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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Homeowners ask - Handyman or contractor, which should I use?

Many homeowners getting ready to try to sell their homes find that they need to catch up on lots of deferred (a polite way to say that you’ve been ignoring it) maintenance or, in some jurisdictions, to bring their homes up to current code, before they can sell. The question then becomes who will do this work. Many homeowners don’t have the skills, the tools or the time to take on many of those little projects. So, who do they get to do them – a handyman or a contractor?

Most states don’t require or have any provision for licensing so-called handymen. Michigan has some requirements (click here to read an article on that or check the requirements in your state) under the Handyman’s Association, which is a voluntary group that professes to have established some standards for handymen. You can also go to sites like Angie’s List and other services that claim to vet and track the performance of various service providers. The Better Business Bureau in your area might also have some information on handymen or have complaints on some, if nothing else.  Looking on sites like Craig’s List might be a mistake, since they do not appear to check their advertisers. Sites like and claim to have ratings of local handymen.
general heading of Maintenance and Alterations, but they are far less strenuous than those required for skilled professionals or contractors. There is also a national

There are many small jobs that may need to be done around the house for which minimal skills and few tools are required – cleaning out your gutters comes to mind or raking leaves. Other small jobs, such as changing light bulbs or perhaps even replacing a fixture, come to mind; however, any job that requires that you pull a permit, especially if the finished job must be inspected by the building inspector for your local government, requires a licensed professional. Electrical and plumbing jobs in particular may require that the professional sign the work and put down their license number. Any work requiring any structural changes ot the house will require a licensed builder and will need to be inspected and approved by the building department. Tell them that you’re using a handyman for that job and see where that gets you.

A general rule of thumb, other than the need for a permit, should probably be that, if the job requires any tools more specialized than a hammer or screw driver, consider getting a professional to do it and not a handyman. Botched tile work jobs in the baths or poorly repaired and painted walls do not add to the value of your house.  Many times the handyman that you may have in mind looks back at you in the shaving mirror every morning. Take some more time to consider that. I have written other posts on DIY and why you maybe shouldn’t do it yourself. 

The bottom line is that many DIY’ers don’t have the tools or the skills to take on some of the jobs that they tackle. They end up with a mess that costs more to get fixed than it would have cost to have it done by a professional in the first place. If it’s just replacing the outlet cover on an electrical wall outlet, go ahead and do it yourself; however, if it involves running any new wiring or opening your electrical panel in the basement think about getting a professional.

Handymen provide valuable services and general are less costly than hiring licensed professionals, especially for small jobs that the licensed pros may not even want to take on. There are also many jobs that may need to be done around the house for which one doesn’t need to be all that handy, just available to do the work. Go for the handyman for those jobs.  But, if it involves your plumbing, electrical or HVAC systems, you’re better off with a licensed professional. For many, who are all that handy, almost any job is better done by someone else than giving it to the guy in the mirror. You just have to be handy with your checkbook in those cases. 

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