That disturbing water stain on your ceiling. The only tile that has come off your kitchen backsplash. A backdoor hinge with a mysterious, infuriating creak.
There are probably several things around your home that need to be fixed, but often you don’t have the skills, tools, or time to save your home from collapsing.
Enter the DIY service. Rent one and you can hand over your house to-do list to an expert. The best services have workers who can fix just about anything, have the tools for an endless number of tasks, and provide prompt, courteous service.
But the nonprofit Twin Cities Consumer Checkbook receives many complaints about handyman services, most of them related to shoddy or incompetent work. Many consumers also feel they paid too much for the work.
Looking for help? Thanks to a special agreement with Star Tribune, you can access Checkbook’s unbiased reviews of local DIY services for free until April 5 via: Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Handyman.
When contacting a DIY service, the more details you provide, the better. Some companies won’t do certain jobs, like painting, while others shy away from specialized jobs like electrical, plumbing, or masonry. Some services only accept small projects; others only work on multi-day renovations.
Keep in mind that workers often have strong backgrounds in certain areas – for example, carpentry – and know enough to do odd jobs related to other trades. If your list consists mostly of projects related to one type of work, ask potential companies if they have workers with expertise in that area. Apart from simple jobs, there is little reason to hire a handyman service to carry out specialized work. If you need plumbing work, hire a plumber or electrician for the electrical work.
In addition to checking Checkbook’s ratings, ask friends, neighbors, and colleagues for recommendations. Also ask companies for references.
Make sure the pro you choose is insured. Anyone you hire to work in or around your home must carry two types of insurance: general liability and workers’ compensation.
A flat rate is best for DIY jobs. Knowing in advance exactly what you will pay eliminates the possibility of future disputes and is essential for you to shop around to ensure you are paying a fair price. If you can’t get a fixed price quote, at least set hourly rates and minimum charges.
Checkbook’s undercover buyers collected labor charges for multiple labor increments (per worker) for a sample of handyman services in the region and found big differences: for one hour of labor, you can pay between $35 and $324; for six hours between $210 and $1,224.
The problem with working with a company that charges based on time and materials, of course, is that some workers get the job done much faster than others.
If you agree to pay on a time and material basis, review your tasks with your worker(s) upon arrival and ask them to commit to a final price. Determine in advance who is responsible for providing the materials; many DIY services charge for the time workers take to go out and buy needed items, so if you have the time, you could save money by shopping yourself.
Don’t assume that paying a higher price buys better work; This is not the case. When it comes to home repairs, you don’t have to pay more to get more: Checkbook regularly finds that low-priced companies are just as likely to do a good job as high-priced ones.
Once you’ve chosen a handyman for your project(s), get all the details of the job in writing. A detailed written agreement benefits both parties: the company knows the limits of the project and you know what to expect.
Avoid companies that require large deposits or payment up front. If your job requires a lot of materials and the company is responsible for purchasing them, it’s reasonable to put down a deposit to cover those expenses. Otherwise, arrange to pay for all work only when the work is completed. This arrangement gives you leverage to ensure the job is done correctly, and this is another reason why a fixed price arrangement works in your favor: a fixed fee means a company cannot charge overtime if it should take longer to correct errors.
Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine is a non-profit organization that helps consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It is consumer backed and takes no money from service providers.