Finding a handyman (or handywoman) you trust might bring you more peace of mind than finding the right therapist. A handyman service is different than a contractor. These workers often take different approaches to an initial consultation and fees. Some come to your home to provide a quote while others are happy to give you a consultation over the phone. Many charge an hourly rate. Others charge by the project.
Handyman services can charge an hourly or flat rate, depending on the project. On average, homeowners tend to pay between $186 and $621. How does a handyman decide when to charge an hourly or flat rate? It depends on the known and unknown factors of a job. Hanging a ceiling fan is a pretty straightforward job. The average handyman knows about how long it’s going to take and what tools will be needed. This sort of job is normally a flat-rate job. Drywall repair, however, is usually an hourly job because it can involve unknowns that affect how long the job takes. The damaged area seen on the surface might not be the only damage. What looks like a 5-inch patch job could turn into having to replace the whole panel if cracks and other damage are hidden behind the paint and texture. Replacing anything due to water damage is another job filled with unknowns.
An hourly rate might be applied to small jobs with a minimum charge (usually one-half hour to one hour). This is so the handyman is compensated at a rate that allows him to stay in business. For example, if he or she charges $60 an hour but your job is a ten-minute job, pro-rating your job to $10 would hardly be fair compensation for his or her time and labor. The best way to save money on this is to bundle several small jobs together. This allows both of you to make maximum use of his time.
Agree on Price Ahead of Time
As long as you can provide sufficient details about the job, a handyman should be able to give you a firm quote in writing before starting any project. This quote should include an expectation about the scope of the project, a description of the final product and an estimation of how long it will take. The handyman will base his or her price on these factors.
Projects can grow and change as they progress, but any change that might lead to an increase in price needs to be approved before they continue. Unforeseen complications can also cause the price to increase. For example, some houses have aluminum rather than copper wiring. If a handyman service is replacing ten outlets in your house, they (and you) might not know about the aluminum wiring until they’ve taken the old outlets out. They may have given you a price for outlets at the going rate of 68 cents each for the copper outlets, but now must recalculate the cost for an aluminum-compatible outlet at $2.99 each. This raises the parts cost from $6.80 to $29.90!
Asking for Hourly- or Flat-Rate Calculations
A handyman usually has the flexibility to charge for services either way: hourly or flat-rate. You might be able to negotiate with him or her as to which way to charge.
Let’s look at how the two differ. Suppose a job takes 3 hours to complete from start to finish. At $77 per hour, you will spend $231. Suppose this same job is offered to you at a flat rate of $240. While that increases your hourly charge to $80 an hour, the job can have three results for the hourly rate: it can take three hours and cost $80 per hour, it can go unexpectedly easily and take 1.5 hours (for example) and come out to $120 an hour, or it could take 4.5 hours due to complications (for example) and come out to around $53 an hour.
As you can see, hourly pay results in greater expenses for longer jobs. A flat rate means the longer a job goes, the less you wind up paying. This is why it’s important to find out ahead of time how a handyman service charges for a particular job.
When hiring a handyman, there is more to consider than the job itself. Other factors to think about include the size of the job, the experience of the handyman, the licenses he or she possesses and the distance they will need to travel.
How big is the job? This might mean literally the size of what’s being worked on. Job size can also refer to the complexity of the job. Whether it’s the physical size of the job or the level of complexity, this is one of the biggest factors that could influence the final cost. Be sure to inquire about these details when collecting bids.
An experienced handyman often works quicker than an inexperienced handyman simply because he knows beforehand what’s involved and what complications might transpire. He knows what trouble spots to look out for and can avoid many mistakes that a less experienced handyman might make. However, this doesn’t mean that you will pay less by the hour. In fact, you might see a higher hourly rate.
An experienced handyman can charge more by the hour because he or she can get the job done with a greater amount of skill. Of course, a higher rate doesn’t necessarily guarantee a more experienced handyman — only a more expensive one. Verify the length of time a handyman has been in the business before going with a higher-priced one. Someone with 30 years in the trade is considered very experienced and can command a higher rate than someone with two years of experience. Ask about how long they’ve worked in the trade professionally.
The licensing requirements for handymen are quite varied and depend primarily on where you live. Some states may not require any licensing while others insist that handymen be licensed and bonded the same as a contractor. However, even in states with no requirements, that could change when you get down to city level.
Hiring a licensed handyman provides you with a reasonable assurance that your job is being done by someone who has proven that he or she knows how to do the job. Hiring an unlicensed handyman requires you to take the worker's word for it that he or she has the skills and knowledge required for the task. A licensed handyman may charge more than an unlicensed one, but you can rest assured that you have hired a professional!
Many handymen advertise that they don’t charge for travel. Even if they don’t put anything in fine print, assume that they mean “locally” and “if I have to run out and get a part”. If you live in a rural or isolated area, you can expect to pay for travel. Some handymen simply include any travel in their hourly rate while others may offer free travel within a certain area, such as the first 10 miles. If mileage is charged, the standard practice is to charge according to the distance from the handyman’s place of business. Be sure to ask about this up front.
The IRS Federal Mileage Rate for 2015 is $0.575 per mile. While this is not a limit on how much a handyman (or anyone) can charge, it’s the amount they can declare. Most don’t charge much more than this.
Regardless of the job, you should never pay more than necessary for the handyman to complete the work. Some additional charges are unavoidable but make the effort to eliminate as many of those expenses as possible. When hiring a handyman, remember these tips to help keep your costs down:
Clear furniture and other obstacles. This makes his job easier and, if you’re paying hourly, reduces the amount of time spent at the job. This is especially true for larger jobs. Unplugging and removing your toaster to get at the outlet may take only a second or two, but clearing out a room to replace carpeting can take all day in and of itself! If large fixtures need to be brought in, such as a washer, dryer or kitchen sink, make sure the paths to their destinations are clear of obstacles as well.
Combine multiple small jobs if you can. If you have a lot of small jobs on your to-do list, such as replacing a medicine cabinet, changing a doorknob on an interior door and fixing a dripping faucet, you could save more money by hiring a handyman to take care of them all in one day instead of paying for three separate visits.
Shop around. Three quotes are usually sufficient to get a good deal, but if the price still sounds high, continue shopping and try to haggle. Let the handyman know if you’re on a tight budget and they might be willing to work a deal out with you.
Give the new guy a chance. Of course, you want to get the best service you can, so you might want to go with the handyman who’s been in business awhile. If you’re on a budget, however, someone who hasn’t been in business long might charge significantly less than would an old hand. The new guys are usually hungry for business and want to establish their reputations. They are also more willing to negotiate.
Some agencies offer discounts for seniors, veterans or the disabled. They usually list this in their ads as it can be a major selling point for their services.
Get Guarantees in Writing
Did your handyman promise you a special hourly rate as a first-time customer? Were you promised that the work would be done by a specific date? Were the materials guaranteed of a certain quality? Any promises or guarantees that your handyman offers you must be presented in writing, or you'll have no recourse should the project go awry.
If you understand the process and ask the right questions, even when you're dealing with little jobs, your relationship with your handyman could be off to a great start.
Certain home improvement projects may require a service professional with special certifications. Research this ahead of time so you can hire the appropriate professional. If you are just replacing a sink, your local handyman should be able to accomplish the task with no trouble. However, if it’s the actual plumbing that needs replacing, you may be required to hire a licensed plumber for that job to keep your pipes and other infrastructure up to code. A handyman service can replace a ceiling lamp, but a certified electrical contractor should be the one to replace the junction box and the wiring within the ceiling or walls.
Here are some examples of jobs that need a permit and are best done by certified professionals:
Adding a stairway
Installing a new roof (not just individual tile replacement but the whole roof)
Installing a fireplace or wood stove
Building a raised deck
Installing or replacing certain plumbing fixtures such as water heaters
Putting in new doors or windows
Building a retaining wall (not simply a decorative wall but one that is meant to hold back water and soil erosion, especially if it’s built adjacent to a public right-of-way such as a sidewalk)
Any work requiring the repair or modification of the existing electrical, plumbing, or gas systems
If you aren’t sure if your job needs a permit or certification, check with your local building authority.
Total Cost of the Job
In some states -- like California -- a handyman is not permitted to take on jobs that cost more than $500 a day (including materials and labor). If your job is going to cost more than $500 a day, you should probably hire a contractor. Some unethical handymen will break a job down into hourly charges to sidestep such regulations. Be aware of this. It’s not only illegal, but it hints at shady business practices!
The popular image of a handyman is the person with a pickup or van loaded with tools who’s ready to tackle any job, large or small. They could be your brother or sister, your cousin or your neighbor. There are also handymen who work for larger agencies. You may not know these handymen personally, but they probably have access to higher-end tools and might possess licenses to work on jobs that require them.
Whichever way you go, there are pros and cons to each:
With a personal reputation to establish and uphold, they are more likely to go “above and beyond” to help any word-of-mouth recommendations.
They can be more flexible in their pricing for services since the contract is between you and the handyperson, not you and the company.
The person you negotiated the price with is the person who will be doing the job. You know who’s going to show up for the job, and you have a chance to develop a good relationship with them. They will learn the specifics of your house and be intimately familiar with what repairs were done when and how.
You will have to check his or her qualifications and reputation yourself.
You won’t have any solid idea of the quality of work to expect until the work is done unless you have personally investigated the results of his or her prior work.
Any complaints or grievances will be sent to the person you have a complaint or grievance against.
The handyman’s background and qualifications have most likely already been checked by the company and are kept up-to-date.
A company maintains the correct licenses and insurance, giving you peace of mind knowing that the job is done properly, and any accidents are covered.
Companies have reputations, too. While you might not know the company handyman personally, he or she will likely show up in a uniform. Many companies guarantee a time they will show up, the quality of the work, and include clean-up as a standard service. Any complaints or grievances are filed with the company, not necessarily with the individual, and can be expected to be handled in a professional manner.
Company handymen have their prices set by the company and are not as flexible in their pricing, if at all.
You might not get the same handyman each time. If your house has something unique about it, such as an outlet that is not on the circuit it normally would be, the handyman will either have to check notes from whoever worked on it previously or will have to learn about it anew.
Company policy may prevent the corporate handyman from “going above and beyond”. For example, if your toilet backs up while the independent handyman is fixing a light switch in your kitchen, he may just go out to his truck, grab an auger, and clear the blockage in a matter of minutes for little to no extra charge. A company handyman might be required by the company to put in a new work order and charge the going rate for the service.
Don’t let anyone push you into signing a contract you aren’t comfortable with.
Never sign a contract with blanks left to be filled in.
Get all quotes in writing.
The rates for a handyman are as varied as the handymen themselves. However, using the information above, you should be able to tell what’s a good deal for your area and what isn’t. Hiring a handyman is a serious consideration both in terms of what it will cost you out of pocket and how it could impact the value of your home.