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Can't keep up with your home maintenance? The handyman can!

April 12, 2008|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

It feels as though the house is a booby trap.

When you turn on the dining room light, the telephone line hums.

The attic ceiling drips when it rains, the painters painted the window shut, the downstairs toilet will not stop running and the upstairs toilet will not stop rocking.

The stove burner burned out, the pantry door pops open spontaneously, and you have caulked the cracked garbage disposal and rubber banded the drop guard on the refrigerator door shelf for the gazillionth time. Sound familiar?

Many home-owners have a running wish list of repairs they would like to tend to, if only they had the time, tools and know-how. All too often, the list grows longer as the home falls deeper into a state of disrepair.

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You might dream of a wrench-clutching superhero who will fly through your window and fix all that ails you. But alas, the window is painted shut.

Your next best bet might just be a handyman. He will not arrive in tights and a cape, but if you do your homework, you can find a handyman to fling your window wide open and set your toilet straight on its flange.

The job

John Kastelein, owner of Hagerstown-based handyman service Outstanding Property Maintenance Inc., said he works with everything from bathrooms and kitchens to siding and decks. The bulk of his work comes from people who are getting ready to sell their homes.

"There's not anything that I won't do," Kastelein said.

While he will tackle major projects, he will likewise manage the mundane.

"If somebody says 'handyman' in the title, the expression 'no job too small' should naturally be assumed," Kastelein said. "If I schedule a visit for something, while I'm there I'll ask, 'Is there anything else you have? Anything leaking, broken, crooked?'"

Handyman Chris Eckenrode, vice president of Clear Spring-based Apex Construction and Home Improvement said he, too, performs an array of tasks.

"You name it, I'll do it," he said.

Some of Eckenrode's recent jobs have included replacing light bulbs, excavation, fixing heaters, power washing an oil spill off of a driveway, and even lawn care.

The reference

Ask friends, family and business contacts for a handyman recommendation.

"My business typically comes from people who say, 'I got your name from a realtor or someone who was a customer before,'" Kastelein said. "You can look in the phone book, but it's a crap-shoot."

Eckenrode said he carries recently written letters of reference from previous clients to share with potential customers.

Kastelein recommended asking references questions like, "What did the handyman do?" "Did he do a good job?" "Did he communicate with you?" "Would he return your call after the job?"

Tips: When you contact a handyman, note how soon he returns your call. Before you hire him, check whether he sounds articulate and communicates clearly.

The license

Handymen should be licensed by a state agency. In Maryland, licensure is managed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. According to the agency's Web site at www.dllr.state.md.us, handymen must pass a licensing exam and background check. They must provide proof of training and experience, financial solvency and liability insurance in order to obtain a license. Request a license number from a potential handyman and verify it online.

"There are all kinds of guys out there in trucks who offer handyman services. You need to be sure you find someone who is licensed, is going to do the job and follow up if something goes wrong," Kastelein said. "A licensed contractor is going to be most concerned because it could come back and bite him."

The details

A handyman should provide a written estimate to potential customers. Particulars - such as who will move and replace furniture for paint jobs - should be addressed before work begins.

Eckenrode stressed the importance of a contract.

"The single most important thing for a customer and contractor is to get a signed contract so there is no misunderstanding," he said. "Actually, it's required by law anyway. It protects everybody."

The cost

The going rate for a licensed handyman ranges from $50 to $85 per hour or it can be a set fee per job. Kastelein said he usually prefers to charge by the job.

"By the hour, things can become unfair very quickly. If you set an hourly rate, you don't want someone resting on that," he said.

Hiring a handyman can be less expensive than hiring a plumber or an electrician.

"I'm not a licensed plumber so I'm going to charge less than a plumber, but I'm going to make sure it works, and if something goes wrong I will come back. I'm gaining reputation more than the dollar," Kastelein said.

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