How my friend Sean saved at least $1,000 on remodels by hiring his SUPER
A good friend of mine, Sean, has been living in his condo for about a year, until he started thinking of doing some updates to make it look nicer.
Its a typical older condo in the suburbs of Boston that needed updates in the bathrooms, kitchen, a coat of fresh paint and a few other small touch ups. Many of these updates could easily be DIYed, even by someone without much experience.
BUT… Sean has a Ph.D. in Math, and is as far from the DIY world as one can be. Moreover, he and his wife work full time and have two small kids (both under the age of 2). He didn’t want to end up in a scenario where he would try to do something himself, make a mistake and spend all his free time trying to fix it…
He also didn’t know how to find a contractor online, and most importantly didn’t want to pay a lot of money to do what he perceived to be small, easy updates.
He started talking to his neighbors, looking for a reference of an inexpensive local handyman. Instead a few people from the building recommended he hire the superintendent. While this idea never crossed his mind, he went with it, and was incredibly happy with the results and the savings:)
The super charged $25/hr, but gave a little discount because there was a lot of work to be done.
Here is what his super did and how much it cost:
1. Hang adjustable shelving in 2 large closets (this helped them save space and keep the apartment clutter free): $150
2. Hang the TV on the wall and hide the wires: $60
Initially Sean and I actually attempted to do it ourselves, but had to stop because we discovered that the walls in the living room had unusual studs that were 2-3 ft apart (distance from stud to stud varied), as opposed to standard 16 inches on center. The super knew about these irregularities and hung the TV in no time.
3. Install new vanities and lighting in 2 bathrooms, clean and reseal tile grout, repaint both bathrooms, install new shelving in the shower area: $700
TOTAL REMODEL COST: $910
Cost of Hiring a Handyman vs. a Contractor
Whether you hire your condo’s super or find another handyman to do odd jobs around your house, you can expect to pay about 50-60% less for labor than what a professional contractor would charge you.
If you live in an expensive area, like my friend Sean, (big cities and upscale suburbs along the East and West Coast), you can expect to pay about $22-30/hr.
If you live in other regions of US, where the standard of living is lower, you will pay an average of $17-20/hr and sometimes less.
By comparison, depending on their trade and location, professional contractors charge an average of $50-75/hr for labor.
5 Advantages of Hiring a Handyman
There are a number of major advantages to hiring your super or a recommended handyman to do a few updates around the apartment.
1. Huge cost savings: it goes without saying that the biggest advantage is the reduced cost of the remodel/repairs.
2. You or your friends know him personally:knowing the person who will be performing work in your home creates a sense of comfort and trust that a contractor you find on-line cannot give you (even he provides stellar references).
3. Room for negotiation: depending on the amount of work you offer, and the potential for more work in the future, a handyman will be a lot more willing to be flexible on the price than a professional contractor.
This will be especially true of your superintendent: he is on a salary, but is usually interested in picking up some extra work on the side. Once you create a good working relationship with him, he will most likely want to do more work for you, and will offer a good price. Tipping him a little extra if you like his work is a great idea that will go along way in building this relationship.
By contrast, contractors often lack this pricing flexibility because they have to pay for overhead costs of running a business, insurance, workman’s comp, vehicle, professional equipment, trainings, etc.
4. Flexible schedule: your super is either always or often on site (especially if he lives in your condo complex), which means there will be a lot of flexibility in terms of when he can do the work you need. You can even work out evening and weekend times that would be convenient for both of you. This level of flexibility will be highly unlikely with a professional contractor; especially if he is really good, his schedule is most likely jam packed.
5. Familiarity with your building & apartment: your superintendent has in-depth knowledge of the wall structure in your building/apartment, electric, gas, plumbing, heating, AC and other important info, which is critical to doing a successful remodel or repair. This knowledge also allows him to get right to business and get things done quickly without wasting time on trial and error, and making mistakes that would need to be fixed later on.
Updates and Repairs You Can Trust a Handyman to Handle
Most likely, your superintendent, or any other handyman you hire is a “jack of all trades”, who is used to doing a bunch of different types of updates and repairs for clients. At the same time, there will definitely be some things that he has done more often than others, and has over time gotten really good at doing them.
If you are planning to hire your superintendent, ask your neighbors what types of jobs he has done for them, and whether they we happy with the results. Don’t hesitate to talk to him and find out what types of updates and repairs he has done the most of and feels most comfortable doing. If you need him to paint your hallway, but he tells you that he has only done this once for a client, you may want to consider finding someone with more experience. Similarly, if you are hiring a handyman, find out about his experience from the people who recommended him.
To give you an idea, here is a list of updates and repairs that a good handyman can successfully perform:
1. Fix a leaking faucet and a clogged toilet
2. Hang shelving, TV
3. Install a new appliance (dishwasher, stove,) if its being connected to the same hookups as the one before.
4. Remove and install a new bathroom vanity
5. Clean and reseal tile grout in the bathroom or kitchen
6. Paint a room or a few (no trims, moldings, etc)
7. Install new tile (if its a simple straightforward job and they have prior experience doing it)
8. Patch small cracks in the walls/ceiling
When Should Your Hire a Contractor?
There are really two instances in which it would be worth it to hire a professional contractor.
1. Projects that need to be done in accordance with building codes and concern safety: most jobs involving plumbing, electric, HVAC, gas, major construction/demolition, etc., are better handled by a licensed pro. The last thing you want is to create a life-threatening hazard in your house because you decided to save a few hundred bucks on qualified labor.
2. Projects that involve special skills, high level of craftsmanship and experience: installing new flooring or carpet, cabinets and countertops, more complex painting and tile jobs, etc where visual aesthetics are of primary importance are best left for a pro.