What is a handyman?

A handyman or handywoman is a skilled “jack of all trades” who can complete a wide range of repairs or home improvement jobs.

A handyman, or handyman company, usually charges clients an hourly rate, plus material costs, regardless of the task. Many homeowners compile a list of repairs and hire a handyman to complete the list in a single visit.

The term “handyman” is loosely defined. Some handyman are self-trained, while others have formal training in various aspects of construction and home repair. Some specialize in a few types of home maintenance, such as painting, carpentry, or tiling, while others may have additional skills such as plumbing and electrical expertise.

There's no national standard or regulation for handymen. Licensing and regulation vary by state. New Jersey, for example, requires handymen who work for a profit to register with the state and carry insurance. California requires handymen to carry a license from the State Contractors License Board to work on any project that exceeds $500 in labor and material costs. Find out before you hire the handyman if he or she has the skills needed to complete your project.

Do you need a handyman or contractor?

The scope of the job and level of skill required to complete it should determine whether you hire a handyman or contractor.

“When trying to determine who you should hire for a particular job, consider the task,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List. If it’s a specialized trade, be sure you hire that tradesperson like a plumber or electrician, for example. If it’s little things that you can do yourself, a handyman is probably the right way to go.”

A handyman is not the best option for a large or complicated project that could take a long time to complete and require the help of multiple workers. You shouldn't turn to a handyman either if you need an emergency service for plumbing, electrical or appliance work unless the handyman is licensed in that trade. If an unlicensed person does plumbing or electrical work you have no guarantee that the work has been done to code, which could affect your homeowners insurance policy or any claim related to the work.  Use a contractor or specialist for remodeling work, room additions, and projects that require heavy-duty equipment or licensed professionals like electricians.

Why hire a handyman?

You’ve got an ever increasing to-do list of home improvements like changing out a bathroom faucet, replacing missing shingles on the roof and painting a kitchen wall. You could hire a plumber, roofer and painter who have conflicting schedules and their own service charges, or you could hire a handyman to complete all three projects in one day for one hourly rate.

Because many handymen charge by the hour, a  homeowner can save time and money on home improvement projects by hiring a handyman to complete a wide range of projects for a single hour rate. A service charge from a plumber or roofer to come to your home could equal or even surpass the cost of hiring a handymanfor a few hours.

You'll also less likely to be overcharged if your hire a handyman. Unlike a general contractor or specialist who is more likely to price a job based on the estimated amount of time it will take to complete, you only have to pay a handyman for the hours he work, unless you agree on a flat rate for a project. Handymen are able to keep their rates low because they don't have to pay additional workers, so they have lower overhead costs than contractors or large companies.

Although handymen have less overhead, they do supply their own tools.  So there's no need to invest in extra equipment you won't use often or at all. However, you will need to supply the materials. 

When you hire a contractor or specialist, they usually supply the materials, and often at a markup. If they don't provide the materials, they may not guarantee a repair or your choices are limited to what they have in stock. When you choose your own materials you know how much the product costs and stay within your budget. You also get to choose the manufacturer, finish and register any warranty agreement.

Many homeowners turn to handymen when they have a project they want completed, but don't know who to call. Handymen have been known to do all types of work from setting up playground equipment and gas grills to hanging holiday lights and decorations.

Ideal jobs for a handyman

Handymen are best utilized for small, “honey-do” types of home repair work. The following projects are ideal for most handymen.

Minor plumbing work: Many handymen are capable of completing small plumbing jobs like installing new fixtures or repairing a leaky faucet. However, complex projects that require relocating plumbing within the home should be left to a licensed plumber.

Caulking: Adding a fresh application of caulk to gaps between windows, doors and siding is a great way to improve energy efficiency and lower utility costs.

Decks and porches: Over time, weather can take atoll on wooden decks and porches. A handyman can replace broken boards, apply a finish or sealant and improve or upgrade your deck or porch’s safety and appearance.

Gutter cleaning and maintenance: It’s not a complete task, but cleaning gutters is messy and involves climbing on the roof. If you hire a professional handyman with the right equipment and experience for the task you won't have to risk injuring yourself. A handyman can also install gutter guards to prevent seasonal clogging.

Home exterior repairs: If you have minor damage to your home’s exterior, such as a loose piece of siding or a missing shingle, hiring a handyman to repair those items may prove to be more cost-effective than hiring a specialist.

Painting and touch-ups: If you have a small painting job, like a wall, garage door, touchup trim and scoff marks and repair small holes with spackle, consider a handyman. But remember, a handyman typically charges by the hour, so larger jobs are better suited for a professional painting crew.

Hanging window treatments, pictures and mirrors and installing light fixtures: These small tasks can be easily accomplished by a homeowner. But if you hire a handyman with the right tools and experience, these wall-mounted items will likely be hung correctly and and without damage.

Tips to hire a handyman

Interview several candidates before hiring a candidate. A handyman works closely with you in your home so you want to pick one that you feel comfortable being around. Use the following tips to help you choose the best candidate.

1. Define the project. Start by compiling a list of the home repairs you want completed. Remember, a handyman is best used for small jobs such as installing light fixtures, patching drywall and interior painting. If the job requires pulling a permit, or moving plumbing or electrical wiring, consider hiring a licensed contractor.

2. Shop around. Check Angie’s List reviews and interview at least three handymen. Ask how many years of experience they have and their areas of specialization. Request references from homeowners who have hired the handyman. Make sure the potential handyman has the skills and experience to complete your project.

3. Watch out for scams. Avoid handymen who contact you with unsolicited phone calls or visits to your home. You should also avoid any handyman who refuses to guarantee the price of the job or asks for payment upfront. Reputable handymen don’t expect to get paid before the project is completed.

4. Get it in writing. Insist on a written agreement laying out the job details, costs and payment schedule. Be clear about the times you expect the work to be started and completed. It’s extremely important to get all guarantees in writing.

5. Ask for a guarantee. Many handymen will guarantee their work for up to one year. Ask about guarantees before you make a hiring decision, and of course, make sure the guarantee is in writing.

6. Inspect the work. Inspect the completed work before paying the handyman. Make sure that everything has been done to your satisfaction and at the agreed upon price. Most handymen will be happy to explain the finished work because they want you to be satisfied.

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