Friday July 12, 2002

Home Matters



Suppose you have a leaky gutter or need a new light fixture installed. 

Both are small fix-it jobs, so why hire a full-blown repair company when the neighborhood handyman could do the job? 

As with most home maintenance, the quick and easy decision on whom to hire isn’t always so quick and easy. 

In fact, according to Mike Turner of The Home Service Store, you need to approach and manage the work by a handyman or woman just as you would larger repair and improvement companies. Turner estimates nearly 15 percent of all U.S. household repairs and odd-jobs are done by solo contractors, otherwise known as handymen. He says if you can operate a screwdriver or hammer, you can call yourself a handyman. 

This group specializes in minor projects, usually in the $200 to $600 range. Often, individuals start small in hopes of building a real business leading to higher-paying work. Their skill sets might be limited, but they nevertheless take on projects outside their scope of ability because they simply need the work. 

“There are a lot of good handy-people,” says Turner, “but they can’t be a know-it-all. What you risk is people acquiring experience at your expense, taking jobs they’re really not suited for, and perhaps the inability to back their work if something goes wrong.” 

Many handymen also operate under the radar screen of local licensing agencies. Some jobs, such as replacing electrical wall plates or installing new doors, don’t require licenses. Still, some handymen perform more complicated tasks, such as rewiring a room or major plumbing, where licenses are mandatory. 

The trump card for most handymen is low pricing. Without an office, staff or other overhead costs, they can bid jobs at lower-than-going rates. But what appears as low pricing isn’t always so, says Turner. “If I pay the right guy $125 per hour and it takes two hours to do the job but a handyman charges $50 per hour and takes all day, which is the better deal? Most consumers will go with the $50 an hour guy but end up paying more. The real question becomes how long will it take to complete?” 

Turner advises homeowners to hold the handyman to the same set of standards as any other repair or improvement company. Make sure you get time estimates and pricing up front. You should also be satisfied they have the necessary skills, and that you provide a firm list of expectations. If the job is complicated, ask the job candidate if they have the appropriate licenses.