How to Hire Home Repair Contractors Who Won’t Royally Botch the Job

You found a buyer for your house…but the dreaded home inspection revealed that the roof isn’t up to par. Now, the buyer requests that you get it fixed before closing.

No biggie, you tell yourself. You call up your handy neighbor to see if he knows anything about roofs. Good news—he does!

He’s over in a jiff, patches up a hole and seals some loose shingles for only 20 bucks and a ham sandwich. Easy, right?

Sure, until the home inspector comes back for a checkup and immediately calls out the shoddy workmanship.

Tsk, tsk, you should’ve hired a professional.

Take it from top real estate agents who’ve got their go-to roofers, plumbers, electricians and more on speed dial: the best home repair contractors are licensed and vetted for a reason.

These trusted pros will save you from a DIY home maintenance project gone wrong (you’re lucky your neighbor made it down safely from the roof!) Qualified contractors also won’t botch the task at hand or leave you paying for the same job twice.

Here’s how you can avoid amateur hour by hiring the right person the first time.

Here’s when you need a home repair contractor

When you sell your house, be prepared to put some work into it—both on your own and with the help of professionals. But before you go into total demolition mode, talk to your real estate agent about which maintenance issues to prioritize and any updates that will increase the value of your home.

“Little things can be done yourself, like paint or replacing a lock or door handle, something you’d do in your normal everyday life,” says Maureen Horn, a Longboat Key real estate agent that, on average, sells houses 82 days faster than average agents in her area.

“There’s the next level of things that only a professional should do,” Horn adds. “And it’s important that you have the receipts from a licensed professional.”

It’s OK to try to save some money with DIY projects, but use your common sense to know when to hand over the reins to a professional.

Let’s say your floors could use a buff to really make them shine. How hard could it be? Hypothetically, homeowners can rent a buffing machine to buff their own hardwoods. But if you’re not in the shape to handle powerful machinery, it’s not worth it to try to do it yourself. You could hurt your floors or even worse, yourself.

And for that matter, when it comes to the home inspection, anything that comes up (or might come up) should be handled by an experienced home repair contractor––no questions asked.

Home inspectors look for big ticket issues that pose function and safety issues for your house. If a buyer requests repairs for anything on the inspection report, you need a licensed professional to do the job right and provide proof of completion to the buyer. Not doing so can make matters worse, cost more to redo, turn buyers off of the home sale entirely, or put your own health and safety in danger.

As a rule of thumb, never attempt to do any of these home repairs on your own:

  • Electrical work
  • Plumbing
  • Roof repair
  • Gas appliances
  • Structure
  • Toxic materials (like mold or asbestos)

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that over 35,000 people died from a fall in 2016. And each year, home electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 fires, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Before you get up on your roof or try to recircuit your breaker, be cautious and hire a home repair contractor for fixes that are a threat to your safety.

hire a home repair contractor

What is a home repair contractor?

A contractor is anyone who provides work or service as a business. A home repair contractor is a licensed, insured, and experienced repair expert for a specific trade.

Some examples of home repair contractors that are commonly needed before or during a home sale are:

  • Plumber (in the event that the home inspector found evidence of leaks, water flow issues, or broken pipes)
  • Roofer (to fix loose shingles, repair holes, repair rust or cracks, or replace the roof)
  • Electrician (to rewire, replace outlets, or fix exposed wiring)
  • Flooring Contractor (to repair, replace, or refinish floors)
  • Kitchen or Bathroom Remodeler (to update appliances, install countertops and cabinets, and replace title or fixtures)
  • Foundation Contractor (to repair any signs of structural or foundation issues)

A home repair contractor can specialize in anything that has to do with the configuration of a house—siding, insulation, windows, you name it. So, always hire a home repair contractor that has the specific knowledge and experience with the issue that you need fixed.

Contractor vs. handyman: What’s the difference?

So, what’s the difference between a licensed contractor and a handyman?

A handyman is a type of home repair contractor––and often times, handymen must be a licensed contractor and have a handyman business license. A handyman can also get certified through the Association of Certified Handyman Professionals to further validate their qualifications.

“Just because your Uncle Joey is a handyman, that doesn’t make him a handyman,” says Horn.

Licensed and certified handymen can perform most minor home repair jobs, but for larger jobs, a licensed contractor who’s highly specialized in a certain trade is a safer bet.

“When we get the inspection report, we show it to our handyman and he fixes what he can,” says Horn. “He’ll tell us what he can and can’t do. So if there’s something with electric or plumbing, he won’t do it because there’s a difference between a licensed plumber or electrician and a handyman.”

To become a licensed contractor, a professional must meet the minimal requirements for the line of work based on local regulations. Depending on the laws in your city or state, if the cost of the job is over a certain dollar amount, a contractor license might be required to perform the job. And in most cases, a contractor license is necessary to obtain insurance––which covers any property damage, injuries, or other liabilities.

So remember, whether it’s a handyman or an electrician, always make sure they are licensed and insured.

home repair contractor handyman

Do you need a general contractor or a subcontractor?

A general contractor is the contractor you’d hire for a larger construction project, like remodeling your entire home. They supervise the project, hire subcontractors, and make sure the project complies with laws and building codes.

The requirements for general contractors vary by state, but in most places, you must have a general contractor license in order to perform construction or renovation projects.

The general contractor hires subcontractors to complete the job. Subcontractors—such as plumbers, electricians, or roofers—have a specific set of skills but work in agreement with the general contractor, not the costumer.

So, for large home repair projects, you can hire a general contractor to oversee the project and manage the subcontractors instead of doing it yourself. The cost to hire a general contractor varies on the size of the project and who you hire.

You can expect a general contractor to charge between 10-20% of the total project cost, which includes materials, permits, and subcontractors.

How much does it cost to hire a home repair contractor?

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact cost for a home repair contractor. The total cost you’ll end up paying depends on a lot of different factors:

  • The type of project (roof, plumbing, flooring, painting)
  • The size of the repair
  • The materials needed

Taking all of this into account, you can plan on spending anywhere from $150 to $15,000. For example, most homeowners spend about $160-$500 to hire an electrician, according to HomeAdvisor. But to upgrade or replace an electrical panel, the average cost is roughly $1,100.

The best way to find out how much a home repair contractor costs is to find the best contractors in your area and ask them for quotes. Compare the quotes between the contractors to find the most competitive price for the job.

How to find the best home repair contractor for the job at hand

When you’re trying to sell your home but you have to make repairs, you can find yourself between a rock and a hard place. You’re on a tight deadline to get the job done, you don’t want to spend a fortune, and you need the work to pass the critical eye of a home inspector.

You’re looking for quality and speed at a bargain—and that can be tough to find.

Some surefire ways to go about hiring the best home repair contractors in your area are to:

Ask your real estate agent for referrals.

Your real estate agent has been around the block a few times and has a network of professionals who they can vouch for. “Your real estate agent is your source for everything,” Horn says. Consult with your real estate agent to find a home repair contractor you can trust.

Talk to friends, family, and neighbors.

You probably know someone that has sold their home, right? Find out who they hired for their home repair needs. A shining review from a happy client is the best verifier when it comes to home repair contractors.

  • Nextdoor is a trusted platform that allows neighbors to communicate on a private social network. Enter your home address and street address to connect with neighbors in your area. Ask them for referrals for contractors that they trust and see if they have useful information on your local regulations for home repairs.

Search online for the top-reviewed contractors.

Sites like Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, and Porch vet their professionals through license verification, background checks, client reviews, and more. Find a highly-rated home repair contractor on one of these sites to make sure you’re bringing on the best person for the job.

Ask lots of questions.

No matter where you found your contractor candidates, make sure you ask a lot of  questions before you hire them for the job. Here are some questions you should always ask a home repair contractor to verify their qualifications, experience and abilities:

  • Can I see your license and proof of insurance? (You can verify their information on the Contractor State License Board website.)
  • How long have you been in business?
  • What’s your experience with projects like mine?
  • Can you provide a list of references and client reviews?
  • What do you charge and what’s your payment policy?
  • How long will this project take?
  • What materials are needed for this project?

Watch out for red flags.

You need this project to run smoothly in order to keep your costs low and your home sale on track. Keep your eyes and ears open for any of these red flags:

  • They have bad reviews.
  • They can’t provide license or insurance information.
  • They don’t know the time frame or materials required to complete the project.
  • They ask for large amounts of money upfront.
  • They don’t have a written contract of the job.
  • They are vague and reluctant with any answers.
  • They pressure you into signing a contract.
  • They ask to use your house for advertising purposes.
  • They don’t show up or respond to calls and messages.

How a bad home repair contractor puts your home sale at risk

When necessary home repairs crop up during your home sale, it would be tempting to take shortcuts and hire the Average Joe down the street to speed things along.

In the end, a job done wrong will only cost you time, money and even the deal itself if major delays send your buyers running for the hills.

With the help of your real estate agent who 1) knows which repairs must be done to move the sale forward and 2) has strong connections with all the top local contractors in your area, tackle any maintenance issues that are out of your comfort zone by hiring the best home repair contractor for the job.

Remember, don’t ever ask someone without a license or insurance to make repairs for you.

Vet all of your contractor candidates by checking their online reviews, asking for past client referrals and getting all of the job specs upfront.

Then you can sign on the dotted line with confidence and leave the dangerous wire handling, plumbing nightmares, and roof expeditions to the pros.

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