Savvy Senior: How to find a good handyman or contractor

October 25, 2011 

Can you offer us seniors any tips for finding a good handyman to do some work around the house? I’m 71 and have had some bad luck lately with handymen who either don’t show up or don’t finish what they start. -- Searching Senior

Hiring a handyman can be a bit of a crapshoot. How do you find someone who will return your calls, show up on time, do the job right and finish it, all at a fair price? Here are some tips that can help.

Who to call

While it may seem obvious, your first step in finding a good handyman or trade specialist is to determine what all you need done.

If, for example, you have a small home repair that doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise, a handyman may be all you need. But if you have a job that involves electricity, plumbing, or heating or cooling systems, you’re probably better off going with a licensed tradesman. Bigger jobs like home renovations or remodeling may require a general contractor.

Locating services

Whatever type of work you need, the best way to find it is through referrals from people you trust. If your friends of family don’t have any recommendations turn to professionals in the field like local hardware or home improvement stores, or even real estate agents.

The Internet can also help. Websites like servicemagic.com (877) 800-3177) can put you in touch with pre-screened, customer-rated service professionals in your area for free. Or try angieslist.com (888) 888-5478, a membership service that will connect you with high quality contractors and service companies with various types of expertise for a small monthly fee of $7, or $25 for a one-year membership.

Another option for finding handyman services is through a local or national service company like mrhandyman.com and housedoctors.com. You’ll probably pay more going through a company than you would with an independent handyman, but service companies typically promise professional workers who are screened, licensed, bonded and insured. To find these types of services in your community check your yellow pages or go to any Internet search engine and type in “handyman” plus your city and state.

Things to know

Once you’ve located a few candidates, your next step is to get written estimates that list the materials, costs and details of the project. It’s a good idea to get at least three estimates from different sources to be sure you’re getting a fair deal.

You also need to find out if your candidates have an approved contractor or tradesman license. Using an unlicensed worker in a state that requires a license is dangerous – you’ll have little legal recourse if the job goes south. (To see which states license contractors, visit www.contractors-license.org.)

Also, ask to see their proof of insurance, which covers any damages they may cause while working on your home, and ask for several references from past jobs and check them. You can also check up on your candidates by contacting the Better Business Bureau to see if they have a history of complaints.

Jim Miller, author of “The Savvy Senior” book, can be reached at Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

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