Installing a barn door seemed so easy.
The doors look great on HGTV when the hosts hang them on the railing and slide them back and forth. It couldn’t be that hard, right?
Then came the door. It was unassembled and unpainted. None of the hardware was connected. Installation would require tools and skills that I didn’t have.
I needed help and was looking for a professional handyman. I asked neighbors and went online and I started collecting bids. The commandments varied greatly, both in terms of the time the professionals took to hang the door and in terms of cost.
Only one handyman asked me a lot of questions so I hired him even though he wasn’t the cheapest because I thought he knew what he was doing. He arrived with a few extra supplies that he knew I would need based on the questions he’d asked me. He even took away the old door. It worked out much better than if I tried to do it alone.
Collecting bids can be time consuming and you may be tempted to pick the first or the lowest. However, this is not always the best course of action. When evaluating professionals, making sure you are asking the right questions can save you time, money, and frustration in the long run.
Call a professional or do-it-yourselfer? Here’s how to choose
If you have any doubts about your skills, or if your project has anything to do with roofing, electrical, or plumbing, consider hiring an expert, said Ed Padilla, founder and director of The Association of Certified Craftsmen.
One cell phone person can be sufficient for simple jobs. You can do a variety of projects like caulking, gutter cleaning, minor painting, tiling, touching up drywall, hanging artwork or window coverings, and installing lights or ceiling fans.
Hiring a handyman for a few hours to shut down several small jobs can often be the way to go as some handicraftsmen work hourly.
But not everyone works like this, including Padilla who says he only works per project rather than by the hour.
“I want to take my time for it,” he said. “I don’t want to be rushed because someone doesn’t want to pay two hours for a job that they think will take an hour. It should be some kind of ‘sub-promise and lore’. I might run into some problems.”
Skilled craftsmen are typically trained in a specific field such as plumbing, electrical, painting, HVAC, and flooring. If you need to replace a faucet, add an electrical outlet, fix a leaking air conditioner, paint an entire house, or replace your entire floor, find someone who knows their way around. As a result, you sometimes pay per job instead of by the hour.
Contractors are often used for larger assignments such as room expansions and renovation projects. They manage and oversee entire projects and often hire others to do some of the work. Contractors often work for project costs.
How to find the right expert for your project
No matter what type of expert you’re looking for, you want someone who is both affordable and knowledgeable. If you take the time to find the right person, you might not have to fix bugs or live with bad work later.
Learn more about the project
Padilla recommends watching how-to videos before searching for an expert.
“Find out how to get the job done – not necessarily that you put on overalls and get to work – but find out how to do it to learn the basics of the job just so you know it do what they’re supposed to do, ”he said.
Knowing a little can help you ask better questions when speaking to prospects.
Ask for recommendations
Many craftspeople and traders rely on word of mouth to run their business, so friends and family can be a good source of recommendations.
“Word of mouth is a long way off and is the cheapest form of marketing and the best form of marketing,” said Padilla. “Chatty Cathy in church may be your best bet because she’s not afraid to tell you whether that person is decent or not.”
Real estate agents also often hire people or companies to do odd jobs when preparing homes for sale.
You can also get recommendations from community message boards and local hardware stores.
Try websites and apps
Multiple apps and websites allow everyone involved to interview each other to find out if a job is a good fit for them. Some websites also allow you to publish the parameters of your project and potential professionals will respond to your request:
- Angie’s list: This is a member-only website where members can view detailed and verified reviews of companies in their region.
- HomeAdvisor: The website promotes a verification process that checks criminal background and licenses.
- Houzz: This website is primarily a website for ideas and advice, but it can also help connect people with experts.
- Thumbtack: This site and app will connect potential customers and professionals for “pretty much anything” as stated in the site copy.
- Howl: This is mainly for finding local businesses and reviews.
Websites like this give you the ability to efficiently get quotes for your project, said Nate Chai, senior director of pro engagement at Thumbtack.
“You can see reviews, see backgrounds, all with just a few clicks,” said Chai. “I think it’s so much easier than going through list after list and repeating your project over and over for different people.”
Apps like Thumbtack allow a customer to submit the parameters for a project, which the app then sends to professionals who may be able to. The customer can look at profiles, experiences and other key factors before deciding who to contact. The customer also determines when he should pass on personal information such as telephone numbers and addresses to the specialist.
Before deciding who to contact about your work, it is a good idea to read the reviews. Some things to look for are:
- Does the review sound like it was written by an actual customer? Or does it sound like a friend or family member wrote it?
- Are the ratings all perfect or are they all awful? Some people just go online to complain or rave about. The real information you want is probably somewhere in between.
- Check for complaints and reviews with the Better business office.
Chai suggests looking at reviews but says people often overlook an important part of the reviews: the answers.
“Seeing a professional who is very defensive about certain things can give you some insight into what it is like to work with that professional compared to someone who provides great customer service and does things right,” he said .
Here are some more tips to keep in mind when looking for a professional:
- Look for paid sponsorships that a company may have paid to appear first in search results.
- Be wary of people who come to your home unannounced looking for work.
- Padilla suggests searching online for the name of the person and company to see if something comes up: “You never know what you are going to find.”
Questions to a potential cell phone person
Once you’ve narrowed down the pool to find a few people to do business with, it’s time to learn the details.
This person comes to your home and does a job. So make sure you are comfortable with them. Chai says it’s okay to ask what precautions they are taking to keep themselves and their customers safe during the pandemic.
Padilla says some craftsmen overestimate their skills. They are just looking at how much money they can make from a job, not whether they can actually do it to do the work.
“Some people don’t know when to say or how to say no when it’s something they can’t handle, and that’s something the consumer has to look out for,” he says.
When looking for a handyman, be sure to state exactly what you want to do.
Some questions to ask:
- Do you have the skills?
- Do you have all the tools you need?
- How many times have you done this type of project? (If a person primarily uses flooring, do not hire them to install a ceiling fan.)
- How do you want to approach this project? Ask for plans and a schedule.
- How long will it take and why?
- What’s the hardest part of this project?
- What potential problems do you see?
- Does this project need a permit?
- What materials do you need? Will you get it or will i Are there other material options?
- When are you available for this project? (If your schedules are wide open, be a little careful. Good craftsmen and craftsmen are often booked early.)
- Do you guarantee your work?
- Can you provide references?
Don’t be afraid to ask about licenses and types of insurance. In some states, artisans must be licensed and bound to get involved in the work. In many countries, traders such as roofers, plumbers and electricians require a license.
According to Padilla, the most important question is liability insurance. He says you shouldn’t let anyone into your house without them.
“A craftsman should always have proof of insurance,” he said. “It’s a one-sided thing that goes,” Yes, that person is insured, and so is the company name, that’s insured and has x-dollar coverage. “
Padilla adds that it is important to make sure the policy covers something that can happen after the worker leaves for that day. Some guidelines only cover liability when the insured worker is on the construction site.
You can also answer some of your questions a little personally. Ask them why they became manual workers and what qualities they have that do well in their work.
Padilla suggests asking if the cell phone person owns the company. Ownership means they have a lot to lose if things go wrong and a lot to gain if things go right.
“We’re trying to get rid of the guy who makes beer money on weekends,” he said. “We want people who are buyers in the industry, not renters, not people who are going to be there for a week and suddenly disappear, and there are a lot of people who do that.”
Don’t forget to ask a potential cell phone person if they have any questions for you.
Get your estimate – don’t forget to discuss the payment
Before hiring anyone, get a written estimate and ask how you can pay for the work.
If payment is only in cash, you are prepared. Some people send you an electronic invoice through an app and you can pay with a credit card. Others will use Money transfer apps like Venmo or PayPal.
If someone demands full upfront payment, you may want to find another.
What do you have to consider when making your decision?
Once you have your estimates in writing, you still need to evaluate them and then make a decision. Price shouldn’t be the only factor in deciding which cell phone person to hire.
- Make sure you understand what the price includes and whether the professional guarantees their pricing. If they don’t have a guaranteed price, ask them why the cost might change.
- Ask questions about pricing. If one guess seems much higher than another, ask why. Usually the handyman can explain the difference. They may evaluate the project differently from others.
- Don’t fall for promises that seem too good to be true. If one bidder says that one project will take a week and the other a day, something is wrong.
- You may be able to negotiate. If a job is way out of your price range, ask the handyman what you can do to make it more affordable. This can mean changing the scope of the project or doing some of the work yourself.
- Do not be pressured. “I always tell customers to walk with their true senses,” said Padilla. “If something doesn’t seem right, go away because there are a lot of craftsmen out there.”
- Rate them as a professional. You are interviewing this person for a job and they should respect you and your time. Do they react quickly and appropriately? Did they answer all of your questions?
When you make your choice, quickly notify everyone, including those you don’t hire. You never know when that person might be suitable for another project.
Show interest in their work as they work, and ask questions if there is something you don’t understand about what they are doing.
When the job is done and the craftsperson is ready to go, check the job thoroughly. Getting them back to fix a problem can be difficult, especially if they have already been paid for.
Finally, Chai recommends remembering to be kind during this process, especially with so many small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
“This may not be the time to try and squeeze this person for every last dollar as they know they could be up against the wall financially,” he said. “I just think a little kindness and understanding can go a long way right now.”
Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with over 25 years of experience writing on finance, health, travel, and other topics.
This article originally appeared on www.thepennyhoarder.com