Finding the Right Handyman

Faced with a project beyond your expertise? Arm yourself with some great advice from a tried-and-true handyman.
Robert Martin

Find the Right Person for the Job
If I've heard this once, I've heard it a thousand times from friends and family alike: "I have this project or repair that needs to be done at my house, and it's not a big job; who can I call?" Apart from offering to pitch in myself--which may or may not be in their best interest--I recommend that they track down a local handyman who's skilled in the appropriate service. But, still, questions remain: Where do you look? Who do you ask? How do you know if you're getting a fair deal?

Keith Johnson can help. Not only does he run his own handyman business in Calera, Alabama, but Keith also has two brothers who are handymen as well. (One is in Chicago and the other in Gainesville, Georgia.) Whether collectively or on their own, these hands-on brothers know a great deal about home-related matters. Instead of cloaking this valuable information in some flowery prose, here's a no-holds-barred question-and-answer session with Keith himself.

What are some ways for homeowners to determine whether or not they need to hire a handyman in the first place?
"Most clients call me based on two factors: lack of time and know-how," Keith says. "Generally, a handyman business deals with projects that are too small for large contractors and too involved for a homeowner. As for my work, I've done everything from replacing a lightbulb to tiling a bathroom to building a room addition. I also get a lot of requests to mend roof leaks, deteriorating wood windows and doors, and so forth," he says.

Other than the Yellow Pages, are there sources where homeowners can find reliable help for home projects and repairs?
"One good way is to check with your local hardware store. Larger or chain home-improvement stores often have their own workforce, which they naturally want to recommend as part of their in-house services," Keith says. "Mom-and-pop businesses, on the other hand, generally don't have a vested interest in any one handyman, and this word-of-mouth approach proves to be the best type of referral."

Keith also points out that there are several good Web sites that network customers to handyman companies according to region. You can also check with friends or neighbors for recommendations.

What are some qualifications that homeowners should look for when hiring a handyman?
"Verify that the person you're considering has a business license to operate in your area. Also, I would make sure that the contractor has at least a general liability insurance policy to cover any damages to your home that result from the work being performed," Keith advises. "And get a written and signed proposal from the person or company that lists all the costs and details of the proposed project.

"Also," he notes, "don't hesitate to ask a person or business whether or not they've ever performed the work that you need done. For electrical or plumbing issues, consult a licensed electrician or plumber first."

How can homeowners know if they are getting a fair deal or price?
"If possible, customers should get at least three estimates for the same project," Keith suggests. "Typically, people choose the middle bid. Again, it's important to have something in writing, preferably a detailed list of materials and costs to verify that you're comparing apples to apples."

He goes on to say, "I'm a firm believer that you get what you pay for. There have been cases where I've been called in to finish a job that someone else either never finished or botched. On most jobs, I don't get paid until the work is complete. As a rule of thumb, a homeowner should never pay for more than half the job up front."

Net Results
To track down a handyman business in your area, visit these Web sites.

  • www.handymanusa.com: Along with connecting you to local contractors and handyman companies, this site also posts helpful homes-related tips.
  • www.servicemagic.com: This site allows you to select a category and input your needs; it then matches you to a qualified pro in your area.
  • www.prescreened-contractors.com: Contractors and home service professionals are listed by state.
  • For Keith Johnson in Calera, Alabama, call (205) 370-3300.