Hiring a Handyman: 6 Ways to Get the Job Done

Any job, big or small. That’s what the ad says.

But how do you know if you’re getting quality work at the right price, not to mention protecting yourself if something goes wrong?

1. Know the Rules

Be wary of any handyman who professes to do it all. Electricians and plumbers, as well as roofers, are required to have a license, issued either by the state or a local municipality. Most heating and air conditioning technicians are required by manufacturers to be NATE certified (North American Technician Excellence), which mandates passing two sets of tests for service and installation. Anyone who does electrical work or plumbing without a license is breaking the law.

“There’s the saying, handy with all, master of none,” warns Jon Stensberg, owner of Wilshore Electric. “The reality is that any licensed electrician is going to stick with what he knows because he’ll make more money doing electrical work than general handyman projects.”

2. Safety First, Not Price

If a bid is too good to be true, chances are it is. Realize that there is a fair market value for any service. And above all, put your family’s safety first.

“Beyond saving you the expense of water damage, a good plumber is responsible for ensuring that your drinking water is safe, that your sewage is properly disposed of, or that your water heater won’t blow up,” says Peg Mahoney of Mahoney Plumbing. Not things you want to fool around with chasing the lowest bid.

Mahoney recommends looking for a business with longevity, particularly when warranties are involved.

3. Anyone Can Paint

Of all the trades, painting is probably the trickiest, with no licenses or professional training required.

“Anyone can say they’re a painter,” said Steven Ragsdale, owner of Ragsdale, Inc., a residential and commercial painter in business more than 30 years. “Unfortunately, because it’s such an easy entry business, your risk of getting burned is much higher.”

Ragsdale recommends checking with the Painting and Decorators Contractors of America (PDCA). Members must be licensed, registered and insured in compliance with the laws and regulations of the areas where they do business. Member companies are also expected to adhere to a high set of standards, and are encouraged to participate in safety and training programs.

4. Protecting Yourself

Bonded and insured. That’s what the company’s ad says, but what does that really mean?

Any workman you allow into your home absolutely should have liability and workman’s compensation insurance, and you have every right to ask for proof of insurance.

Even if the company you hired is insured, if they are sending a subcontractor to your home, that workman may not be covered. When a company uses subcontractors, it can legally pass off responsibility for insurance to them and remove itself from accountability should anything happen on the job.

The best way to protect yourself is to stick with a business that has a core group of employees whom they insure. If your job is big enough to warrant a general contractor, typically any contract you sign will stipulate his responsibility for making sure any worker he uses for your project has insurance.

The term “bonded” means having an insurance policy that guarantees performance. Bonding may not always be necessary given the job for which you’re hiring or required by your local municipality.

5. Pull Your Permits

Every municipality requires homeowners to pull a permit for most major home improvement projects (check your community’s website for details). And while it can be a hassle and cost money, getting a permit is your best protection—and any workman that encourages you to skip it should be escorted to the door.

If your contractor has a good relationship with your town and a history of good quality work, getting a permit should be a breeze. Same with the city inspections.

We bought a house from a couple who didn’t pull permits and had plumbing and electrical work done without inspections. And while the bathrooms looked nice, it wasn’t until we renovated the kitchen below that we realized work had been done that didn’t adhere to city codes and compromised our safety. Ten thousand dollars later, we learned our lesson.

Chances are your municipality can head off costly errors at the gate. Many towns keep a file of homeowner complaints against shoddy workmanship and contractors, so don’t be afraid to ask.

6. Get a Legitimate Reference

Always ask for a list of references, preferably individuals who live nearby. And don’t be afraid to inquire about the reference’s relationship to the company. For example, some realtors will provide a list of local service providers, but sometimes there is a kickback. The best place to start for recommendations is your friends.

You can also get independent reviews on service providers through the Better Business Bureau, trade organizations and online through our Better List, or Yelp! For a membership fee, Angie’s List provides detailed information on local companies along with ratings and reviews.

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