How to Determine if You Need a Handyperson or Contractor for Your Home Project

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated July 20, 2021
Handyman working under vent with homeowner
BAZA Production/Shutterstock.com

General contractors are for bigger projects requiring a license, while a handyperson can tackle a series of simpler jobs for a lower price

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If jobs keep piling up around your home—such as repairing a drippy sink or finally fixing that squeaky, annoying floorboard—hiring a catch-all handyperson might save you time and money. Still, a handyperson may not have the proper licensure to handle certain jobs, so it’s important to know when a contractor might be the better option. 

We’ve broken down the key differences between a handyperson and general contractor and which pro is better suited for certain jobs. No matter who you choose, it’s important to compare quotes, verify qualifications, and get a cost-specific contract before you hire.

Handyperson vs. General Contractor: What Are the Differences?

The main differences between a handyperson and a general contractor are licensure and trade-specific knowledge. A handyperson comes equipped with their own tools but may lack the license and know-how needed for certain projects. For tackling a series of smaller jobs that don’t require licensing, though, you should go with a handyperson.

Large projects that take multiple workers, such as a kitchen remodel or home addition, often require a local contractor with the right credentials. Unlicensed contractors can cost you big bucks in damages and future repairs, so it's important to do your homework before hiring.

Handyperson vs. General Contractor Pricing

Common handyperson rates are typically by the day or hour, often making them cheaper than a contractor. They also don’t typically have a lot of overhead costs.

What Type of Work Can a Handyperson Do Legally?

Handypeople are often skilled in many tasks, but there are some projects they may not have a license to do. Specialized trades, such as plumbing or electrical work, require licensing. Check with your local licensing agency to see if the handyperson has the proper license (if your project requires it).

How to Find a General Contractor or Handyperson

Once you determine whether you need a handyperson or contractor for the job,, it's a good idea to pool at least three different choices before making a decision. Word-of-mouth is one of your best options here, so ask around to people you trust and get some names. You can also find well-reviewed pros by checking online directories or with a simple search.

Before Hiring a Contractor or Handyperson

If you’re looking to keep the work scope limited, with no formal licensing required, a handyperson is perfect for the job. For larger jobs such as a total remodel, a contractor will be the one to call. No matter which you choose, you’ll have to describe your project in detail, compile some quotes, and verify any necessary qualifications.

Plan Your Project for Accurate Quotes

Consult your vision board or your to-do list and be as specific as possible about the job(s). Sharing all the details you can will help your pro to give you the most accurate quote. Larger projects might carry a fee for the estimate, so you may need to shell out a little extra for your due diligence.

Find a Licensed Contractor or Handyperson

Before hiring a handyperson or contractor, take the time to interview several candidates for the job. You'll want to do plenty of research, especially if you’re going to spend a lot of money on a project. For a handyperson, be sure to pick someone you’re comfortable with, because you'll need to work closely with them around the house.

Questions to Ask Your General Contractor or Handyperson

There are many questions to ask your contractor or handyperson before hiring, including:

  • Are you licensed? What is your license number?

  • May I have a written copy of your insurance policy?

  • Can you provide a detailed cost estimate with all expenses considered?

  • Have you done similar projects recently?

Hiring Your Contractor or Handyperson

Once you’ve selected the right pro for the job, secure a detailed contract and payment plan writing. Then, keep your own record of the progress.

Get a Contract and Arrange Payments with Your General Contractor or Handyperson

Ask for a written agreement that details the job, the cost, and the payment schedule—and make sure to get a guarantee in writing. For financing, determine a reasonable down payment for your contractor or handyperson, along with an affordable repayment plan. If you are having trouble staying within your budget, there are a few savvy ways to negotiate lower contractor costs.

Keep Records of Your Project

Taking your own notes will help you straighten out any potential issues. Maintain a personal record of job details, such as:

  • The number of workers on a project

  • The number of hours worked

  • Whether everything is on schedule

  • Whether everything gets carried out as agreed in the contract

Know Your Rights and Avoid Handyperson/Contractor Scams

Again, it’s crucial to do your homework. Be wary of any handyperson or contractor who asks for full payment before doing any work. Always check for a license and other important qualifications. Avoid having anyone come to your home without first checking references, as it’s hard to determine whether they’re reputable.

After Your General Contractor or Handyperson Has Finished

Once the job gets done, evaluate the results and make sure everything in the contract got delivered. Should you find any discrepancies, contact the professional and they should make it right (since you got that written guarantee). If they did an amazing job on your project, be sure to leave them a positive review.

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