General Contractor or Handyman – Who do I really need?

The more familiar you become with your home and the more home renovations/decorating you do, the better you’ll get at being able to decide if you need the services of handyman or a general contractor. Here are some things to consider, which will hopefully be helpful in providing some guidance in this area.

What to Consider Before Hiring a Contractor

The very first thing you should ask yourself before even considering hiring a contractor is, “Can I do this myself?” In other words, can you act as the general contractor and oversee the others doing the hands-on-work? The obvious benefit would be the money saved from not having to pay a professional. But there are other things to consider such as the many responsibilities entailed in taking charge of the role of the contractor. For instance, can you afford the time it will take away from your full time job? And if you’re fortunate enough to find subcontractors who are willing to work on evenings and weekends, it will eat into personal time and time that could be spent with loved ones.

Furthermore, to be a general contractor, you must have at least a rudimentary knowledge of construction or you won’t know if the people you’ve hired are doing a good job. Keeping all this in mind, let’s assume that you want to avoid a lot of hassle and save time by actually hiring a contractor.

Referrals are Essential

This is obvious but deserves repeating — referrals are essential. This is one obvious way to determine if the remodeling job that’s desired has a good chance to turn out the way you’d like it to. Don’t limit this to just getting a list of past satisfied customers. Make sure you visit the homes and personally see the work the contractor has done and be sure to chat with these satisfied clients. Ask if the work was done on time, on budget, and if they would hire this person again for a possible job in the future.

The General Contractor Is the Builder but Not the Creator

The general contractor and his team are skilled in building, but you have to have the vision of how you want your room to look! You must be the creator and be able to share that vision with your general contractor. There are at least two ways to go about doing this. If you have the money to spend on a designer, this person will draw up a detailed design (based on your desires and specifications of course) that will be the blueprint for the general contractor. If, however, you want to go a much simpler route, you can possibly avoid having to hire a designer by looking through magazines that specialize in featuring and contain photo spreads of renovated and decorated homes to find the layouts you want. Select the homes you like and tell your contractor you want it to look like this and if you want add some minor modifications like a different color for the cabinets. A qualified contractor should be able to emulate the photo and incorporate any or all of your changes to that picture. It’s a good idea to get final drawings of the overall design so that you know you’re both on the same page. Bear in mind that many magazines feature top of the line products in high-end homes, which may not be at your target budget.


Any properly prepared contract will include all the costs, not only for the general contractor but also for all his/her subcontractors as well. In terms of actual payment, prepare to pay in increments. You obviously wouldn’t pay all the money up front (just in case he/she absconds with the money without finishing or even beginning the job), and it’s not feasible to pay the fee all at the end, since he/she would need the money to pay the subs on a weekly basis.

Once you’ve gotten the referrals, chosen your contractor, secured the finances, and have finalized your vision, embark on a journey for a much happier home!

What Jobs Can a Handyman Do Instead of a General Contractor?

The easiest way to remember the distinction between what a contractor does and what a handyman does is “macro” and “micro”. Larger projects such as the renovation and makeover of an entire kitchen, bedroom, washroom, living room, etc. are considered macro jobs because they require a general contractor who works often times with subcontractors who specialize in different areas of renovation (examples: an electrician, a ventilation specialist, etc.) If however, you’d like a renovation done on just the door or window of one room, this would be a micro job that could be handled by one person. Smaller projects that don’t need a plumber or electrician can utilize the workmanship of a handyman, who, specializes in one or more of such micro renovation jobs.

What Kind of Prices Should I Expect to be Charged?

This really depends on many things: the scope of the job, the materials used, the time you want the job done by, and not to mention, the obvious quality of the handyman. One thing is almost certain, a general contractor will charge more than the handyman because the prior has greater expenses than the latter; namely paying the sub-contractors who work under them, whereas the handyman usually works alone. Now the best handymen, just like in any other field will probably charge more than others because better quality always requires a higher cost; most handymen charge by the hour. Keeping this in mind, it’s essential to get an idea of how long the project will take. Once you’ve both agreed on the time and budget, decide whether or not you’re willing to pay for a project if it goes over budget. Say this up front because if it’s up to the handyman, this person may assume budget is not an issue and bill you for the extra hours; a costly example of miscommunication indeed!

How Do I Find a Reputable Handyman?

The easiest way to find a handyman is to look in the Yellow pages, or do a Google search under, Home Repair, or Home Improvement. This however is not the most efficient way, unless you don’t care about the quality and cost of the work. In that case, just pick the first name on the list. But if you do care, the phone book and/or Google method can take you many hours phoning, getting cost estimates, and reference checks on all the handymen in the city. A more efficient way to go about finding a handyman is to talk to friends, family, and/or neighbors on your street, and ask them about the handymen they’ve hired for their home. If you like the work that was done, ask for the number and call to ask the handyman about other homes they’ve worked on. Just like a general contractor, a thorough check of a handyman’s past work is the best way to ensure present success in your home renovation.

Hire a Professional or DIY?

Depending on your budget, time constraints, and desired results, there are many factors when it comes to the options out. Many people aren’t even aware that a handyman can do much of the repair or upgrade work in the home. Celebrities like Ty Pennington may advocate DIY for most home improvement projects, but it’s good to know that when you’ve given up remodeling the bathroom yourself for an expert’s touch, there are plenty of hiring options. If you’re still unclear on what the difference is between a contractor and a handyman is, as an old colleague of mine put it, a handyman will assemble your IKEA furniture together – a contractor, won’t.
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