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Handyman Or Specialist
All hail the handyman. They're just so ... handy! And yet, these jacks-of-all-trades are also masters of none, which means they have their limits. As such, you might often wonder whether certain home repairs or renovations could be handled by a handyman, or whether it's best you call in a specialist instead.
To help you figure that out, check this list of criteria to decide on the best course of action. So let's strap on the tool belt and take a look!
If the work is something you could do but don’t want to, call a handyman
The doorknob that always rattles. The cabinet knobs that date your kitchen. If it’s something that you feel like you could do—assuming you had the time, patience, and the appropriate YouTube video—a handyman is probably the right person for the job.
“Think of a handyman as a general worker who will perform a task that takes about four or fewer hours and charges by the hour,” says Calvin Brock, of That Good Ole Handyman in Charlotte, NC. He cites as ideal “handyman jobs” cleaning gutters, pressure washing, painting a room, minor repairs, and light carpentry (expect to pay around $60 per hour).
Another way to think of a handyman job is as an “even exchange,” meaning that you’re taking out an old something and replacing it with the exact same thing, such as rehanging blinds or switching out door trim, suggests Joe Giannone, a professional contractor and owner of Joseph Giannone Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Philadelphia.
But if the work is something you yourself wouldn’t dream of doing—we’re talking fixing that leaking HVAC system or replacing shingles on a roof, then you’ll want to call a specialist.
If you’re under warranty, call a specialist
Some appliances or HVAC systems come with a warranty that stipulates that service must be performed by a technician, notes Giannone. In other words: Even if Harry the Handyman comes in and repairs your dishwasher with ease, if he's not on the manufacturer's green-light list, this could nullify your warranty and/or you won't be reimbursed. So, check your warrantee's fine print first.
If your work requires a license, call a specialist
Plumbing, electrical, gas lines … anything that requires a license needs a specialist.
“A plumber or electrician has specialized training and has done something so many times that they know how tight to tighten something or how short the wires should be," Giannone says.
So how do you know if your job requires a license? A basic rule of thumb is to contact your local municipality and find out if a specific trade license is required in order to carry out the project.
“Finding out if a license is needed is the best way to figure out when a handyman cannot do the work, thus eliminating that option," says Teris Pantazes, co-founder of EFynch.com, a Baltimore, MD-based platform that connects clients with contractors.
If you want to save a little cash, call a handyman (maybe)
A handyman generally charges less than a specialist. So, if money is tight, it's something to take into account. However, just know that you might get what you pay for. Specialists charge more because they could save you more in the long run by doing the job right the first time.
Yet there are borderline cases. The key is to make sure that your handyman has already done the exact same job you'd like him to do—ideally more than just once! Ask for referrals for similar projects and aim to get several reviews, even if your first source was ecstatic.
“Many handymen I know actually have some trade background and could probably build the entire house if they wanted to,” says Pantazes. But you want to be sure your handyman is that guy before he starts digging around in your walls.
So find out more about your handyman's background, and then double-check his insurance. Proof of insurance should be non-negotiable, since if something does go wrong, you will end up paying for it, literally (more on that next).
If your house will be wrecked if all goes wrong, call a specialist
“Ask yourself what would happen if it weren't done right,” suggests Kirk Herzog with Expert Plumbing & Rooter in Van Nuys, CA. If the deck boards would come loose and you could nail them back down … well, no harm, no foul. But if your house would burn to the ground because the electrical system wasn’t up to par … well, uh-oh. A specialist not only knows what he or she is doing, presumably, but also has the insurance to back it up.
Remember the “even exchange” scenario we mentioned earlier? Well, that doesn’t quite hold water when you’re talking about replacing something like a bathroom vanity, where you have to move a water line. Because what’s the worst that can happen if it’s done wrong by a handyman who doesn’t have the right expertise? Right, your house floods. Not cool. Hire a specialist when you really need one.
Cathie Ericson is a journalist who writes about real estate, finance, and health. She lives in Portland, OR.