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How to hire a good handyman

You love your home. But that leaky faucet, clogged gutter or cracked shower tile is driving you crazy. Who ya gonna call? A handyman. This general practitioner of the home repair industry is the go-to professional for jobs you don’t want to do, haven’t time to do or simply can’t do (and have no business attempting).

You don’t want to hire just anyone. Like a housekeeper or babysitter, a handyman has access to your home. The right one is more than just a guy, or gal, with a toolbox. It’s someone with whom you may build a long-term, trusting relationship.

Heather Bays, a single parent, found her current handyman by asking a friend/real estate agent for a recommendation. Most recently, she had him replace an 8-foot by 10-foot backyard planter. “The referral from my friend was key,” says Bays. “I want someone I know and trust to have used this person before and be satisfied with the work.”

Word of mouth is still the favored way to find a pro. But instead of swapping info over the backyard fence, many of us head online, using neighborhood social networks such as Nextdoor. After all, if someone you know has used a particular handyman, odds are he won’t disappear overnight.

When he wanted to remodel the kitchen in his 1928 Spanish bungalow, Denver resident John Sunderland turned to Craigslist. His approach: Place a notice in the Gigs section under “Labor.” Sunderland carefully laid out the project, noting he need an “experienced carpenter” and asked for three references with phone numbers. Of the four responses, only one did what was asked. Impeccable references scored him the job.

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After a test “job” replacing two kitchen windows went well, Sunderland hired him for the rest of the kitchen re-do and plans to have him drywall the garage ceiling.

A handyman for nine years, Buddy Hendrickson appreciates clients who let him know their expectations. “It’s all about the right fit. Someone is letting me into their home and I respect that,” he says.

Online services such as HomeAdvisor (formerly Service Magic) or Angie’s List match homeowners with qualified service professionals and include user reviews. While Angie’s List charges users to search listings, HomeAdvisor’s ProFinder is free. Listed professionals pay a membership fee and must pass a financial and criminal background check.

Once you have a few names, it’s time to narrow the field. After an initial phone interview, arrange for an in-home walk-through. Have a list of things you want done and a time frame. “Some handymen may be booked out weeks in advance. Others won’t work on weekends,” says Hendrickson. Expect an estimate on the spot or within a day.

Charlene Andrisen’s trick? She “interviews” handymen’s toolboxes. “At that first meeting I ask about what tools they use, look at their toolbox and even casually walk out and check out their truck,” says Andrisen, who owns several rental properties. “Is everything neat or a trash pile of cigarette butts and candy wrappers? That’s a good clue as to the type of job they’ll do.”

“Home projects are so emotional,” says Brooke Gabbert of HomeAdvisor. “To find someone who respects both you and your home and with whom you are comfortable takes educating yourself.” That means laying out your project list in detail and asking questions. The most critical: What are your skills? Is this job something you have done before?

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That’s the question Barbara Schmidt wishes she had asked. The retired accountant needed indoor-outdoor carpet replaced on her garage steps and the sliding doors in the bedroom trimmed because of new, thicker carpet. The two-man team she found through an online service did a decent job on the steps, but the doors were a mess. “They cut one shorter than the other and didn’t install a floor track because they were uncomfortable doing it,” she says.

Schmidt found a new handyman whose mother-in-law lived across the street. “He took one look and knew the door was too short, so trimmed the other one to match. I still may need to buy new doors, but for now they work,” Schmidt says. “He did a great job, and more important, I know where he lives.”

Tools to help in your search

A handyman was the No. 1 service request, according to HomeAdvisor.com. Most homeowners spend between $460 and $682 on an average job (the national average is $566).

The five most requested jobs:

  1. Install, repair or replace plumbing fixtures
  2. Install electrical switches, outlets or fixtures
  3. Paint, varnish or stain exterior surfaces
  4. Repair or service an appliance
  5. Repair drywall

Want to take some of the guesswork out of budgeting for repairs? HomeAdvisor’s Cost Guide provides free price estimates for more than 850 home projects based on city, state and national data.

12 questions to ask before hiring a handyman

  1. Is this a project that requires a licensed specialist (such as an electrician)?
  2. Do you have references? Can I call them?
  3. What are your areas of expertise?
  4. Do you charge by the hour or by the job?
  5. Is there a fee for you to come to my home and give an initial quote?
  6. Do you bill trip charges, either to my home or to pick up supplies?
  7. Do you have a local address?
  8. What is your availability?
  9. Do you warrant your work? If so, for how long?
  10. Do you have insurance?
  11. When finished, will you haul away trash and old materials?
  12. Will you put our agreement in writing?
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 This story first appeared in The Denver Post.

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