How to Find a Handyman or Contractor
After buying a home, many buyers discover they want to personalize that home, change the environment to suit specific tastes, and that means finding a handyman or contractor. When I think about the best ways to find a handyman or contractor, this old joke pops into my head. It goes like this. People want three things in a handyman or contractor. They want a contractor who is: 1. Affordable 2. Highly skilled, and 3. Punctual, so pick any two. Meaning it is impossible to get all three characteristics in a contractor.
But it's not impossible, of course.
You can find a great handyman or contractor and be the envy of all your friends. Everybody has a horror story to share about contractors. Ask any friend and you'll hear about guys who did not finish jobs, stole money, or left the homeowner in the lurch after doing a lousy job and vanishing. Naturally, you don't want any of this stuff to happen to you, and you're probably a bit cautious about choosing a contractor; I don't blame you. It's all about who you choose.
Determine the Type of Handyman You Need
The first step is to choose the right tradesperson for the job. If it's a simple job, where little can go wrong, you can hire a handyman. However, for jobs that involve more complex situations—in which something could easily go wrong—you might be better off with a professional contractor who specializes in a specific field.
Stop and consider the job. If it's your heating or air conditioning that needs work, you would need an HVAC specialist. If you're installing light fixtures, you would look for an electrician. Replacing a faucet or toilet, call a plumber. Refinishing wood floors or installing new hardwood, get a flooring installer. You will find specialists who work entirely in ceramic and various types of tile such as travertine or marble. The benefit of hiring a professional is they do this type of work over and over and the process is generally second nature.
The other obvious benefit of hiring a specialist is they know what do if the job turns out to be more complicated than it appears. Sometimes, you don't know what can go wrong until you're in the middle of the project, and if you haven't hired the right person, it can be too late.
DIY or Hire the Job Out
When I made my first trip to my vacation home in Hawaii, for example, I noticed the kitchen faucet, a pull-out, was losing its integrity, hanging its head in shame into my sink. I ran out to Lowes and picked up a beautiful stainless steel pre-rinse with a coiled neck and a pull-down sprayer to replace the ugly white fixture. Having no tools at the house, I bought plumber's tape and a basin wrench, too.
I laid out all my purchases on the kitchen counter and was about to crawl under the sink when it hit me. Hey, I'm on vacation. Why am I putting in a new faucet when I can find a handyman or contractor to do this job? Not only that, but my house is 25 years old. It means the shut-off valves might be too difficult to turn by hand, or, worse, they could leak, and do I want to deal with that?
I turned to my laptop to find a plumber. My painter, who was in the middle of repairing cracks in the ceiling caused by an earthquake, offered to install my faucet. He could fix anything, he said, he was a handyman. No, he was a painter. I hired a plumber, and indeed the hot water shut-off valve needed replacement as well as the faucet. On top of that, he knew enough to know how to turn off the hot water at my solar water heater, which involved turning 3 knobs. I would not have known how to do that if I had tried to do it myself, and it is doubtful my painter could have figured it out.
Hire a Handyman or Contractor Who Has Accountability
The problem with plucking a stranger out of the Yellow Pages or a single website is that the chosen individual might be accountable to nobody. However, in our modern world, service industries live and die by reviews. It is human nature to want to do a good job when you know your reputation is on the line.
There are several contractor source websites that advertise workers who have been screened that you can try. Be sure to proceed with caution, however. I do not suggest trying to find a handyman or contractor from a source website that stands to make a financial gain from your selection. Some of those types of websites receive marketing dollars or kickbacks from the service providers they list. The referrals are not always vetted or checked out. Some of these people get listed simply because they pay a fee for the privilege.
If you have to fill out a form and wait for a handyman or contractor to contact you, it could very well be an aggregator site that does not verify nor substantiate the quality of the individuals they refer to you. If you want assurance of quality, there are better ways to find a handyman or contractor. Here are 5 of my best ways to find a handyman or contractor:
1. Find a Handyman or Contractor on Google
Google searches are all about local. If you've already got a Gmail account, you are already signed into Google and it knows where you are located. If on a mobile device, turn on the location services. Search by the type of contractor and your city. In the "local" box you will see vendors with websites and it will indicate the number of reviews, especially if that company or individual has a Google Business Page.
Be careful when you read reviews and ask yourself if it sounds like a friend of the individual posted that review or if it's an actual client. Anybody with a Gmail account can post a review on a Google Business Page, even a person who is not a client but, say, a family member. Click on the link of the person who posted the review to see if that person has reviewed other businesses. If this is the only review, you might be suspicious.
Do not click on ads on Google. The ads are listed first. These are companies or individuals who are paying Google to advertise and are identified as an ad. Skip by those to reach organic results.
2. Look at Angie's List
On Angie's List, you can search for contractors in a number of ways. I do not suggest searching for promotions and coupons because those are companies that are paying to be promoted. Instead, search by the number of miles from your location. Keep broadening the miles until you find at least 3 contractors with a fair number of reviews.
Since you have a choice on Angie's List, why not start with the A-rated reviews? Read the entire review. Angie's List also offers a bluebook on pricing, so you can find out the low-end and high-end costs of your proposed job. Some vendors on Angie's List will give you a discount if you mention that you found the company on Angie's List.
3. Find a Handyman or Contractor on Yelp
Yelp offers reviews for a wide variety of products and services, so you can also find a handyman or contractor on Yelp. Sometimes you will find more reviews on Yelp from unhappy customers than from satisfied customers. That's because people tend to feel more urgency to post a bad review when they feel like they did not get what they paid for.
Take into consideration the type of person who left the review, too. Anybody can post a review on Yelp. Is the bad review posted by a disgruntled co-worker or perhaps a former romantic interest who got dumped and is out for revenge? It helps to read between the lines and listen to the tone of the review put forth by the reviewer. Also, click on the link to read other reviews by that person to determine if that is a person who likes to complain. From Yelp, you can also visit the handyman or contractor's website to get more information.
4. Ask Your Realtor
Your realtor works with dozens of contractors and handymen. She can give you all sorts of referrals if you ask. Your Realtor wants to be your agent for life and vets her referrals very closely. If a client ever logged a valid complaint against a contractor, you can bet that Realtor will remove that individual or company from her list of referrals.
Your Realtor's reputation is at stake when she hands out a referral to you. She has a vested interest to make sure you are happy and taken care of. Agents have connections with all sorts of people from all walks of life, and you may as well take advantage of her contacts. She will be happy to help.
5. Visit Your Local Big-Box Home Improvement Store
With the exception of places like Home Depot or other large home improvement stores, you can probably rely on the referrals to contractors from the vendor who sells the product. The reason I caution against finding a contractor through a big box do-it-yourself store is that they often take a cut or otherwise share in the profit, which means you can pay more.
Smaller companies tend to work with the best contractors and typically have a few business cards on hand to give you. They want a happy customer and are not too big to be ambivalent. Some of the relationships between the store and contractors are formed long term over dozens of years.
Tips Before Hiring
Be sure to disclose where you found the individual or company and also make it very clear that you intend to post a review after the job is completed. While this does not ensure superior service, it is definitely a motivator.
Don't pay a contractor in advance and be wary of those who demand large upfront fees. Generally, you would pay a small deposit, enough to cover materials if you don't have the product on hand, and the balance when the job is completed.
Ask to see licensing verification and insurance. Also, ask if your job will require the pulling of a building permit.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, Cal BRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.