Yes, It's Possible to Shop for a Handyman Online—Here's How

Home improvements — How to find a handyman
Sean Litchfield ; DESIGN: Homepolish

Whether you've recently purchased a fixer-upper in dire need of a total gut job or you just need a few frames and shelves installed in your rental apartment, finding the right person for the job (who's not your uncle with questionable renovating skills) can be a challenge. With Google bombarding you with local ads, how can you actually pick someone that's reliable, efficient, and skilled?

Speaking handyman lingo and knowing what red flags to look for when you can barely drill a hole in the wall yourself can be a daunting experience, so we tapped a few experts who are well versed in hiring contractors, electrician, and plumbers. How can you make sure that you're not getting taken for a ride with pricing? How do you ensure that the project stays on budget and on time? What do you ask when interviewing a contractor? Don't hire a handyman without doing your due diligence—this road map will help.

Look at Online Presence

Most people start their research for a contractor online. While many apps like Thumbtack and ClipCall make this process easier, it's always handy to know what to look for when doing your due diligence: "Always check that the company or handyman has an online presence or website," says ClipCall's CEO, Daniel Shaked. "Look to make sure they are not posting fake content online. For example, some businesses post multiple listings under different names and profiles on the internet that feed into the same phone number. They are dishonestly trying to drum up extra business and keep the competition out and should be avoided."

Thumbtack handyman Thom Bouis also recommends researching any potential legal issues: "Look to see whether the contractor ever had any liability claims or lawsuits related to similar work," he recommends. Once you have done your basic due diligence, he also recommends looking at similar projects: "Look at how many similar projects the contractor has completed and whether the reviews are good."

Consider Flat-Rate Pricing

"It's always good to do your research to get various quotes from different professionals and see what they offer with their pricing," suggests Shaked. "Flat-rate pricing is the best way to get the most bang for your buck since it eliminates professionals stretching the job out just to make more hourly wages."

However, Bouis warns against the downside of flat-rate pricing: "Fixed-rate pricing often is severely inflated to account for unexpected problems, delays, and changes. Hourly rates for a contractor that has good ratings is most often the lowest price for quality workmanship," he says. "These contractors are hardworking and don't waste their time or yours. Don't hesitate to ask your contractor to not accept or return phone calls during their work time on your project as you have no obligation to pay their time while they cater to another clients' questions."

Ask About Their Business

Once you've identified a few candidates, it's time to set interviews. "It's always good to ask a lot of questions, not just about the job they are going to do for you, but about their business and themselves," recommends Shaked. "If you ask enough questions and they are willing to share details, you can get a good sense of the person and their integrity. Ask questions like How did you start your business? How long have you been doing this kind of work? What do you like about the job? Are you growing? and Do you have many workers? You want to be able to envision the success of your project and gauge the risks when interviewing a professional."

Verify Licenses and Insurance

Before hiring anyone, the most important thing is to check their credentials. "It's important to verify that the service professional you've hired has all the required licenses and insurance," says Shaked. "Oftentimes when you speak to a company owner, an employee will be doing the actual work and you should confirm that they are also licensed and insured."

Bouis also recommends being aware of any special local permits that might be required: "Are any state or local licenses or permits required, and if so, will the contractor obtain these or subcontract the licensed expertise?" All these questions ensure that you won't run into any legal issues.

Clearly State Your Expectations

The more specific you are about how you want the work to get done, the more chances you have of having it done right. "Getting the best price is all about understanding what is valuable to you as a consumer," says Shaked. "If you know the answer to this, then you will know how to get the best value for the money you are spending. Identifying your expectations will help professionals do the work to your satisfaction."

By the same token, Bouis recommends planning solutions for any unexpected issues: "Ask what unknowns might be anticipated and how does the contractor intend to deal with them if encountered," he suggests.

Find Out Who Will Perform the Tasks

Knowing who is actually performing the tasks can help you determine whether you are overpaying for a handyman: "Does the contractor employs all journeymen or apprentices? If apprentices are used, make sure you are not paying journeymen rate for that person," he says. "If the contractor needs an apprentice, ask if you can work as the apprentice on your project. Many homeowners want to learn how to do the work themselves. Ask your contractor if they offer a lower rate for simply supervising you doing the work. But be realistic—if the contractor says more experienced journeymen are needed, best to recognize that they know what it takes to perform the tasks safely and correctly and you don't have the expertise needed, which is why you hired a contractor to start with."

Set Firm Dates in Writing

Last but not least, make sure you are signing a contract that clearly states deadlines and that you have read all the fine print. "Make sure that your contract specifically lists all the dates and milestones for payment," says Shaked. "Think through the potential surprises, and have something written in the contract for those specific scenarios. What happens if the project timeline has to stretch? What if more money is needed to complete the project? It's important to know what kind of warranty and fine print is included in your contract."

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