Last updated in February 2012
Does it seem like you always have at least five things in your home that need to be repaired? Sometimes it’s lack of skills or tools that prevents us from keeping our homes from falling apart. But often it’s just that we don’t have the time.
Enter the handyperson service. Hire one and you can hand over your home’s to-do list to an expert. The best handyperson services have workers who can fix just about anything, have the tools for an infinite number of tasks, and deliver prompt, courteous service.
But Consumers' Checkbook receives a lot of complaints about handyperson services that make a mess of things, most of them related to shoddy or incompetent work. A lot of consumers also feel like they were taken for a ride when it came to the price they paid.
Looking for help? Here’s advice for choosing a top-notch handyperson—and steps to take to make sure you don’t pay too much.
Make a list.
When you contact a handyperson service, the more details you provide the better. Some companies won’t do some tasks, such as painting, while others avoid specialized work, like electrical, plumbing, or masonry. Some services accept only small projects; others work only on multi-day or multi-month remodeling jobs. A list of tasks is also essential for getting a price quote, or even a rough time estimate, over the phone and will help you determine whether you’ll need companies to drop by before drafting written cost proposals.
Ask about areas of expertise.
Workers often have strong backgrounds in some areas—say, carpentry—and know enough to do small jobs related to other trades. If your list primarily consists of projects related to one type of work, ask prospective companies if they have workers with expertise in that area. We get scads of complaints from consumers who hire jacks-of-all-trades but get workers who don’t have the knowledge or skill to complete work satisfactorily.
Other than for simple jobs, there’s little reason to hire a handyperson service to perform specialized work. If you need plumbing work, hire a plumber—or an electrician for electrical work or a tiler for tiling.
Check ratings and references.
Ask friends, neighbors, and colleagues for recommendations. In our ratings tables for handyperson services, you’ll find informal ratings and comments submitted by consumers we have surveyed on companies they’ve used.
Ask companies for references from former customers who live in your neighborhood, for jobs within the past year, or with other particulars that force them to reach beyond standard sets of two or three satisfied customers (or relatives). Request pictures of previous jobs similar to yours, if applicable.
Check on insurance.
Anyone you hire to work in or around your home should have two types of insurance: general liability and worker’s compensation. General liability covers damages if, for example, a ladder smashes through your (or your neighbor’s) window. Worker’s comp covers injuries if a worker falls off a ladder. If the company doesn’t have these coverages, you could be stuck paying claims.
Try to get a fixed price.
Some handyperson services work on a fixed-price basis for all jobs, regardless of size; others provide fixed-price quotes, if requested, but sometimes for only medium- and large-size jobs; and still others work only on a time-and-materials basis, billing according to their hourly labor rate plus charges for items supplied.
Our view is that a fixed price is always preferable. Knowing in advance exactly what you’ll pay eliminates the possibility of future disputes—and is a key to letting you shop around for a fair price.
Even if you have a number of odd jobs for which you don’t expect to obtain fixed-price quotes, you might be surprised if you try. Our mystery shoppers called a dozen handyperson services and asked each to quote a fixed price for a list of tasks: replacing a chandelier with a customer-supplied new one; replacing the washers in a kitchen faucet; replacing a toilet seat; weather-stripping two doors; replacing the hinges on four cabinet doors; and re-caulking a bathtub. Of the 12 companies contacted—
- Six provided fixed prices over the phone (two determined the work would be done quickly enough that the customer would be charged their minimum fees).
- Four declined to quote fixed prices over the phone, but did estimate the time needed to do the work and how much they would charge for it. All four of these agreed to write up their time-based estimates as fixed prices once they had the chance to see the work.
- Two refused to provide any price information before seeing the work.
If you have a small remodeling job or other work difficult to describe over the phone, you might be able to obtain fixed-price quotes without having to set up a bunch of appointments by emailing photos of the work area along with a detailed description of the work—the majority of the handyperson services we surveyed use email to correspond with clients.
If you can’t get fixed-price quotes, at least nail down hourly rates and minimum charges.
Ask about companies’ hourly labor rates and how many workers are included in the rates (some send two workers to every job). Also ask about minimum charges. Many handyperson services have minimums of two hours or more, and some tack on a half-hour of labor or more for travel time (most home services charge the same fees for travel time regardless of where customers live). If the jobs on your list can be done in an hour, don’t hire a company that charges a three-hour minimum. Because many handyperson services bill labor charges in one-hour increments, have a few optional jobs ready in case you need to fill up a worker’s hour.
The table below reports labor charges for one to six hours of work (per worker) for a sample of area handyperson services. (Rates were collected by our telephone shoppers who did not disclose their affiliation with Consumers' Checkbook.) As you can see, there are big differences: For one hour of work, you can pay between $35 and $340; for six hours between $210 and $669. The table also shows companies’ hourly rates.
The problem with working with a company that charges on a time-and-materials basis, of course, is that some workers get jobs done much faster than others. If you agree to pay on a time-and-materials basis, review your tasks with them as soon as they arrive, and ask them to commit to a final price.
Since many companies will provide fixed-price quotes over the phone (or via email) for most work, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare costs. You will find big company-to-company differences. For our sample collection of tasks, the six companies willing to offer fixed prices quoted prices ranging from $200 to over $600.
You’ll definitely want to get several competitive bids for large jobs. Meeting with three or more companies to secure prices is inconvenient, but in our experience it’s an inconvenience that pays off: We regularly get prices that are more than double what others charge for the same work.
Don’t assume that paying a higher price gets you better work; it doesn’t.
When it comes to home repairs, you don’t have to pay more to get more—low-priced companies are just as likely to do good work as high-priced ones.
To illustrate, we divided the handyperson services listed on the table below into three groups, based on their charges for four hours of work. The lowest priced one-third of the companies would charge $182 on average for four hours of work, and they were “recommended” by 100 percent of their customers whom we surveyed. In contrast, the highest priced one-third would charge $373 on average for four hours of work and were “recommended” by 92 percent of their surveyed customers. Just the opposite of what many consumers would assume.
Determine in advance who is responsible for providing materials.
Many handyperson services charge for the time workers take to go out and shop for needed items.
If you are willing to buy and pick up the materials yourself, you avoid paying for shopping and pick-up time. But you may find it inconvenient, strenuous, and time-consuming to pick up a load of bricks, a few large sheets of plywood, or similar items. If the company will be doing the shopping and buying, get the company to commit to the time and cost for that task; some will agree that there will be no extra charge.
Agree who will be responsible for the cost of the materials.
If the company will be making the purchases, you don’t want to pay a substantial arbitrary markup. Most companies will agree that they will give you receipts for all materials they purchase for your job and just charge you what they paid. An advantage of having the company make the purchases is that it may get contractor discounts.
Get it in writing.
A written agreement benefits both parties: The company gets to know the limits of the project, and you get to know what to expect.
When drafting an agreement, err on the side of being too specific. If a new French door is to be installed and painted, the agreement should stipulate the type of door, where it will be purchased, who will purchase it, whether it will be primed and painted and how many coats, the lockset that will be installed, whether the doorway will be weather-stripped, and that it will properly clear carpet or rugs when opened. Include language that work areas will be left broom clean, and, if possible, make material disposal part of the company’s job.
Pay only when the job is complete and meets your satisfaction.
Avoid companies that require large deposits or payment in advance. If your job requires a lot of materials, and the company is responsible for buying them, it’s reasonable for it to ask you to put up a deposit against these expenses. Otherwise, arrange to pay for all work only when the job is done. This arrangement gives you leverage in making sure the work is done properly, and it’s another reason why a fixed-price arrangement works in your favor: A set fee means a company can’t charge for additional hours if it has to take extra time to correct errors.
Be prepared, and deal promptly with surprises.
Clearing work areas in advance will help get the job started right. Handypersons are there to be handy, not to move furniture or clear cabinets.
Also, deal promptly with problems and, if necessary, ask for amended pricing. Essential materials may be unavailable; dry rot may be exposed, requiring more work than planned; outside work might be halted because of foul weather. Understand that no one can anticipate every possibility.
Labor Costs for a Sample of Handyperson Services
|Hourly labor rate (per worker)||Company’s charge (per worker) for the following time increments...|
|1 hour||2 hours||3 hours||4 hours||5 hours||6 hours|
|A Reliable Handyman, Berkeley, 510-517-5633||$75||$75||$150||$225||$300||$375||$450|
|Able Handyman, San Francisco, 415-756-7961||By the job only||Charges by the job only|
|All In One Services, Dublin, 925-938-8882||By the job only||Charges by the job only|
|Bay Area Home Repair, Palo Alto, 650-996-1429||$65||$65||$130||$195||$260||$325||$390|
|Brian Cox, El Granada, 650-726-1686||$50||$50||$100||$150||$200||$250||$300|
|Case Handyman & Remodeling, San Jose, 408-323-5300||$95||$190||$190||$285||$380||$475||$570|
|Cesar Brandon, San Mateo, 650-455-0383||By the job only||Charges by the job only|
|David Brown Handyman Service, Redwood City, 650-365-3296||$60||$60||$120||$180||$240||$300||$360|
|Eric Snyder, Livermore, 925-371-7471||$40||$120||$120||$120||$160||$200||$240|
|Gates The Handyman, San Francisco, 415-264-1191||$35||$35||$70||$105||$140||$175||$210|
|Handyman Co-op, Capitola, 831-476-2667||$55||$55||$110||$165||$220||$275||$330|
|Handyman Matters, Oakland, 510-531-4300||$75||$75||$150||$225||$300||$375||$450|
|Harold Sloane, San Rafael, 415-459-4036||$50||$100||$100||$150||$200||$250||$300|
|HDR Remodeling, Berkeley, 925-254-0230||$85||$170||$170||$255||$340||$425||$510|
|The HoneyDo Maintenance & Repair Co, Pleasanton, 925-570-4867||$65||$130||$130||$195||$260||$325||$390|
|Ken Moore, San Leandro, 415-786-6871||$45||$45||$90||$135||$180||$225||$270|
|Lionel Peña, Redwood City, 650-315-1530||$50||$50||$100||$150||$200||$250||$300|
|Mr Handyman, San Jose, 415-503-1790||$99||$174||$273||$372||$471||$570||$669|
|Mr Handyman, San Rafael, 415-458-2888||$98||$156||$254||$352||$450||$548||$646|
|Mr Handyman, Walnut Creek, 925-933-4433||$98||$138||$236||$334||$432||$530||$628|
|Odd Job Rob, Emeryville, 510-595-9239||$40||$55||$95||$135||$175||$215||$255|
|Paul Woodford Services, San Francisco, 415-282-95222||$55||$55||$110||$165||$220||$275||$330|
|Peg Lum, Oakland, 510-533-5489||$45||$45||$90||$135||$180||$225||$270|
|Petaluma Handyman, Petaluma, 707-665-9337||$50||$50||$100||$150||$200||$250||$300|
|Peter Bray, Benicia, 707-746-1003||$40||$40||$80||$120||$160||$200||$240|
|Phil Howard Repair, Sunnyvale, 408-316-9011||$75||$75||$150||$225||$300||$375||$450|
|RDS Home Repairs, San Mateo, 650-573-9734||$60||$60||$120||$180||$240||$300||$360|
|Rent a Handyman Solutions, Sunnyvale, 408-891-0375||By the job only||Charges by the job only|
|Rent A Husband, Castro Valley, 510-886-5627||$89||$89||$178||$267||$356||$445||$534|
|Richard S White Maintenance, San Jose, 408-499-4073||$55||$55||$110||$165||$220||$275||$330|
|Saratoga FixIt Shop, Saratoga, 408-741-1700||$50||$50||$100||$150||$200||$250||$300|
|Service Plus Maintenance & Repair, Palo Alto, 650-814-0259||$65||$130||$130||$195||$260||$325||$390|
|Tool Time Handyman Services, San Jose, 408-316-8305||$95||$150||$245||$340||$435||$530||$625|
|WORKMASTER, San Mateo, 650-759-5614||$48||$48||$96||$144||$192||$240||$288|