Home | Service Questions | 5 EASY STEPS TO HIRING A HANDYMAN

Whether you live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or New York City, there are five easy steps to hiring a good handyman that will keep costs down and give you the results you want. It is important to realize the requirements of your project, your expectations of the end product and cost, the qualifications of your contractor, and your responsibilities toward a happy ending to the construction.

What are the 5 Easy Steps to Hiring a Handyman?

  • First, make a written list of exactly what you need to have done. While it may seem unnecessary, a written list serves not only as a memory prompt during interviews in person or over the phone, but as the contractors ask their own questions about the project, you can add to the list or change some of the items.
  • Second, determine your budget for getting the job finished. This won’t be set in stone because not only will you not completely understand the cost of the handyman’s materials, but there will be other expenses added in as the cost of doing business and these will probably vary from company to company. Take a look at the blog on this website, What is a Contractor’s Estimate?”
  • Third, review what the contractor or handyman will need to be able to accomplish in terms of skills. You may need plumbing replaced and not all handymen are licensed to do plumbing. Or electrical. Or tasks you may not even be aware you need to ask about. Don’t be afraid to ask the contractor what exactly will be necessary in your job.
  • Next, get the names of reputable companies that can meet your skills requirements. Ask your friends if they can make a recommendation. Check out comments on their website for anything unfavorable or even call a local subcontractor about anyone they like to work with.
  • Finally, compare the information obtained from all the conversations with the company representative and make your selection.  Easy, right? Well, let’s go a little more in-depth with each of these steps to make sure you don’t leave out something important.

Make a Written List Describing the Project

You may have gone over this a thousand times in your head, but your future handyman has not. Be very specific about everything you visualize for the end product. Include pictures from the internet or magazines. Discuss colors of accessories such as drapes so the contractor understands your idea of the finished project. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions from your potential handyman, because he may know about products of which you are clueless. Bathroom floor always too cold? Maybe he or she can suggest a different type of flooring or even ways to heat the flooring. Be sure to ask what the different options will mean for your budget. It’s easy to get swept away with the Perfect Project, only to have moments of severe stress when you get the final bill. There are always less expensive options for materials you would like.

In the excitement of the interview with your potential contractor, the list will come in handy so you don’t forget to mention details or possible problems. Is that discoloration on the ceiling just age or is there a leak? Leaving out thoughts such as these can spell disaster once your hired handyman gets into the project and has to tell you your entire budget will have to go toward something you never even knew was an issue. If you have samples of materials you like, this is a great time to show them to the contractor. He should be familiar with anything you might shove across the table and may even be experienced with the product. Perhaps that fantastic countertop made you swoon in the store, but may have serious upkeep challenges down the road. Again, ask these questions during the interview. They will influence the final bid or estimate you will receive.

Remember Your Pocketbook.

Who wouldn’t want the most expensive materials and handcrafted products that money can buy to do their home improvement project! I know I would! However, most of us live in the world of budgeting and this is a careful discussion you need to have with your potential contractor. You’ve already talked about what your vision for the job is, but don’t reveal what your top dollar is. Let the handyman give you an estimate or a bid (read our blog post “What is a Contractor’s Estimate?” to know the difference) and then work from there.  Lower than you thought it would be? See what upgrades might be available, if you like.  Did you choke a little when you saw the bottom line? Be truthful and tell him that the cost he’s giving is a “little” higher than you expected and ask for suggestions on dropping the price. Make careful notes of where he may be getting less expensive materials or skipping steps. This would be something you might talk about with his competition. Perhaps the handyman is willing to decrease his “cushion” for possible mistakes if he’s fair confident in the work that’s needed. Or he may just tell you he’s worth the extra money. DON’T GET TRAPPED INTO THIS! You don’t want to risk years of regrets further down the line when you had to scrimp on Christmas or skip a vacation because you were convinced he was “worth it.” 

NOTE: The highest bid by no means indicates the best contractor. Sometimes an estimate will be lower because the handyman has a connection for a lower cost on the materials you want. Maybe he is between projects and is looking for something to pick up the slack and is willing to take a little less for his time even though he may be very good.  This is where you go back and take a look at your references and compare the itemized prices on your list. 

Does the Handyman Have the Skills Needed for Your Project?

Just because a handyman did a great exterior painting job for your best friend doesn’t mean he can repair your leaking plumbing in the bathroom. Most contractors will tell you upfront if they are able to perform your job, but some may think they have the skills and get into it and are in over their head.  Or they may think one of their employees knows how to perform the necessary repairs only to find he has fumbled his way through it. Be up front and ask if the company has experience with your type of project and perhaps ask for a reference from someone they did the same type of finished work. Once again, in the case of an inadequate completion, your signed and dated contract is your ace in the hole should you have to go to court.

Also, installing a koi pond is not the same as installing a sprinkler system or a swimming pool. Be sure that your prospective handyman clearly states he has done this type of work before. If he seems uncertain, ask that an addendum be placed in your contract as far as satisfaction after completion. It would really be great if he could produce a certificate stating he has been trained in Koi Pond Installation, but this is still no guarantee. I just spoke with a contractor who said he got a certificate when he bought the product, but he thinks it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and he’s going back for in-person training. And don’t let us forget that even a novice on a Photoshop program can print out a fake certificate. Perhaps you can do a little research yourself into what it takes to build our koi pond and ask some good questions about it during your interview.

Get Some References.

The internet is a wonderful thing.  On someone’s website, you can get both good and bad reviews of service. However, any friend or relative of your potential future handyman can slap a raving review of work that never happened. Asking the contractor himself for references will only get you customers who were happy with his work. The best source of information on the history of completed work by a handyman is to get referrals from friends or co-workers who had the same type of work done, or look into a company such as the Better Business Bureau that doesn’t get paid based on good reviews. I suggest you contact the local contractor’s organization such as their licensing board or commission. Their reputation is based on having good results from their members and while they may not steer you away from someone (for fear of a lawsuit), they may tell you a few sources for the best workers in your area.

Keep in mind that even the best contractors won’t make everyone happy. Some customers may not have been clear with their wants and needs list, or thought the final bill was too high and they will get “revenge” by giving bad reviews. It may be tough to weed out these types of customers, but if there is one poor review for ten raves, this might be what happened. In my business, I even had an ex-customer put terrible reviews on my website because they didn’t pay their bill and I sent them to a collection agency. Before that, they were perfectly satisfied with their service. Go figure. If you do come across a really bad review, you could ask the handyman what happened. He may tell you the situation, but he may not. If the reason makes you uncomfortable, it may be time to move to the next candidate.

Make Your Choice.

All done? Not quite. Be sure and ask if your #1 choice can get your project finished in the time you need it completed. I personally know several people who had their big project started only to have the contractor disappear in the middle of it to start another one, leaving the first family living in a mess just so they can “dibs” the next home.  There should be a clause in the contract (Of course, you get a contract!) that the project will be completed by a certain date or a penalty will be paid. If the handyman isn’t willing to do this, move on. One relative of mine was cooking for weeks in a microwave on a table because her countertops were on stand-by.

It’s possible that your handyman is sick or has been injured on the job. There’s nothing he can do about not coming to your house for that reason. Maybe he has been financially over-extended and can’t pay his help or get the materials he needs. However, these excuses are no reason for not giving you a telephone call to explain the problem. If your materials have been delivered, you can hire another contractor from your list of interviews. If your house has been torn up and/or you don’t have the materials you paid for, you have little choice but to take your handyman to court. Hire an attorney to tell you what you need to bring along for the judge, but keep in mind that small claims courts are usually for less than $2,000. 

The best way to avoid having to go to court over an unfinished home project is to do your homework. Get those references! Talk to the licensing board or commission. If a contractor pulls these types of shenanigans, you are probably not the first customer to experience these delays. After the fact, be sure to make the public aware on Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau, Craiglist, and the Sioux Falls Licensing Commission about your unhappiness and to keep other unsuspecting home owners away from this company.


Don’t be afraid of hiring a construction professional to undertake either a little job or an expensive undertaking on your home. Do your homework, be careful about each of your 5 EASY STEPS, and you should have smooth sailing to having a great upgrade completed on time and for the price you expected.


How long does it take for a contractor to finish a job?

The law says to allow a “reasonable time.” Attorney Troy Vernon Sutton in San Carlos, California states on AVVO.com, “. . . I would suggest sending a registered letter with a reasonable deadline for performance and stating your intent to stop payment and hire someone else to finish the work if the deadline is not met.”

I don’t know anyone who has had home improvements done. Who else offers recommendations of contractors?

Thisoldhouse.com suggests you contact the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (www.nari.org) for their members in your area. Give a call to a building inspector for reliable handymen that regularly meet code on their project. Even go to a few of the lumberyards nearby because they see contractors regularly and knows who pays their bills.

How much is reasonable to pay upfront on my project?

The website for This Old House also suggests that if your handyman wants more than 50%, he may be having financial problems or is afraid you won’t be happy with the result. For large projects, expect to pay 10% when you sign the contract, followed by 24 percent installments spread out over the construction with the final 15% on completion. It’s a good idea to have this payment schedule included in the contract.

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