If you were living your life in a TV show, there’d be a quirky but competent handyman living next door. He’d replace faucets and install ceiling fans while dispensing Shakespeare quotes or jokes that had no punchlines. And he’d always show up on time and never charge you a dime as long as you fed his chinchilla when he was out of town.
If that’s not your life, how are you supposed to find a handyman? This is someone that will be working on your home, your most valuable possession, so you don’t want to choose just anyone. Here are the 10 steps you can take to find the right guy (or gal) for the job.
Before you even start looking, make a written list of all the stuff you want done. Be specific. “Spruce up the yard” is pretty open-ended and could mean 20 minutes of leaf-raking or three days of laying patio pavers. Although you will discuss the parameters of the job with whomever you hire, making a list also forces you to translate your vague vision into a concrete to-do list.
A handyman takes care of small, odd jobs whose value remains below $500-$1000. In fact, many states have rules about jobs a handyman can accept, rules based on its price tag. If you have something grander in mind, you really should be looking for a contractor licensed in the trade most relevant to your tasks. “Install a new light fixture” might be a handyman, but “Install new light fixtures throughout the downstairs” would be an electrician.
Some states require handymen to obtain a handyman license. If your state has that requirement, you should expect your handyman to have one.
The best way to find a handyman is still word-of-mouth. Ask your friends, local family, and neighbors if they have someone to recommend. Write them all down, since you may have to call a few before you find one that’s available.
Contractors and real estate agents often know of local and reliable handymen. If you’ve recently moved to town, your real estate agent would probably be more than happy to recommend local tradesmen to help you get settled. If you know a contractor and your job is too small for him, he still might be able to suggest someone suitable.
A small and local hardware store has a strong interest in maintaining ties to the community and that includes both tradesmen and customers. The owners may know of a retired contractor who likes to keep busy, or a younger carpenter or painter just starting out. You could also check with a big-box store, but you won’t get as personalized a recommendation.
There are any number of websites that can help you find a handyman. Some of them screen or vet their handymen, such as HomeAdvisor, TaskRabbit, and Handy, giving you some reassurance that you aren’t inviting a convicted felon into your home. Angie’s List is membership-based, although it does offer some information without a paid subscription, and has been in operation practically since the internet was invented. These and other similar sites rely heavily on crowd-sourced reviews and offer sheer volume of commentary in lieu of personal connection.
Once you have a short list of names, use the internet to find out everything you can. Check with sites like Yelp, Google reviews, and the Better Business Bureau. Are the handymen generally well-regarded, or do customers routinely mention how messy/late/unreliable they are? You have to expect an occasional bad review on Yelp or Google – that’s the nature of the sites – but if there are outstanding disputes on the BBB, proceed with caution. The BBB offers a complaint resolution process, so if a handyman has not resolved an issue, that could be a red flag.
Now it’s time to call each of the names on your list to interview them. Give them a chance to talk about themselves, even if it’s only briefly – “Tell me about yourself and what you do, how long have you been doing it,” etc. – and if you like what you hear, ask them to come to your house to give you an estimate. (And if you don’t like what you hear, thank them for their time and politely hang-up.) You are also trying to get a sense of “Do I want this guy in my home with me?” which you can start evaluating on the phone and finish if he comes for an estimate. Ideally, you’ll wind up with at least three handymen to take with you to the next step.
You want a detailed, written estimate. Not every handyman will want to give you one because they don’t get paid to write estimates and the entire job is only going to be a few hundred dollars total. Ask for one anyway. It helps keep you both on the same page about the scope of work, cost, timing, and expected completion. A serious and professional handyman won’t balk at this step and it might save you a lot of back and forth later about who said what.
You should also ask him for a list of referrals – previous customers you can contact who will tell you how great he is. Again, a professional-caliber handyman will be happy to show off happy customers or even photos of completed work. Call the referrals. Presumably, these are satisfied clients who told the handyman to hand out their contact info because they were so happy with his work. (You’re just making sure they’re real people, otherwise known as “trust but verify.”)
Look how much time you spent trying to find this guy! If you like him and his work, be nice – you don’t want to have to start from scratch the next time you need someone. Offer him a glass of water and show him where the bathroom is. Check in with him periodically to see how the work is going so that if he has questions, you’re available. Have payment ready on the day he’s finished.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is! Finding someone to help you take care of your most valuable asset should take longer than ordering a pizza. This is someone you’re hiring to spend time at your home, in your bathroom or basement or front hall closet – it’ll feel kind of intimate. Take the time now to find a good person who does good work and he might become someone you can call a few times a year for the next decade . . . and you won’t even need to feed his chinchilla.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!