Handyman or contractor…who’s best?
Let’s face it – if you’re just getting started as a novice property investor, and you locate a potential steal of a deal that needs some degree of work, you’re probably considering whether to use a contractor or a handyman. Naturally, you’d expect the handyman, the jack-of-all-trades fixer-upper who can repair just about anything, to come at a cheaper price than a contractor. You may be right… Or terribly wrong by the completion of your project. And only time will tell if you choose incorrectly, Grasshopper….
The case for the contractor
If the property you’d like to acquire is in need of a total renovation, it’s best to work with a contractor – or at least, a carpenter to act as your right hand man in all construction and rehab decisions. Handyman services tend to generally fall within the purview of more cosmetic repair services, like painting, light (and I emphasize the word “light”) carpentry, small plumbing repairs as well as light (there’s that word again) electrical work – such as replacing a light fixture.
Do you need a building permit?
Any work that needs a permit – be it electrical or plumbing, for example, must be done by a licensed tradesperson. Putting an addition onto a house needs a carpenter at the very least. Handymen tend to work alone, and as such, larger projects are outside their scope of endeavors. A local handyman can prove invaluable however, for small projects around your investment property.
Learn from my mistakes…
Unfortunately, I have a terrible of example of using the services of a handyman – and getting hurt financially by doing so. I had purchased a property that needed work, was new to the area I had bought in, and had received a referral recommendation from a local real estate agent I knew in the area. Sadly, his referral proved to be an expensive mistake.
Handyman prices tend to be fairly low – if you look in your local Pennysaver, for example, some may charge in the fifteen to twenty dollar an hour range for their work. The one I hired charged twenty-five dollars an hour, and I thought he would be a steal. He said he could do multiple disciplines, including carpentry (his specialty), plumbing and electrical work. Naturally, I thought I could save handsomely by using his services. And since he was referred by someone I trusted, I felt I couldn’t go wrong…
I went wrong. Horribly so. Turned out my estimated two to three week project turned into an almost two month project, with the handyman working every day. Simply put, he was slow, inefficient, and did extremely poor work. And I had to pay for the poor work by having him re-do bad jobs. One fun example: I discussed his erecting a stairwell bannister in the house, told him where I wanted it placed, and left him for the day to have at it. I returned to find the balustrades that hold the railings had been set in about six inches from the edge of the stairwell, making the stair opening very narrow, and really, really stupid looking. Why did he do this? Simple. He was an idiot. An idiot who was terrible at following the easiest of instructions.
When to pay the freight
Basically, by the end of the project, I would have been better off paying a contractor’s price and having the job done right from the start, rather than getting involved in what I thought would be a great money-saver in using the services of this particular handyman. Oh – and one other fun fact: once I had started with him, and work progressed at a snail’s pace, the project became, as they say in game theory, the “prisoner’s dilemma.”
Much like the Vietnam War or holding on the telephone for a real person for customer assistance – the longer you wait, or stay in the war, or in this case, continue to use the bad handyman, the more committed you become to seeing it through to the end. And so you continue to hold on the phone, stay in the war, or use the terrible handyman. As each day passes, you are more and more committed to NOT firing the handyman and trying to find a replacement contractor. And after a certain amount of time, whoever you try to replace them with is not going to be available immediately anyway…and you just want to get your project done as soon as possible, without interruption. So you continue to use the horrible handyman. You effectively become their prisoner. Do not make this mistake!
Start really small
While referrals are traditionally the way to scope out the worthiness of a handyman, I would recommend only using a handyman for a tiny, tiny project for starters – regardless of how glowing his recommendations have been. If you like his work, his attention to detail, his ability to follow your instructions and he does each job in a reasonable amount of time, then by all means you should definitely use him again for a different, tiny, tiny project. If you still like his work, then consider bringing him on for a medium-sized project to see exactly how he handles and manages that project. Please do not make the mistake I made of throwing a handyman into a large project from day one…all in the effort to save money.
Handymen and property management
Most of the time, handyman services will be utilized for regular property management concerns. A leaky toilet, a light that stops working, an apartment that needs painting…All light duties. If you are doing the property management duties yourself, certainly you can line up a handyman to perform these duties – this will certainly save you money in the long run relative to a contractor’s services. However, as before, let the handyman gain your trust by starting them off on small projects, one at a time. See how prompt he is, how courteous he is to your tenants, how he treats your property in general (does he do more damage by his presence than he fixes?), and also, is he intelligent enough to know how to save you money? In addition, make sure he’s not padding his hours. Ask him ahead of time what he feels the job will require in terms of his time, if you’re paying him by the hour. He should have some ballpark estimates. If not, use someone else!
Using a handyman exclusively
After using a handyman many times, and learning to trust one, you should use him exclusively for all your properties. You will gain an ally in the process. And this will not only save you time and money, it will save you your sanity as well. Also, keep in mind that if you are using the services of a property management company, you should designate what handyman they should be calling when tenants call in for repairs. Your property manager will take their marching orders from you as to the right handyman to use to help save you money. Of course, this will end up incrementally saving you considerable amounts in the long run, especially as you continue to acquire more investment properties.