Question for Professionals


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Old 12-10-14, 07:35 AM
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Question for Professionals

I realize this is a do it yourself forum, but know there are professionals on here too. I wasn't sure where to post this question as it would work in a number of threads.

I'm considering starting a handyman business. The business will not be my primary source of income. I'm saying that because I want to be selective about who I work for, the hours I work and the money I make. Although I have a lot of experience doing many different things (construction related), my primary source of income is in a totally different field. I live in an area in close proximity to a lot of high income people. If I start doing this on the side, I will work on a time and material basis. I am curious if anyone reading this works in this manner and what kind of luck you have had. Obviously, many factors come in to play here, but given I don't have to do this for my primary source of income, I can more or less approach everything with a take it or leave it attitude. I wouldn't come across to a prospective client like that, but more it is what it is. I don't need the money to live, this is what I charge hourly and you buy the materials.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 07:46 AM
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My former in-laws used a guy like that, though he was actually in the construction trade. He would want to know what the job was ahead of time so he could bring the right tools but otherwise he just charged $25/hour for whatever you wanted him to work on as long as you provided any materials he needed.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 08:05 AM
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Biggest issue may be not being able to totally finish a job because you have to go to your regular job.
I totally understand you time and material thinking, but from what I've experienced it would be rare that an informed customer would not want a firm written price so they can get other quotes.
Only time I've done it when I'm dealing with hidden damage, like when gutting an old bathroom or repairing insect damage behind walls.
Your going to find it's a lot more unbillable time involved then you may think.
Time spent looking at jobs, writing quotes, checking prices on materials, going to pick them up, doing paperwork, billing, trying to collect money.
Not sure how the licensing works in your area but around here I have to have a local business license and a state contractors license that requires having to buy books and going to classes even before you take the test so you may want to check into that.
You also may soon see your going to have to buy a bunch more tools, start stocking some common items, finding a van or enclosed trailer.
I have a 16' trailer jamb filled with tools and materials and almost never have what I need.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 08:40 AM
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Funny you mention in-laws. My in-laws use me for stuff like that all the time. Except I don't charge them. Been married 21 years now. They really are generous in all they do, so I don't charge them when I help them out around their house. It was my mother in-law that suggested I do the handyman work on the side.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 08:47 AM
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joecaption, I know what you're talking about as far as a firm price goes. I certainly wouldn't hire anyone basically with an open-end bill. I work from home and have some flexibility. That being said, I would restrict my time to weekends only for the most part. Also know what you mean regarding the tools. However, I have a LOT of tools. My father was a builder at one time and is one of those guys that did everything around the house himself. When I was growing up, I helped with every project he took on and helped fix some of the things the contractors messed up on some of the houses he built. I hated it when I was a kid, but I love doing it now. Over the years, when my wife wanted something built, I would use that as an excuse to buy a new tool. "Well, I can build that, but I have to buy tool X". Worked pretty good.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 10:23 AM
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A trip/call to your local county/city office should let you know what the licensing requirements are in your locale. Locally as a painting contractor all I was required to have was a business license [one for each of the different counties I worked in ] I was only required to have a state license if I contracted a job over a certain dollar amount.

IMO it's important to be honest with your customers! Let them know you have another job and can only work X hours/days. When a customer knows what to expect and is kept informed of any delays/changes - he'll be happier and more reasonable than if he feels he's being cheated or put off. I know a lot of contractors with not so great reputations because they aren't upfront about when they can start a job or start a job and then pull off of it because they are obligated elsewhere. I've lost very few jobs because I told a customer I couldn't start when they wanted me to. My good reputation is what kept me busy!
 
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Old 12-10-14, 11:59 AM
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marksr, I would certainly be upfront about the hours and the fact this would be side work. My primary job is largely based on referrals and maintaining the business I have, so I'm familiar with maintaining a good reputation. I would basically stick with small, very manageable type jobs. There are so many people that pay someone to install a door knob, patch a hole in the wall, hang a ceiling fan, etc. I would basically do anything they might need, within my skills, they're willing to pay for. My in-laws fall in that category. They have someone that does odds and ends for them and they pay him $30.00 an hour. Father-in-law has done well for himself and doesn't mind paying someone $240.00 for 8 hours of odds and ends work. In-laws wouldn't be part of the deal for me for pay. As I stated previously, they have been very supportive and generous over the years. I do some things for them now for free. Also, mother-in-law knows I'm unreasonably picky about some of the work I do, so when it's something she wants to be as close to perfect as possible, and she knows I'll obsess over getting as perfect as possible, she calls me. Not that I'm the best there is, I just don't quit until, whatever it is, is about as perfect as can be. That's not necessarily a good trait when you're trying to expedite a job! She asked me to repair a section of drywall below a recessed light in her kitchen (the light shows imperfections). When I was finished, you could see about a 4" line at one part of a 2' X 2' section of drywall I patched. It bugged me so much, I went to her house at 11:30 PM the same night and skimmed a little mud to make it go away. That's part of my issue, I'm too picky about the work I do. I'm sure most of you are, but I don't do this stuff full time, so it takes me longer. However, when it's done, it's as close to as good as it can be. Again, not blowing my own horn, I'm just anal to a flaw sometimes.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 06:28 PM
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I'm used to paying my handyman his hourly rate plus materials; I believe he gets a "contractor's price" when he picks up the materials then charges me full retail and gets a little that way too. He makes his living doing this. I keep a list going of chores waiting, call him once a year or so, and we decide together which comes first. I don't call him oftener to do just one or two little jobs, because I have more time than money.

Some places will only sell to the workman, not the client. Sometimes I want to go choose the items which he will then bring with him (doorknobs, faucets) and sometimes he's the one deciding I should do the picking (dishwasher). Sometimes it's ok with me if he does the choosing (rear screen/storm door) after we talk it over.

I am usually home when he's working so can tell how things are going. If I'm out for the day I check the work afterwards and eyeball the bill too before I pay him. He did want to charge me for chatting time (got away with that with the people who gave me his name) but I did't go for it.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 06:47 PM
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Also, WilliamH, if you just casually mention the high quality of your work beforehand and show clients some outstanding aspects when you're done, that's what they'll pass along to other people along with your name. People who care and can afford great work will beat a path to your door, I promise. You're not the only anal person on the planet. Many of your clients will be too.

The ones who don't really care, no matter how upscale they are, will drop out of sight and you won't have to deal with their lower goals. You'll wind up with a clientele that suits you.

If you have Angie's List in your town, earning a listing there would be a good place to start.
 
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Old 12-10-14, 07:46 PM
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I used to do pretty good as a handyman before I became a contractor. Sometimes I wish I would have stuck with it, because the references will grow over time. Some people want a job done as cheap as possible, others want a job done right at any expense. Sounds like you will do OK because you care. A good job done, a clean work area, and respect for people's homes goes a long way. For me, I want to see even the messiest job performed and cleaned up like we weren't even there.
As far as licensing, you would check with the state. There should be a category for handyman, limited to certain work and dollar limitations.
Also check into liability insurance. The insurance company may issue you a policy as an artisan.
 
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Old 12-11-14, 03:20 AM
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Very few individuals will be comfortable basically writing a blank check and hoping a stranger will make it for as little money as possible. So time and materials has its drawbacks for all but the simplest of tasks (clean gutters, unclog sink, install new light fixture, etc). Over time, you will get a better handle on current market prices for various tasks. In the beginning it is beneficial to have some assistance in writing quotes for clients. The Craftsman Book Company has a super line of computer based estimating programs that will save you time and energy. The programs are linked to HDepot pricing for materials and prevents you from having to make a run every time you write an estimate to have to go to the store to see how much a toilet supply cost, and how much s 2x4x12 costs or a multi-pack of halogen spots, etc. I also believe that you can get a free trial of the programs downloaded online to test them out.

Another biggie as you are building your reputation is - "Always Stick To The Estimate". Doesn't matter how well you did your job, if the final bill is substantially higher than estimated, you have lost a customer and all the referrals that go with it. The price is all that will be remembered. So, even if it costs you money, stick to the estimate. It will more than pay for itself with return calls to do more work as well as them handing your number out to close friends. Footnote your estimates to say that "unforeseen or hidden damage may require a revised estimate" or as I state on mine that I agree to discuss any revisions at time of discovery and prior to proceeding with the yet to be authorized work. I think the key is "authorized work" because it is not authorized until you get the approval of the homeowner. Most homeowners understand that you don't have x-ray vision and can not foresee every possible scenario behind walls, under houses, under ground if digging a fence, etc. Again, the key is transparency, honesty and integrity in both work and the price quoted.
 
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Old 12-11-14, 03:45 AM
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Estimates are the only fair way to go when dealing with customers. That way, they know what to expect at the end. Open ended T&M situations are just about non existent.
As Z said, make your estimate. Bump it a little for the unforseen. If the customer can live with your estimate, and you are honest with them and give them a bill for a lesser amount, you can keep that customer and they will tell their friends. I NEVER bill for more than my estimate, and I have been bitten for it. It was my fault, so why should I bill the customer?

When you run into that "unforseen", such as termite damage, rotten wood, etc. then is the time to stop work, consult with the owner and do a change order, or call in other professionals to take care of work outside your pay grade, such as termites.

Z, I don't think Craftsman Book supports the HD store pricing as they did in the past with the ProBook. However, the HD site is just about as complete, nowadays, and you can pull pricing from there anytime, and even have your store plugged in for quantities available.

One more tip, especially if your owner is a non resident.....take pictures, before during and after. I usually perform work, take pictures, attach them to an invoice file and send them to the owner electronically, whereupon they pay much faster. Today's customers like technology, so use it. All my customers know my email address and phone number and can send emails or text messages any time of the day and I will respond within minutes.

I could go on, but another tidbit of advice. Call 811 if you plan on doing any digging. Let them locate all utilities before hand. It is a free service, and can keep you out of hot water. We hit an unmarked plastic gas line without a tracer wire last week. Gas company would be obligated to fix it for the client free of charge since they didn't locate it properly. I have even hit fiber optic cable that the electric company failed to locate. They were apologetic at holding up my work while they fixed it. You gotta CYA to make it work for you.
 
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Old 12-11-14, 06:05 AM
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Appreciate the Responses

I really appreciate everyone's responses. You have all given me some good ideas and advice.
 
 

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