Hiring Tips

It’s spring. Your faucet is leaking, and you made a New Year’s resolution to fix the sticking closet door – last year.   

You are not lazy. You are much too busy, and tool-challenged. Time to call a handyman. But wait – aren’t all handymen ex-convicts, ready and willing to rob you blind while they charge you $200 to screw in a light bulb? While the handyman profession garners a hefty share of complaints (being second only to the used car salesman), plenty of honest, hard-working skilled handymen are out there. Now all you have to do is find one. With the hints provided, you should be able to find a reputable handyman in your area, and be pleased with the outcome.

Hiring a handyman requires more than a look-see in the classifieds. While you may find a great tradesman, it could also be the beginning of a disappointing relationship. A little bit of research will tip the scales in your favor to a more pleasant transaction. Should you hire Joe Handyman, the independent with a truck and tools, or call on a franchise to send a uniformed worker? Either is a viable option. How do they compare?

The Independent Handyman:

1. The biggest advantage to you: hourly rates. If you find someone reliable and skilled in the job you need done, you will definitely come out ahead.

2. Joe isn’t hampered by company rules. While this may also be a disadvantage, the independent handyman can give a free estimate if he chooses, go the extra mile, and often gives household maintenance advice.

3. Most independents try to be fair to protect their reputation.

4. A reputable Joe will provide valid references, let you see samples of recent work, and give you a written estimate in detail. In recent years progressive handymen have built websites to increase business.

5. Most will tell you up front if they aren’t as skilled in some areas. “I don’t do plumbing.”

6. When possible, it’s always good to support your local small business man.


1. Some states allow handymen to operate without a contractor’s license – as long as they stick to minor repair work such as painting, yard work, etc. Bigger jobs require a contractor’s license. The Better Business Bureau says you have limited recourse for damage done by an unlicensed contractor.

2. Ask for proof of liability and workers compensation insurance. If the handyman you hire gets hurt on your property, you could be liable for his medical bills. If he sustains long-term injuries, you may incur indefinite liability.

3. Ask for at least three references, and check on them. Be aware you could be calling a relative of the handyman – ask how long the referral has known him/her, and what the relationship is.

4. Better yet, ask friends and neighbors for a recommendation. The best handymen operate by word-of-mouth referrals. Ask at your local mom & pop hardware store. Ask a widow. Ask the pickiest person you know.

5. If you use the phone book to choose a handyman, take the time to check with the local police for a criminal record. This might require a fee and will only be for the area you are in.

6. Check with your local Better Business Bureau for a record of complaints.

7. Get two to three estimates. Most people choose the middle bid. A good recommendation is worth more than saving a little on the bid.

8. Get a bid in writing, and signed. Make sure you know up front what you are paying for; look to see if supplies are included in the bid.

9. Do not agree to make a full payment up front. Do not pay the entire amount until the work is completed to your satisfaction.

10. Be reasonable and understanding when minor glitches occur, as they almost always do.

Handyman Companies:

1. The biggest advantage to you in hiring a handyman company is a savings in time. The company has done criminal background checks on its employees. The company is licensed and insured. This saves you considerable effort, and gives you peace of mind.

2. Companies usually employ handymen with a significant amount of experience and skill. Some require at least ten years in the trade or construction profession in order to be hired.

3. Most companies guarantee satisfaction of the work done.

4. Employees in uniforms are well identified as part of the company.

5. Some guarantee their employee will show up on time – important if you have taken the day off of work.

6. Most companies require employees to clean up after the work is done, and even to wear surgical booties in the home.


1. Understand up front how the company operates: Some give “assessments” over the phone, and will not give free estimates on site. Some will give a traditional bid or contract up front. Others work on a time plus materials basis (which can be two or three times the independent.) A reputable company will train its employees to alert the customer that a job will take longer than expected and get your approval.

2. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints against the company. A few complaints are normal. A large amount of frequent complaints is a red flag.

3. Even though a company’s trump card is its reputation, ask around for anyone who has used the company and what their experience was.

Further Advice:

Never hire the independent going door to door, asking for work. It is likely a scam, or even a setup for criminal activity.

– Be mindful that most independents and companies charge mark-up costs for materials, from 20 to 100 per cent. This is not an unfair practice in an occupation where the tradesman is only getting paid by the hour for the time he is on the job, not for the time it takes to shop for materials (which can be very time-consuming). Some companies offer to let you pick up the materials to save you money, and most handymen will be glad to offer specific advice in what you need to get for the job.

– Some communities have free home-improvement programs for the elderly, or services at discounted rates. Check with your local chamber of commerce, church or synagogue.

– Good handyman hourly rates range from $30-$50 per hour in the Southeast to$40-$60 per hour in the Northeast.

Depending on the skills needed, rates run $60-$125 an hour for a professional handyman company. There’s often a $150-$350 minimum charge and there can be a $30-$100 Trip charge (if the worker needs to go buy materials). A professional handyman company usually has several employees, providing a wider range of skills, and screens employees for experience and reliability.

What should be included? 

Make a list of everything that needs to be done, because it’s usually cheaper to have it all done at once rather than as separate small projects. Ask if you can purchase basic supplies on your own time instead of paying the handyman to drive to get them.