A handyman is a person skilled at a wide range of repairs, typically around the home. These tasks include trade skills, repair work, maintenance work, both interior and exterior, and are sometimes described as "odd jobs", "fix-up tasks", and include light plumbing jobs such as fixing a leaky toilet or light electric jobs such as changing a light fixture.
The term handyman increasingly describes a paid worker, but it also includes non-paid homeowners or do-it-yourselfers. Tasks range from minor to major, from unskilled to highly skilled, and include painting, drywall repair, remodeling, minor plumbing work, minor electrical work, household carpentry, sheetrock, crown moulding, and furniture assembly (see more complete list below.) The term handyman is occasionally applied as an adjective to describe politicians or business leaders who make substantial organizational changes, such as overhauling a business structure or administrative division.
Many people can do common household repairs. There are resources on the Internet, as well as do-it-yourself guide books, with instructions about how to complete a wide range of projects. Sometimes the fix-it skill is seen as genetic, and people lacking such skills are said to "lack the handy-man gene." One trend is that fewer homeowners are inclined to do fix-up jobs, perhaps because of time constraints, perhaps because of lack of interest; one reporter commented "my family's fix-it gene petered out before it reached my generation." A primary rule for all do-it-yourself repair work is focus entirely on one thing at a time. For example, focus on getting a nail; then focus on hammering the nail; but don't try to do both tasks simultaneously. In this manner, injuries and mistakes are avoided.
Generally the job of paid handyman is low status, a semi-skilled labor job. It's a less prestigious occupation than a specialist such as a plumber, electrician, or carpenter. With the emergence of large national chains, and effort is being made to change that perception, by emphasizing professionalism and the fact that a handyman is actually a technician with multiple skills and a wide range of knowledge. At the same time, unpaid homeowners skilled at repairs are valued for saving money. And handyman tools sometimes become useful in different places: for example, when a proper neurological drill was not available, an Australian doctor used a handyman's drill in 2009 to open a hole in the head of a 13-year old boy to relieve pressure after a brain injury; the boy's life was saved.
An estimate was that in 2003, the market for home-maintenance and repair spending was up 14% from 2001 to 2003. Another estimate was that the market in the United States was $126 billion and was increasing by about 4% annually. American homes are aging; one estimate was that in 2007, more than half of all homes are older than 25 years. And, as populations worldwide tend to become older, on average, and since increasingly elderly people will be less inclined and able to maintain their homes, it is likely that demand for handyman services will grow.
Many towns have handymen who work part-time, for friends or family or neighbors, who are skilled in a variety of tasks. Sometimes they advertise in newspapers or online. They vary in quality, professionalism, skill level, and price. Contractors often criticize the work of previous contractors, and this practice is not limited to handymen, but to all trades.Handymen have advertised their services through flyers and mailings; in addition, free websites such as Craigslist and SkillSlate help customers and handymen find each other.
In 2009, there were national handyman service firms which handle such nationwide tasks as public relations, marketing, advertising, and signage, but sell specific territories to franchise owners. A franchise contract typically gives a franchise owner the exclusive right to take service calls within a given geographical area. The websites of these firms put possible customers in touch with local owners, which have handypersons and trucks. Customers call the local numbers. Typically these firms charge around $100/hour, although fees vary by locality and time of year. In many parts of the world, there are professional handyman firms that do small home or commercial projects which claim possible advantages such as having workers who are insured and licensed. Their branch offices schedule service appointments for full-time and part-time handymen to visit and make repairs, and sometimes coordinate with sub-contractors.
One Lehman Brothers executive, after being let go from the Wall Street firm, bought a Union, New Jersey franchise from a national handyman firm. A franchise was approximately $110,000 with a franchise fee of $14,900, according to a spokesperson for a national handyman franchise.
Some see a benefit of franchising as "entrepreneurship under the safety net of a tried-and-true business umbrella" but forecast a 1.2 percent decrease in franchise businesses during the 2008-2009 recession. In 2005, according to a survey released by the Washington-based International Franchise Association showed 909,000 franchised establishments in the United States employing some 11 million people. Franchises offer training, advertising and information technology support, lower procurement costs and access to a network of established operators.
Franchise handyman firms sometimes pitch clients by asking prospective customers about their unresolved "to-do lists." The firm does odd jobs, carpentry, and repairs. Trends such as a "poverty of time" and a "glut of unhandy husbands" has spurred the business. Technicians do a range of services including tile work, painting, and wallpapering. One firm charges $88 per hour. The firm targets a work category which full-fledged remodelers and contractors find unprofitable. A consumer was quoted by a reporter explaining the decision to hire one firm: "'I couldn't find anyone to come in and help me because the jobs were too small', said Meg Beck of Huntington, who needed some painting and carpentry done. She turned to one franchise firm and said she liked the fact that the service has well-marked trucks and uniformed technicians and that a dispatcher called with the names of the crew before they showed up." There are indications that these businesses are growing. There are different firms operating.
Other competitors include online referral services. In addition, some large home centers offer installation services for products such as cabinets and carpet installation. Sometimes homeowners contact a professional service after trying, but failing, to do repair work themselves; in one instance, a Minneapolis homeowner attempted a project but called a technician to finish the project, and the overall cost was substantial.
Assessment of handyman options
How well do the franchise chains perform? One Wall Street Journal reporting team did an informal assessment by hiring "handymen all over the country and asked them to fix a wide range of problems, from a relatively routine leaky faucet to a sticky door." The reporter concluded that "with few licensing requirements and standards for the industry, prices are all over the board." One quote was ten times as large as another. Further, the reporter concluded "A big corporate name is no guarantee of quality or speedy service." One corporate firm took three weeks to fix a stuck door. Service varied from spotty to good, with complaints about unreturned phone calls, service people standing on dining room chairs, leaving holes between wood planking, but liked getting multiple jobs done instead of just one. Customers liked handymen wearing hospital booties (to avoid tracking dirt in houses).The reporter chronicled one experience with repairing a water-damaged ceiling. A franchise firm fixed it for $1,530; a second (non-franchise local handyman) fixed a similar ceiling for $125. The reporter preferred the second worker, despite the fact that he "doesn't have a fancy van -- or carry proof of insurance." Tips for selecting a good handyman include: ask questions, get written estimates on company stationery, make sure handymen guarantee their work, pay with credit cards or checks because this provides an additional record of each transaction, check references and licenses, and review feedback about the contractors from Internet sites.
Generally, in the United States, there are few legal issues if an unpaid homeowner works on a project within their own home, with some exceptions. Some jurisdictions require paid handypeople to be licensed and/or insured. New Jersey, for example, requires all handymen who work in for-profit businesses serving residential and commercial customers, to be registered and insured. Often handymen are barred from major plumbing, electrical wiring, or gas-fitting projects for safety reasons, and authorities sometimes require workers to be licensed in particular trades. However, minor plumbing work such as fixing water taps, connecting sinks, fixing leaks, or installing new washing machines, are usually permitted to be done without licensing. Many handymen are insured under a property damage liability policy, so that accidental property damage from negligence or accidents are covered.
Distinction between handyman and general contractor
It is generally assumed that a handyman, being a jack of many trades, performs the work himself. The general contractor, on the other hand, hires more specialized subcontractors (or handymen) to perform some or all of the construction work.
List of handyman jobs
The list of projects which handymen can do is extensive, and varies from easy-to-learn tasks which take little time such as changing a light bulb, to extensive projects which require multiple steps, such as kitchen remodeling. Here is a partial list: