Publication Date: Wednesday, October
Who're you going to call?
When the small jobs pile up, it's tough to find
by Anne Becker
You know those pesky home repairs you have building up? The ones
that require just a little too much technical expertise to handle
on your own? You put them off, but they pile up because you're reluctant
to hire an outside service, much less one whose credentials and
employees you don't know or trust.
Gary Ahlberg works on odd jobs in a Palo Alto home for Handyman
Homeowners, particularly new ones, are constantly stymied by where
to turn for the minor repairs their houses require, according to
Rich Hill, who for six years has owned the North Santa Clara County
and San Mateo County branch of Handyman Connection, a national franchise
that employs mostly retired craftsmen.
"We get a lot of bewildered phone calls from people who don't
know what to do," Hill said. "There's a certain amount
of fear that a homeowner has when they look in the newspaper and
say 'I need someone to re-grout my bathroom, now who should I call?'"
Handyman Connection, one of a number of area services available
for smaller home repairs typically classified as "handyman
work," was founded 14 years ago as a reaction to homeowner
uncertainty about repairs, according to Hill.
"The founders were two retired businessmen and one became
the volunteer maintenance manager for outside the building (of his
condo)," Hill said. "But he kept getting asked by the
residents who could put up a ceiling fan and stuff like that. He
had the idea that homeowners often do not know who to call for the
smaller jobs. He started talking to craftsmen who didn't know how
to keep their plate full and put the two concepts together and found
retired guys to open a business."
The nationwide franchise now offers services in electrical, plumbing,
tile, painting and general contracting for jobs that require anywhere
from an hour to a couple of weeks to complete. It specializes in
smaller jobs that larger contractors might not offer, like helping
an elderly woman put up a towel rack or performing a small bathroom
remodel, and tries to match skills of the handyman with the homeowner's
needs. The service sends one person per job, charges by the labor
performed, and gives a written proposal for work to be done, rather
than an estimate. Homeowners supply and pay for materials, Hill
When deciding to hire a handyman service, Hill said, customers
are often frazzled and concerned about workers' past experience.
Dream Home connection, a division of Avalon Construction,
sends handyman Zac Burnhan to handle smaller jobs, such as this
small-kitchen remodel, most construction companies won't usually
"I got a call this morning from a lady in Palo Alto who moved
into a new house and had a number of things to do and was trying
to organize herself and didn't have any idea how to do it,"
Hill said. "People who are calling are fearful of who might
be out there and what their background is."
According to Hill, many services screen handymen before hiring
them. He said he screens almost all Handyman Connection employees,
except those like 81-year-old Palo Alto resident Phil Dettmer, whose
experience speaks for itself. Dettmer, who has performed electrical
work and other small handyman jobs for the company for two years,
is a retired mining engineer who said his handyman work gives him
an outlet to help people.
"One of the things I've missed in my retirement years is the
relating with people, so doing handyman work has been a benefit
to me in more than the monetary way," Dettmer said. "If
I could repair small items in somebody's house, why then that meant
a lot to me."
According to Dettmer, handyman companies can usually perform smaller
jobs quickly and efficiently, whereas bigger contractors can put
off such tasks or charge high fees to perform them.
"[Handymen companies] can go in and get the job done right
away because they have a cadre of people like myself who are working,"
he said. "I'm not interested in big jobs, I'm having too much
fun in life to get involved in something big."
Dettmer said homeowners were often leery about handyman work quality,
but pointed out that many companies, like Handyman Connection, guarantee
their work with contracts and will make changes if a customer is
Customer satisfaction was prime on Kacey Fitzpatrick's mind when
she founded Mountain View's Dream Home Doctor last January as a
division of larger contractor Avalon Enterprises. Fitzpatrick said
she noticed a void in handyman service when Avalon, which focuses
on larger remodeling, continually had to turn away calls for smaller
jobs. Knowing how difficult it can be for homeowners to find quality
handyman work, she performs personality profiling, multiple interviews
and background checks on all potential employees.
"There has been a sense of people not knowing where to turn,"
Fitzpatrick said. "Past clients have said before we started
this division, handyman small stuff was always real hit or miss
with who came out and not having a person they could talk to who
was real reliable or consistent."
Dream Home Doctor performs slightly larger-scale handyman work
like kitchen re-facing, or replacing doors throughout a house, as
well as maintenance. Fitzpatrick said handyman work could range
from $100 to $100,000 and that many of Dream Home Doctor's jobs
range from $30,000 to $50,000. On most jobs, the company provides
an 80 to 90 percent fixed bid rather than billing for time and materials.
One group of homeowners that can have particular trouble with repairs
is senior citizens, according to Ginger Johnson, director of Senior
Home Repair Service at the Avenidas Senior Center. For area homeowners
aged 55 and older, the service offers licensed handyman work in
plumbing, carpentry, electrical work and painting for $28 an hour,
plus a $5 fee for transportation. In operation for 25 years, the
program also offers year-round work for special jobs like installing
grab bars, cleaning gutters and minor appliance repairs, said Johnson.
For homeowners still apprehensive about using handymen services,
there is always the option of going with an independent referral
from a friend, according to real estate agent Paul Engel, who frequently
refers clients to his own trusted handyman.
"It's like a lot of other businesses with the referral factor,"
he said. "Ads are like a shot in the dark and I suppose with
anything else people promise more than can offer."
Engel said going with an independent handyman instead of a larger
company increased efficiency and convenience, explaining that when
a client buys a house and is on a home warranty program for repairs,
they are referred to a different handyman company for each trade
of work they need.
"It gets so inefficient like, who do I have to call now,"
he said. "An individual handyman knows all trades and can do
all that work. Instead of having four guys go to Home Depot to buy
materials and parts, one guy goes."
Regardless of whether they go with a service or an independent
handyman, Engel said new homeowners often feel better when they
finally get all of those pesky repairs and fix-ups taken care of.
"[Handyman] work's more of a nuisance these days," he
said. "We have so many dual-income homes and to get someone
to do those niggly-piggly things clears their mind and gets a load
off their shoulders."
Avenidas Senior Home Repair, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto; (650) 326-5362,
Dream Home Doctor, (650) 969-0712 or email@example.com
Handyman Connection, (650) 261-3725