Hire a Handyman: A Step-by-Step Guide for First-Timers

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You’re a responsible enough homeowner to know that you need to hire someone to help you fix some things here and there — because you can’t do it yourself.

Why not? Well, ask yourself this: you wouldn’t want an amateur mechanic working on your car, right? Although a lot of tasks that require you to hire a handyman might seem easy enough, doing those tasks incorrectly or not thoroughly enough can be a costly and time-consuming mistake … and your home is your single biggest financial investment. Hiring a handyman will save you both money and time in the long run, and the good news is, it’s usually not a huge expense.

So it’s time to hire your first handyman. Where do you start?

A list used to hire a handyman.
Source: (Sarah Pflug/ Burst)

List your problems

Organizing your tasks into a list is the best way to make good use of a handyman. A lot of handymen charge by the task or by the hour, so you can often get a good deal if you bundle a bunch of tasks into one day. Most of the time, a handyman will come and fix several different items in your house; you pay for materials and by the hour, so it’s worth it to try to consolidate those tasks into a single time block.

However, beware of haggling, even though we live in a time where everyone is always trying to get the best deal.

“If somebody is good, don’t haggle — because he is in such high demand, he can go somewhere else and get that price,” says Charlotte-based real estate agent Kim Trouten, who’s helped clients buy and sell over 500 properties.

“When you have several things on a list, I think a fair thing to say is, ‘Do you have any flexibility?’”

It’s advantageous for a handyman to take on a full day’s work in one home instead of three or four smaller jobs in different homes. If you can keep someone busy for the whole day, that works out well for both you and your handyman. Try to save up as much work as you can to make the visit enticing to the person you end up hiring.

Handyman vs. contractor

Make sure the tasks that you need help with require a handyman instead of a contractor. A contractor is licensed, and they usually specialize in specific jobs, such as plumbing, electrical, or jobs that require heavy equipment. If the job is complicated, takes a long time, and requires specialization, you probably need a contractor instead of a handyman.

The scope of a handyman is more broad; some have formal training and an area of specialization, while others are self-trained and their skills run the gamut of home-improvement tasks. Some handymen do specialize in different types of home maintenance, such as tiling, carpentry, or painting. And while most states don’t require a handyman to obtain a license, some require that handymen register and carry insurance.

One of the benefits of hiring a handyman versus a contractor is you’re less likely to be overcharged if you hire a handyman. Contractors have to hire laborers, and their estimated timeline for a job can be bumped out if they overextend themselves or underestimate the amount of work needed for your job. With a handyman, terms are much simpler; you only have to pay for the hours he works, or a flat rate if that’s what you’ve agreed upon. Handymen don’t have to hire laborers, so they can keep their rates lower than contractors.

Materials are another aspect to consider. When you hire a contractor, they will supply materials, but usually at a markup. If you choose to use different materials, often a contractor will not guarantee the repair, and your choices are limited to what the contractor carries. Supplying your own materials allows you to stay within your budget because you can see exactly what the product costs, choose the finish, the warranty, and so on.

Do some research to see if your job needs to be done by a contractor before you hire a handyman. A handyman can complete simpler tasks in your home, such as:

  • Installing shelves in cabinets: If you need to add extra shelving into your kitchen cabinets, a handyman can easily install those.
  • Hanging pictures or curtains: Yes, you can put in hardware for window treatments and hang pictures in your house yourself, but hiring a handyman will ensure that those tasks are done correctly and safely.
  • Painting: Whether it’s a full room or just a touch-up job for some scuffs on the wall, a handyman is probably your best bet. However, if you need a full house painting, hiring a painting crew might be a better option.
  • Caulking: Aging caulking in a home is often overlooked by homeowners, and fresh caulk around windows, doors, and siding is a great way to give your home’s energy efficiency a boost. Hire a handyman to freshen up your entryways and windows and save some bucks on your electric bill.
  • Furniture assembly: Having trouble with that IKEA dresser? Hire a handyman to set it up and save yourself the headache.
  • Setting up holiday displays: Hanging lights and putting Santa and his reindeer on the roof is an excellent job for a handyman. You don’t want to end up falling in the bushes a la Clark Griswold, right?
  • Putting together a swing set or treehouse: Again, assembly takes time and energy, so hiring a handyman to put together your kids’ bigger toys is a great option.
  • Gutter cleaning: Depending on where you live, gutters need to be cleaned anywhere from twice per year to monthly. It’s not a huge job, but getting on the roof is always a risk to your safety. Hire a handyman with experience and equipment and save yourself the hassle.
  • Minor woodwork: Got some loose boards on your porch or deck? That’s an ideal job for a handyman.

Save the bigger jobs, such as remodeling, drywall installation, and big electrical or plumbing work for a contractor.

Find some options

So where do you go to hire a handyman? The Internet is a great resource, with sites such as HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List providing reviews, licensing verification, and background checks on their vendors. If you’re more inclined to use an app on your phone, TaskRabbit and Handy are excellent resources.

“Always go through the app so there’s a record for your own safety,” advises Trouten. “You never want to just take a phone number and connect with a stranger outside of the app, especially your first time using someone.”

Your neighbors are also a great place to mine for recommendations for a handyman to hire. Sites like Nextdoor and your local neighborhood Facebook groups can connect you with your neighbors, and people are usually happy to refer their handyman when they’ve found a good one. And if you live in a smaller community, asking around to your neighbors, friends, or at your local hardware store is also a simple but effective way to find a good person to hire.

Real estate agents can also be a great resource for finding and hiring a handyman.  They often keep lists of contractors and handymen that they work with, and they stay on top of who is doing good work. “When I’m doing repairs or my client needs a service, I have my trades that are my go-tos,” says Trouten. “Even after closing, clients know they can call me if they need someone to clean their house, or they need someone to do a repair. I will always find them somebody.”

Do some research

Once you’ve found the handyman you’d like to hire, make sure to do some research on their background. Search for their website and their social media profiles. See if you can find any public reviews for them on Google or elsewhere, and always ask for references from previous work they’ve done. If someone is absent from the Internet or can’t give you any references, that might be a red flag.

A man calling to hire a handyman.
Source: (Maresa Smith/ Death to the Stock Photo)

Ask questions

This might seem obvious, but before you hire a handyman, ask them some questions to get some parameters for your job. How much do they charge? Do they have any areas of expertise? Are there things they don’t do as a matter of course? How far ahead are they booked, or how available are they? How long does it usually take them to finish jobs similar to yours?

These are just a few examples, but prep a list of questions based on your specific job before you start making calls.

Circumstances can change quickly in the world of home labor, and while a handyman may have done great work a few jobs ago, the last person they worked for may have had a bad experience.

“You’re only as good as your last job,” explains Trouten, “Whenever I recommend a handyman, I always tell my clients, ‘They were good the last time I used them, but I cannot vouch for the long term.’”

A lot of laborers will take on much more work than they can handle, which can lead to a whole host of problems — including not finishing jobs on time.

Test someone out

Sometimes the best way to get a read on someone is to simply do a test run. Try out a new handyman with a shorter list of two or three less critical items, like touch-up painting or furniture assembly, before trusting them with big-ticket stuff. If they do a great job, awesome! You can now have them move onto bigger, more important tasks.

Remember, if you test someone out as your handyman-of-choice and you don’t like the work, you can always hire one of your alternates or find someone else. This isn’t a marriage; you can start over again if it’s not working out.

Header Image Source: (antoniodiaz/ Shutterstock)