What's the difference between a handyman and a contractor?

Many homeowners aren't sure when it's appropriate to hire a handyman service versus a contractor or licensed tradesperson. A handyman -- or handywoman -- service can be a great choice for homeowners who need help with smaller jobs, or for those who have a variety of projects.


Information Text:

Angie Hicks, Angie’s List founder: “When trying to determine who you should hire for a particular job, consider the task. 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.”

Sean McGill/McGill Handyman Services:   “Handyman services generally do smaller projects such as home repairs and home maintenance needs. Contractors generally do larger jobs where it’s requiring multiple professional trades at the same job at the same time.  The most common requests are things such as home maintenance and small repairs such as clutter cleaning and doing light fixtures and faucet fixtures replacements. Other things can be like hanging blinds or pictures or small stuff like that.  Jobs like big electrical jobs and plumbing jobs not let a handyman do unless they have the proper licensing for it. Other jobs would be like big machinery jobs where they are doing heavy landscaping or concrete work I would probably stick with the professionals on those.”

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What happens if a "handyman" claims an injury on your premises?

I am a professional contractor, who used to be a licensed insurance agent, specializing in contruction insurance. So I have a perspective from many sides regarding this topic. First, what many people do not realize is that worker injuries are a no-fault insurance situation. What that means is that if an employee is injured while working, the employer (and their worker's comp insurance) are liable for the injuries. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not matter whether it was the worker's fault for the injuries, a fellow co-worker, or the employer, the employer is responsible. Various state insurance laws, and how an employee is defined, complicate the situation. Your insurance agent and state's insurance commissioner can better guide your paticulat situation. However, the following is a general guideline for various situations. The first question is whether the handyman is an individual or an employee of a company. If it's a company, with multiple employees, the company is required by law (in most states) to have worker's comp insurance, which would cover such injuries. If they do not have worker's comp insurance, contact your state insurance commisioner to report the potential violation and to ask for guidance. If the handyman is an individual, they likely don't have worker's comp insurance, and most states do not require it. If they have health insurance and the injury is minor, hopefully, their health insurance will cover their injuries. However, even if they have health insurance, you will likely still be liable for the injuries, based on your state's insurance laws and the definition of an employee. In the case of an individual handyman without insurance (and possibly in the case of a company without worker's comp), your homeowner's insurance should cover the injuries. Most homeowner's policies are a combination policy that include worker's comp coverage for occasional labor. For example, someone who cleans your house once a week would be considered occasional labor and would be covered. A lived-in maid would not be considered occasional and would not be covered. If the above applies, talk to your homeowner's insurance agent for specifics about your policy and guidance (and to file a claim, if necessary). There is one important exception that impacts contractors and homeowners who hire contractors. If a subcontractor, including a handyman, is contracted by a general contractor, and that individual or company does not have worker's comp insurance, some states require the general contractor's worker comp policy to cover the injury claims. So, as a homeowner, you can approach the GC to submit a claim. However, if the individual/subcontractor contracts directly with the homeowner, not through the GC, the GCs insurance will not provide coverage. This can get tricky and different state laws will impact this situation. If this scenario may apply, I would recommend contacting your state's insurance commissioner for guidance. Note to General Contractors: Always verify the worker's comp insurance of your subs to avoid the above scenario. If you find yourself in this situation, not only will your insurance and experience-modification get dinged, you may need to pay an additional premium to cover the sub's payroll. That's usually an unpleasant surprise. Please note that the above information is a general guideline. Each state has different insurance laws so there will be many variations. If you find yourself in the situation in which someone is claiming injuries from work that they did on your premises, I strongly recommend a call to the state's insurance commissioner for guidance. They are impartial and know the state's insurance laws. If you may need to file a claim through your homeowner's insurance, be aware that there may be reporting deadlines to preserve your rights. It's worth filing the claim with your insurance and having them pay nothing, rather than having a claim denied because you waited too long.

Make sure you hire an insured handyman. It isn't that hard for them to get insured. I am insured for the protection of my customers.

I agree with the earlier commenter about the risks that handymen pose. You do not have any bonding or licenses to go after if the unlicensed tradesperson screws up.

What to look for to make sure this isn't some guy that put an ad in paper?

When deciding to hire a handyman, insurance issues are a concern if someone gets hurt. And that could happen. But many homeowners are willing to take the risk if the job is small or the chance of getting hurt is small and, if their homeowners' insurance will cover it, they see it as a cost effective solution. What should be a bigger concern with hiring anyone is if they are qualified to do the work. A couple of other posts here bring up the issue. When you hire a handyman how do you know if they have experience in doing your job the right way? It takes nothing but a few tools and the ability to make an ad to call yourself a handyman. Whether people want to believe it or not, licensed contractors have to go through training, testing and approval before they get their license, then are subject to ongoing regulatory review. All this takes time and effort and increases the cost for a contractor to stay in business. When you hire a handyman you are hiring an individual who may or may not have the training and expertise to do the job you need done, is not subject to any regulation and because of that probably has a lower cost basis than a licensed contractor, which is why many are cheaper than licensed contractors. Be aware of what you are getting when you hire any unlicensed individual. It may seem easy to get a license since there are so many out there, but those people have the training and have passed the testing to get a license. You don't know about others.

Not recommended. Will damage roof, shorten life expectancy


This is a bit redundant, but I suspect some will find this useful as I've filled some concepts out. I hope. Contractor: A tradesperson who has been trained through an apprenticeship program, has come up through the ranks in the union and has studied, tested and passed, not only the mechanics and methods and code knowledge of two or more trades, but has also passed the test to determine their knowledge of sound business law and practices, is given a "number" through the local licensing board which allows for their actions to be tracked. The contractor is licensed to bid and work on remodels, new residential, commercial or industrial builds. A handyman may be a retired, former union member, or not. They typically do not build and certainly NOT new builds. They repair. They may be self-taught or simply a person who has worked a lot of non-union jobs and gleaned skills that way. They may be a talented, ethical person. They may not. They may have tried to get into the union but sexism, racism and nepotism kept them out. Or maybe they had poor math skills and couldn't test well. But they may be resourceful, responsible people in your neighborhood. They typically perform multiple, small jobs that no contractor (due to their operational and financial burdens) are not in a position to take on, or if they did, the cost would be what most reasonable homeowners would object to paying. In my view, a handyman should write out simple contracts to describe work to be done. A handyman, ideally has a business license to work, unless the work is sort of like a baby-sitting job where one does work here and there. A license to operate a handyman business is NOT a contractors license, however. Some companies are contractors, have a contractor's license, do new builds, etc. AND have a handyman division that only works on old buildings and does repairs and or maintenance. Whew!

I been a handyman for a couple of years now and when I go to a job and talk to the person I can generally tell if the job requires a Contractor. If they are telling me their roof needs work I refer them to one of my Roofing buddies that are licensed to do that type of "specialized" job. If its a sink fixture or minor yard maintenance or even replacing a board or two on their deck I can do that. I stick to this concept....if the job is going to cost more than $500 then I refer them to a contractor. I am in it for making money but also because I love meeting people and helping them out with the small stuff. I dont get into major home repairs that take multiple people and major equipment.

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Rachel Hardy

Angie’s List videographer Rachel Hardy produces videos focused on home improvement tips and trends, health care issues, and pet services.

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For jobs that don't require a general contractor, consider hiring a handyman. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Randy O.)
For jobs that don't require a general contractor, consider hiring a handyman. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Randy O.)

A handyman, or handywoman, service can be a great choice for homeowners who need help with smaller jobs, or for those who have a variety of projects.

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