If it can go wrong, Peter Piotrowski has seen it during his nearly 30 years working in insurance claims. The chief claims officer for Vault Insurance says that homeowners often take on more risk than they realize when they hire a local handyman to handle small repairs.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen simple home projects turn into giant messes because the homeowner didn’t use a licensed contractor. Typically, it happens when people are looking to save money on what they think will be a minor repair or renovation, and they hire a handyman who a neighbor swears by. Of course, that can, and often does, work out just fine. But when it doesn’t, here’s some of what I’ve seen go wrong:
Incompetent work causes structural damage.
The project seemed easy enough: Install a new front door. But after two years, the homeowner noticed water stains around the door sill. The handyperson who did the original work didn’t return calls, so the homeowner hired a licensed general contractor to check it out. The diagnosis: The wrong flashing was used, and there was so much wood rot that the door, frame, and studs needed to be replaced. The homeowner had to pay for everything.
The handyman slips, and the homeowner gets sued.
The jack-of-all-trades arrived with a seven-foot ladder. The problem was that he had been hired to repair rotting wood trim on the second floor. So he borrowed a 14-foot foldable ladder from the homeowner, which wasn’t stable enough. He fell, fracturing his leg. A licensed contractor has workman’s compensation insurance to cover such on-the-job injuries; the handyman had none. The homeowner wound up getting sued.
Careless workers cause a fire.
There’s a protocol for disposing of rags soaked in highly flammable substances such as wood stain for a reason. Too many rags piled together can spontaneously combust. One multimillion-dollar client house was nearly destroyed by such a fire, which was caused by employees of a small contractor that did not have nearly enough insurance to cover the damage.
To prevent these and other missteps, here’s what to ask of anyone you are thinking of hiring to work on your home:
- Are they licensed for the work they are performing?
- Do they have experience and training in this kind of job?
- Do they know the local building code and permitting requirements?
- Do they have liability insurance to cover any potential damage?
- Do they have workers compensation insurance in case someone gets hurt on the job?
- Do they have a safety training program for their workers?
- Will they be using any of your equipment, like a ladder or extension cords?
- Will they store their equipment and building materials at your home?
- Will they provide references from current or former clients?
- Will they warranty their work?
I know there are many skilled and diligent handymen and women who do quality work at a reasonable cost. But errors and accidents happen even with the best of them, and these can have significant consequences. That’s why you really need to consider all the risks before deciding to save a few dollars on that next “simple” job.