Over the years, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have excellent handymen to make repairs for me on dozens of rentals and flipped homes. Their work was always competent. They were reliable, had respect for my property, and used common sense. I couldn’t always pay them a lot, but I made it up to them by giving them work on multiple properties and with referrals to other investors or customers.
But recently, I had two vacant rentals to remodel within a week of each other. Unfortunately, my usual handymen were busy with other projects and unavailable from the start. As a result, I hired two different handymen to work on my homes, but both proved to be so horrible that I had to fire both of them before completing the work. Truth be told, it was my own fault for not doing enough to ensure that they were quality workers.
The silver lining to this handyman horror story was that it motivated me to re-think the dos and don’ts of hiring good labor. As a result, I’ve formulated 10 tips for maximizing your chances of getting the best work performed on your next home renovation project:
1. Ask for the names of two or three satisfied customers—and then call them.
In a panic to find a handyman quickly, I asked a fellow investor for recommendations, and she recommended someone—we’ll call him “Bob”—who had only done one small job for her. But when I called Bob, I was so desperate for help that I failed to ask for other references.
2. As to see the worker’s occupational license and insurance.
I also forgot to ask Bob for his license and insurance information. I seriously doubt he had either one.
3. Put it in writing—the specific jobs you need done, the amount of pay, and when the worker will be paid.
Don’t give in to pleas for additional money or advances between pay dates. Bob and I agreed on a price and that he would get paid once a week. But soon he was asking me for a check every few days. The truth came out that he was several months behind in his rent.
4. Never pay for tools needed to perform a job.
Bob also soon began telling me that he needed money to buy tools to complete the jobs. See Tip #3. If the worker doesn’t already have the tools, he probably has limited experience in doing that type of work, as I soon found out.
5. If you’re able to supervise the work, pay an hourly wage. If you can’t be there, pay a flat fee for the job.
Bob and I agreed on an hourly wage, but I couldn’t be there for much of the time he was working. Then he began working crazy nighttime hours, saying he needed to be home for his kids during the day. It became impossible to supervise his work or the number of work hours he was claiming. He was likely padding his hours.
6. Find out the handyman’s skills and experience in advance.
Bob swore he had the experience to complete all of the repairs needed on both homes. Initially, I was satisfied with his work. But soon I began to notice little errors. He cracked a tile while installing a transition piece between the tile and laminate floor, and either missed it or just didn’t tell me. The carpet he installed in the master bedroom appeared lumpy and wrinkled, because he installed the padding under it poorly. He did substandard siding replacement, and in tearing out old rotten boards, he knocked a few holes into the interior wall of the living room.
Things went from bad to worse. He tore out a perfectly good shower and sheetrock that wasn’t on the punch list to be removed. When I confronted him, he agreed to reinstall the sheet rock and re-tile that shower for free, but I still had to pay for the new materials. His work was careless. For example, in removing the air conditioning registers, he tore them out so aggressively that he damaged the surrounding walls.
My first handyman removed a simple AC register, and tore up the wall up in the process…
7. Let the worker know he can’t take time off from your project to simultaneously work on other jobs.
Bob often disappeared for several days, leaving some of his tools at the house, not returning my calls or text messages in the meantime. When he finally showed up again, he told me some story about a grandmother in the hospital. Even if it was true, there wasn’t any excuse for not calling to let me know. I suspected he had taken off to work on a better-paying job.
8. NEVER PAY FOR WORK IN ADVANCE! That’s the number one way to get ripped off.
The night before he disappeared, I stupidly paid Bob for the work he had completed, plus nine hours in advance that he promised to work the next day. Eventually, he only worked three of the nine hours before disappearing again, so in essence, he stole six hours of pay from me. Enough was enough. I fired him and replaced him with another handyman.
Unfortunately, handyman number two—I’ll call him “Jerry”—wasn’t much better. His work was also shoddy and careless. I specifically asked him to complete all ceramic tile work before installing a wood laminate floor, but he stopped halfway through the tile work to put the laminate down anyway. Then, while finishing the tile work, he proceeded to track grout and sneaker prints all over the brand new laminate floor. He too disappeared for several days without notice, claiming he was in the hospital with kidney stones and that he lost my phone number.
9. If work is poorly done, take photos of it. That’s your evidence if you choose to sue in small claims court.
This photo says it all.
My second handyman installed faucet handles incorrectly…
10. Don’t be afraid to fire a worker if they’re incompetent or unreliable.
Remember, you are the boss. If your handyman won’t listen, is incompetent or unreliable, there’s no reason to hire him again—or even for him to complete your project. As soon as I fired both of these bozos, my stress level decreased dramatically.
Fortunately, my usual handyman soon returned to work for me, and we completed both projects quickly and efficiently. Always remember that you have the right to expect the work on your property to be performed correctly, within a reasonable time frame, and with the utmost respect and care given to your valuable asset. Anything less will eat away at your return on investment, and cause you unnecessary stress.
Ethan Roberts is a real estate writer, editor and investor. He’s a frequent contributor to InvestorPlace.com, and his work has been featured on Money.msn.com and Reuters.com. He’s also written for SeekingAlpha.com and MarketGreenhouse.com, and was one of five contributing editors to TheTycoonReport.com.