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It wasn’t until after my husband died that I realized how much I relied on him for home maintenance tasks. Whether it was unclogging the toilet or patching holes in the drywall, he did it all.
Now that he’s gone, it’s fallen to me to get all these tasks done. Some have been easy to take over while others are still far beyond my skills. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of being comfortable changing a light fixture or installing a new faucet.
The question is: how do you find someone to help when you have no idea the going rate or whether someone’s work is really any good? You don’t have to be a widow like me to have this question either.
In the years since my husband died, I’ve found the following are the best ways to ensure I don’t get ripped off when I’m hiring someone to help around the house.
Start with handy family members and friends
For small jobs, a family member or friend may be willing to come over and help for free. However, if the person makes their living as a carpenter, plumber, electrician or other tradesman, offer to pay for their services. Also, if you have a major project that needs to be done, make sure your helpful friend or relative actually has the skills to get the job done right.
Ask for referrals from others
Even if your family or friends can’t help do the work, they may be able to provide referrals to professionals they’ve used in the past. Getting a personal referral is one of the best ways to find a handyman or contractor whose work is tried and true.
Avoid Craigslist and door-to-door salespeople
I’m not saying there aren’t good people advertising on Craigslist, but I have heard many a horror story about people misrepresenting their skills or outright scamming others on the site. So much so that I don’t recommend hiring a contractor or handyman from Craigslist. The same can be said for people who go door-to-door peddling new windows or other home repair items. In my experience, their services – even if legitimate – are often overpriced.
Look on review sites
Instead of looking in the classifieds, head to websites like Angie’s List or Yelp. There, you can search for the type of professional you need and read reviews from other customers. Access to reviews is free, but paying members of Angie’s List can also take advantage of the company’s fair price guarantee and conflict resolution service.
Check licensing and BBB listings
Don’t take a person’s word that they’re licensed to do work in your state. Confirm it. Most states will let you check the status of a person’s license online, and the online listing may also report any complaints received about the individual’s work or business practices. Search for your state’s licensing department to see if they offer this feature. Another option is to look on the Better Business Bureau website for a company’s rating and complaint history.
Start with a small job
If possible, ask a handyman to do a small job for you before hiring him for a larger or ongoing project. That way, you can witness firsthand the person’s punctuality, demeanor and quality of work. That’s not an option for contractors performing larger renovations, but you should still meet with these individuals in person to get an estimate. That discussion may give you some clues as to their professionalism.
Get a written estimate for major repairs
Small jobs – like unclogging a sink or minor appliance repairs – are usually completed on the spot for a service charge in addition to the professional’s hourly rate. While you should ask about rates prior to scheduling an appointment, don’t expect an estimate in advance. However, for any major repairs or renovations, you should get the total cost, timeline for work and payment terms in writing.
Compare costs to industry averages
Once you get a written estimate, it’s a good idea to see how it stacks up against industry standards. Home Advisor is one place on the web where you can go to compare your estimate against average prices for the same service. A good quality local contractor may charge a little more, but if the estimate is significantly more than the average cost, you may want to ask why or at least get an estimate from a second professional for comparison.
Walk away if upfront payment is demanded
It’s a red flag if someone insists on being paid upfront or says they need money to cover the cost of materials. For a service call, the standard is to pay at the time of the repair but only after the work has been done. For larger jobs, contractors may require periodic payments as the work progresses, but only after certain milestones have been hit. A reputable firm will also have enough capital to cover their materials and tools. They shouldn’t need your money to buy supplies at the start of the project.
Pay with your credit card
Many workers don’t take credit cards or, if they do, charge an extra fee to cover the cost of processing the payment. However, if it’s an option, you may want to consider it. Most credit cards come with fraud protection that could be useful if you later find a contractor has mispresented his work.