All home improvement projects are not created equal. Some are simple and carry minimal risk, but others require more of an expert touch. So how are homeowners to know if they should roll up their sleeves for a certain project, or consult a professional handyman or contractor? Tricky as it might seem, it's completely possible to master this aspect of home ownership. To DIY or Pay Someone Else?
Plenty of home improvement projects, like installing a kitchen backsplash or even hanging drywall, are perfectly DIY-able if you're handy with basic tools. But even the tamest home improvement projects can go awry, so always seek advice if you need it. Online videos are a great place to start - The DIY Network
, Ask the Builder
, and Better Homes and Gardens
are a few reliable options.
But when safety becomes an issue, it's best to seek a pro with the right equipment, training, and insurance. For example, painting your bedroom isn't a big deal, but you'd be risking major injury by climbing a 50-foot ladder for an exterior paint job. The Electrical Safety Foundation International1
strongly recommends leaving electrical issues to professionals to avoid the very real potential for electrocution and fires.
If you have the tools and the risk/reward ratio is ideal, by all means jump right in and enjoy making your vision come to fruition. Otherwise, consider a handyman or contractor as a safer and easier alternative. Handyman or Contractor?
When it comes to hiring someone, you have two primary options: a general handyman (or woman) or a contractor. Your choice depends on the size of the job and what specialized knowledge would be needed to complete it.
A handyman is a jack-of-all-trades who can handle lots of smaller jobs around the home. They can be licensed for certain jobs but don't always have to be, depending on your state
A contractor generally deals with trades that require special training, licensing, and insurance - like electrical, HVAC, or plumbing. If your contractor isn't licensed for a certain part of the job, they'll subcontract it to a licensed pro, since contractors have pretty stiff licensing requirements. Finding Your Expert
Gone are the days of thumbing through the old phone book for home improvement help. If you don't find the right person through family and friends, head to websites like Porch
, where you can verify business legitimacy, read reviews, and put out queries. No matter where you find your pro, you'll need to check a few references (three is a good rule of thumb) to make sure they consistently exceed expectations from start to finish.
When you call a reference, don't worry if you hear about minor bumps in the road - there are often legitimate stumbling blocks that can delay a project and are completely out of the contractor's control.
Instead, keep an ear out for contractors who have blown off finishing touches, regularly arrived late, or done poor-quality work. Also, find out how good they are at communicating. Did the contractor stay in contact throughout the project to discuss any challenges or potential additional costs? Was the person easy to reach and prompt to return calls? How to Hire
Before you even meet with a handyman or contractor, you should have a solid grasp of what you want done. Make a list of what you want to accomplish and state a clear budget goal. Also, be sure to find out exactly what the bid includes and how you will be billed. Pro Tip:
Even if you're eager to get your project going, it pays to get multiple bids. This will give you an idea of the fair going rate, and maybe some bargaining potential down the road. The bid should detail the work to be performed, materials needed (and how much they cost), a general timeline of completion and payment schedule. You'll often need to pay at least some money up front, but be very wary of anyone who expects most or all of the payment at the start or before completion.
You'll also want to cover experience, competence, availability, and personality, especially for an ongoing relationship with a handyman or a bigger construction job. First instincts are usually spot-on, so if you clash with an applicant right out of the gate, chances are you'll do so down the line. Asking the right questions will prevent miscommunication and unmet expectations down the road. Take notes and get all important details in a contractual agreement for your own protection. Managing the Job
To keep the project running smoothly, it helps to keep the lines of communication open. Establish up front how often the contractor should update you by text, phone call, or email. Consider keeping a daily log of their activities and keep track of payments made, deliveries, and changes to the scope of work. That way, if a disagreement pops up down the road, you'll have it backed up by your own account.
Finally, don't be afraid to speak up if you feel that the quality of work is lacking in any way - your dollars are on the line here. Most home improvement professionals rely on reputation to thrive and want to keep you as satisfied as possible.