Start Your Search in the Right Places
The first step to finding a great contractor or handyman is to start by searching in the right places. Even if you do own a phone book, resist the urge to start flipping through it. This isn’t the kind of decision you want to leave to chance, or to the person with the biggest ad.
Interview First, Before Anything Else
Call them up or meet with them and ask them about the kinds of work they’ve done in the past. Ask what their expertise is, and whether they’ve done this kind of work before. If you’re in a state or region where a contractor has to be licensed, ask for their license number so you can verify it. If they want to give you an estimate on the spot, let them, but make it clear that this isn’t binding and you’re not hiring them for any work.
Get Your Estimates—and a Plan
Once you have your candidates and you’re pleased with their referrals, it’s time to get your estimates (if you don’t have them already) and get a firm plan for the work you’d like done. Most contractors won’t put too much into a plan before you’ve actually hired them, but the good ones will at least rough out what they expect the job will take. They should even help you understand what the cost will be in time and materials, even before you hire them for the job.
Here are some other good things to remember when getting your estimates and reviewing project plans:
Never choose the lowest bidder. Even if all of your bids seem like they’re in the same ballpark, the lowest bidder is usually skimping on something, or assumes that something will be easier than it actually will be. Beware.
Never choose the contractor that promises you the world. If you start hearing things that sound too good to be true, like the work will only take a few days, when everyone else is estimating a week or two, or someone who says that work you know will be complicated will be no problem at all for them, be careful. It doesn’t necessarily mean bad things, but you should never choose a contractor who offers you more than you know your budget will allow, or promises to be finished sooner than everyone else you’re comparing to—especially if it’s unusually soon.
Make sure they present you with a detailed plan. Even the most minor contracting jobs or minor fixes around the house should have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a full-on project plan, but it should be in writing, and it should detail what the handyman is planning to do to fix the problem, what materials and equipment they plan to use, and of course, how much it’ll all cost. Again—this should all be in writing. They can stand in front of the wall you want knocked down and tell you how they’re going to do it and how long it’ll take, but “you told me X” is useless if they’re running over time and over budget.
Make sure they have insurance. Even if a handyman or contractor doesn’t have to be licensed or bonded where you work, they should at least have insurance to cover any issues or problems that come up on the job. Remember, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance doesn’t cover work done by a contractor (if you hire them), so if they accidentally cause major damage to your home, they should have a way to pay for it.
Hire Wisely and Stay Involved in the Project
Once you’ve selected a contractor and delivered the good news (PS – when you give your second and third choices the bad news, treat them kindly and respectfully. You never know when your first choice will screw up and you’ll need to call your second choice and ask them to come and finish up—or fix what the first guy broke), hire them on the contingency that they stick to their plan, timeline, and estimate and don’t make any changes without your authorization. For example, if they open up a wall only to discover a major problem, their first instinct should be to call you—not just go forward and work around it. Any budget overruns or new materials required should be cleared by you first. You should have a written agreement, and that agreement should include all those details and contingencies in case you and the contractor disagree (contingencies that should give you a favorable out if the work isn’t done to your satisfaction).
Photo by gualtiero boffi (Shutterstock)