Real Estate

Who you gonna call?

Local handymen are homeowners' secret weapons for combating wear and tear

The perfect utopian home would be something like this: light bulbs that never went out, living room paint that remained forever crisp and vibrant, drains that never backed up and doors that never got stuck. Meanwhile, back in reality, these debatably minor annoyances are all too common and require the necessary time and skill set to fix. Insert handymen.

A handyman is a homeowner's secret weapon against the pesky manifestations of wear and tear. Often having the knowledge base of a general contractor, according to Palo Alto resident Richard Alexander, handymen charge significantly less while maintaining the value level contractors guarantee.

"Many contractors jack up the prices just because it's Palo Alto," he said. "Though many people are trying to buy their way out of a problem, I'm interested in value."

Alexander's go-to handyman Salvador Magana provides that value.

Magana has been a handyman for almost 14 years. Trained under a general contractor, his skill set fits a variety of jobs. For Alexander's 1935 Tudor-style home, Magana has replaced an exterior rafter and indoor flooring and reseated a toilet. Alexander has also hired Magana at his office building where he repaired a wall and rehung photos that had been incorrectly done by someone else.

Others have also employed Magana to paint rooms, install crown molding, baseboards and cabinets and to put together furniture purchased from Ikea. He also has experience with exterior projects including fences, decks and arbors.

"Dream it and I build it," Magana said of his construction skills for the creative genius inside every homeowner.

Alexander said everything he has had Magana do "came out perfectly," and the price, which Magana sets based on a consultation, is reasonable.

Brett Robinson, owner of Poof Done, says he's been fixing things all of his life, but not professionally until he started Poof Done in October 2012 after selling his educational publishing company. He was attracted to this career choice after noticing a rather basic need.

"There's this need for somebody who does things that a homeowner doesn't feel comfortable doing and a contractor doesn't want to touch," Robinson said. "Most of the things I do are people's to-do list."

Denise Pitsch knows such a predicament all too well. The Addison Avenue resident had "a lot of little things" and "stuff that could be put off" on her to-do list. After being referred to Poof Done by members of her neighborhood association, she has been pleased with the work Robinson has completed installing lights and recaulking her sink.

Robinson also has experience installing home workout equipment, solving electrical issues and fixing door-related problems. He also specializes in childproofing homes for families. Charging by the hour, he says he's like a magician.

"That's the way you want things to happen," he said of naming his business Poof Done. "Say poof and then it'll be done."

Palo Alto homeowner Olenka Villarreal says that at one point she had "a laundry list of things that don't seem to get done." She hired Edgar Bernal, a handyman of 13 years, to help her with that list. It included fixing broken light fixtures, painting her entire home and, during the holidays, hanging up her Christmas lights.

"He did a great job and he's a very nice man," she said, noting her ability to even call on him for small things like fixing a vacuum cleaner she originally bought at Sears.

Bernal got his handyman start after working for a general contractor when he began getting referrals for small projects. Since then, he has done a variety of work for homes in Palo Alto.

"I like to have a consultation with the homeowner first so that we can discuss what and how they want it done," Bernal said. Depending on the consultation, and the size and scope of the project, he will set a price either by the hour or the project, taking into account the homeowner's preferences.

One of the biggest jobs he has completed involved the remodeling of a bathroom including tile work and extending the facility. He can also install cabinets, replace Sheetrock and do plumbing and electrical work. Used often by Realtors to help get a house ready for sale, according to Villarreal, Bernal is highly recommended.

"I never say no," he said with a laugh. "I even take care of dogs."

When considering a handyman, price is often the most important factor. Many handymen charge by the hour, often starting near $45 per hour, but the price is fluid depending on what needs to be done, the materials required and the availability of both the handyman and the homeowner.

Project-based pricing is also expected for more laborious activities like painting a room, installing cabinets or repaving a driveway and can run anywhere between $75 and $300.

Salvador Magana can be contacted via email at; Edgar Bernal can be contacted via email at; Brett Robinson can be contacted via email at; Tony Smith can be contacted via email at

Editorial Intern Tre'vell Anderson can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Imigrants Rock Too
a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2014 at 8:56 pm

There you go Magana, you show them you can do it. b

Like this comment
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 12, 2014 at 10:10 pm

The State of California has taken the position that if you hire an unlicensed person to work on your house you must treat them an an employee, withholding taxes, unemployment insurance, and pay for workers comp. This is unfortunately put a lot of folks who work in the "handyman" field in a position where they cannot get work because of the tangle of laws that govern the unsuspecting homeowner. If you pay them less than $600 you are unlikely to come under scrutiny, any more than that you are potentially at risk. If they hurt themselves while working on your home you may be liable, check you insurance policy to make sure you are covered for such incidents before you hire someone. Verify insurance with licensed contractors as well.

Like this comment
Posted by Homeowner Beware
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2014 at 11:42 am

After researching the "handymen" mentioned in this article none of the four are licensed by The Contractors State License Board (Web Link). Homeowners beware!

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) protects consumers by licensing and regulating California's construction industry. There are about 300,000 licensed contractors in the state, in 43 different licensing classifications. In addition to educating consumers about contractors and construction law, CSLB activities include administering examinations to test prospective licensees, issuing licenses, investigating complaints against licensed and unlicensed contractors, issuing citations, suspending or revoking licenses, and seeking administrative, criminal, and civil sanctions against violators. In fiscal year 2012-13, CSLB helped recover nearly $44 million in ordered restitution for consumers.

CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) works to eliminate unlicensed contractors working in California. Undercover sting and sweep operations are conducted weekly around the state. SWIFT encourages you to report unlicensed activity and/or report an unlicensed contractor who is advertising illegally.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 13, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!

Like this comment
Posted by stacey
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 16, 2014 at 2:13 am

New home owner and really young 1 too. Being a female and home owner in this aria has been a challenge but having a qualified handyman
on my side has been a life saver; from a
leaking roof just a few week back and some plumbing can't complain. It has been less than what some contractors have vaulted.

Like this comment
Posted by stastacey
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 16, 2014 at 2:15 am


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