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Tips for Hiring a Home-Project Professional (a.k.a. Good Handyman)
BY Dick Snyder | June 12th, 2023
Along with having a reliable doctor, mechanic and lawyer, everyone needs a good handyperson — a.k.a. handyman, though you don’t see the word used much these days. And so in the spirit of contemporary language, we will dispense with the gender-specific noun and use the preferred term “home-project professional” or “home pro” for short.
Technology has made finding and hiring a home professional much easier, with referral services — along the lines of an Uber or Lyft — sprouting up over the past few years. These can take your information online or over the phone and then connect you with professionals in your area. For once, technology is your friend. Gone are the days of leaving messages on voice machines asking for a quote, with nary a returned call. I’ve heard similar tales in which a crew arrived to assess a job for an estimate, never to be heard from again. (Come to think of it, that was my very own experience.)
But on to the good news … long-established brands such as The Home Depot and HomeStars have referral services that are backed by their corporate reputations. These are still referral services in that you are not hiring a Home Depot or HomeStars employee. Rather, they are connecting you with vetted professionals, who have been reviewed for licensing, insurance and a background check. That added peace of mind can be very reassuring. (I’ve tried these referral services, and been pleasantly surprised by the speed of response.)
Don’t forget word of mouth too: ask friends, family and neighbours for recommendations. Neighbours can be especially helpful, as they will want to share good experiences and recommend workers who did a great job. In rural areas, word of mouth is key … but also check community bulletin boards, community newspapers and even roadside signs. Sometimes you can find business cards at local paint, tool or retail shops — which gives you the added benefit of asking the shop owner if they know the person. And then ask around: In a small town, you can be sure that unreliable service providers will not stay in business long, because word travels fast!
Here are a few other tips to keep in mind.
Make a List and Prioritize
Remember that home pros are often independent and self-employed. They have to make a living too — so consider that with travel time to your house, gas, tool maintenance and even street parking, their expenses can add up fast. So the more work you can give them on a single call, the more efficient they can be with their time. (If you have only a very small job, consider asking your neighbours if they have anything that needs doing — and then you can combine the jobs and give your home pro a longer list of tasks, that will make it worth their while.) Make a list of all the jobs you need done and spend some time on this. Walk around the house with a pad of paper and note all the things that need tending. Then prioritize them in order of immediate need. The more detail the better — this will help your home pro prepare and bring all the proper tools and materials. More importantly, it helps them create an accurate quote, which you can discuss before they come to your home. For instance, if replacing or fixing items in the bathroom, your pro might like to know the overall size of the room, when it was last renovated, what other work has been done recently — all of this helps them assess how much work will need to be done.
Get a Few Quotes
With online quoting, the nice thing is that someone will phone your back (or email, if you prefer). There’s nothing like real human contact when discussing home projects — and it helps you get a feel for the person you might hire. As they say, business is personal — and talking to your potential hire is the best way to assess if they are the right person for your job. At least two quotes is a good idea, but three or more can really help you assess your potential hire, and may also prompt you to consider aspects of the job you hadn’t originally considered. Remember to be reasonable — until the contractor sees the job up close, a quote is just a quote, and if the scope of work changes, so will the quote.
Check References, Licenses, Insurance
Remember, you’re the one in charge. It’s your job and your money, so you are entirely within your rights to ask for proof of licenses and insurance. If you get any pushback at all, move on to the next pro on your list. For smaller jobs, your pro might not need a license but do check for insurance and always ask for two or three references. These references should be for jobs similar to yours, and also should be recent and nearby (or at least in your city or town). This is a very important step, and should not be overlooked. You are inviting someone into your home, and you should be assured that they are who they say they are and have a solid reputation — never, ever, skip this step.