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Handyman or Contractor: Which Should You Hire for Home Repairs?

As a homeowner, you probably have a good idea of what household maintenance and repairs you can handle on your own and which require the services of a professional. A leaky faucet you can fix with a new gasket and some plumber’s tape. A leaking pipe behind the drywall, on the other hand, may prompt you to call for help. And while you could certainly drain the water heater yourself once a year, you might prefer to pay a few bucks to have someone else deal with this messy task for you. When it comes to home repairs that you really can’t handle on your own, though, and they don’t happen to fall under the services of a plumber, electrician, or other specialist, you may find yourself trying to choose between a handyman and a contractor. But which one is right for you?

There are a couple of considerations here, starting with how these two types of home service providers differ. The main thing separating these two “Jack of all trades” professionals is the scope of services they offer. Generally speaking, a handyman is qualified to tackle run-of-the-mill household tasks. For example, if you’ve had a leak and you need some drywall replaced, you’d like to install built-in cabinets in your office, or you need a door hung, your handyman is the one to call. If, on the other hand, you want to relocate the HVAC system in order to build out your unfinished basement and turn it into a granny flat, then a contractor is probably more your speed.

Of course, the more important distinction is that most contractors are licensed and bonded. This means they have educated themselves enough to pass a licensure exam, which is regulated by the state in most cases to ensure set standards of workmanship. They should be well aware of city building codes and have at least a general (if not thorough) understanding of all the components that go into building a house. Further, contractors are required, in many states, to carry bonds or insurance. This will protect you, as a homeowner, from expenses associated with accident or injury while the contractor is working in your home. The average handyman usually needs neither licensure nor insurance. In other words, you have no way of knowing if he is qualified for the work you’re asking him to do, and if he is injured in your home, you bear financial responsibility (although this type of worker is likely covered by your homeowner’s insurance).

So what’s the upside to hiring a handyman for small jobs? In a nutshell, cost. Because a handyman has less expense behind him than a trained and certified contractor he can pass the savings along to his clients. So if your job is small and relatively simple, there’s no reason to shell out major money for a contractor. In the handyman vs. contractor debate, it’s not always easy to determine which professional is right for your particular job. So use this general guideline: if you think you could do it yourself but you just don’t want to, it may be a job for a handyman. If, on the other hand, you’re certain that the job is way out of your league and you fear you may break some laws (or your home) should you attempt it, then it’s time to call a contractor.