Anyone can drive up in a truck and say they will fix your creaky stairs, leaky pipe or questionable electrical wiring. But hire the wrong handyman, and that new paint job in your family room might turn into more trouble—and a bigger mess—than you bargained for. We turned to local handymen Dave Dothage of Aspen Home Maintenance and Greg Filley of Kirkwood Handyman for recommendations on the best questions to ask before your job is started, to make sure it gets done right.
• Word-of-mouth is a very reliable way to find a trusted handyman, Dothage says, but make sure to get a reference from someone you trust. “You want reputable references, not just people who know them and are doing a favor,” he says. “I have clients who are business owners, and that’s where my references have a little more power and authority—if they give you a reference and you do bad work for somebody, it’s going to reflect badly on them and their business.”
• Call the Better Business Bureau, suggests Filley. “See how long they’ve been in business, if they’re insured or not and if they’re a member of the BBB.” When the economy is bad, people who aren’t fully qualified might take on odd jobs as a way of making quick money, he warns. “When a lot of people are laid off, all of the sudden the paper will be loaded with handymen. First, find out how long they’ve been in business.”
• Trust your gut. “Look out for these guys who come in and talk fast to overwhelm you,” Filley says. Get two or three bids and only work with someone you trust. “If someone presents themselves like a used car salesman, you don’t want to fool with them.”
• Common sense matters. In your initial meetings with a handyman, they will put of plenty of signals about their professionalism, Dothage notes. “If they don’t have the courtesy to call you back, or they miss an appointment and don’t call for a couple of days, that shows the importance of your business to them. They should treat you with respect as a customer.” When you meet the handyman for an estimate, is he organized and dressed in a presentable way? Does she track dirt in on your floor, or remove her shoes? These things might seem small, but they can tell you a lot.
• Be wary of someone who asks for a big downpayment up-front. “I don’t take any money ahead of time,” Dothage says. “I always let my work do my talking, so even if I have to buy materials for the job, I buy the materials and then bill the client when I’m done with the whole thing. If someone doesn’t have the money to cover the cost of materials ahead of time, that’s a red flag—especially if it’s a small job.”
• If extra costs are incurred, make sure there’s a good reason, Filley says. “If something goes haywire, I get the customer over there and show them what we’ve got to do. I’m not going to leave it unsafe, and I’ll tell them it’s going to cost X more. Sometimes I’ll even split the difference with them. But if you break something, you’ve got to tell them that you’ve broken it, and fix it at no cost.”
In the end, even though many of us have an instinct to trust people, it’s still important to do your homework before allowing someone into your home. As Dothage says, “If I get in a hurry and don’t worry about the red flags, I get in trouble every single time.”