How Do You Hire a Handyman? (Also, Valentine’s Day)

posted in: Day In The Life, Rant 29
A handyman on break, c. 1975, Georgia. Image: Wikipedia, via the US National Archives and Records Administration.


My friend Nick did a good job with Valentine’s Day yesterday. He paid me awfully nice compliments in a card (I am evidently brilliant, gorgeous, funny, and sexy!) and he brought a heart-shaped pizza for us to have for dinner. That’s right, a heart-shaped pizza. That pizza is going to get its own post, but not tonight.

Tonight, I need to ask you all how a woman goes about hiring a handyman, because I need one, bad, and I don’t have the first clue about to get one.

“Hang on, Mary,” you say. You purse your lips and put a hand on your hip. “We’re glad to hear you’re eating heart-shaped pizzas and getting cards, but we’d be really glad if this Nick person was handy.”

I dissolve into giggles.

“Not that kind of handy! Mary! Now, seriously: What do you need fixed? Can’t Nick help you?”

I pull myself together and I thank you for your concern. One of the I like spending time with Nick is because he is extremely helpful. He’s fixed my internet, my phone, my icemaker, my computer. He always tidies the kitchen when he’s over and sometimes I go into the bathroom and something looks strange and I realize the sink is totally free of toothpaste bits and this is because Nick enjoys rinsing things. It’s wonderful.

But though he tried his dead-level best, Nick can’t fix my dishwasher, and I need that dishwasher fixed. Now.

So I need a handyman, or a fix-it guy — or girl, or marmoset for heaven’s sake. I literally do not care, as long as they/it knows about water pressure and, like, “parts.” Because a girl working full time and going to grad school full time cannot have a broken dishwasher. Cannot, cannot, cannot. The hopeless, helpless, panicked feeling I got when I opened the dishwasher for the fifth time and saw the dishes were not clean but in fact now dirtier with hardened, shellacked food and soap on them? That was a bad feeling. I can’t. I need my dishwasher to wash the dishes I put inside of it. It’s not so much to ask, right? Please?

Beyond that, I need some heavy pictures hung. I need a new faucet installed in my bathroom. I need a new medicine cabinet stuck on the wall. I need a chain on the light in the pantry. I need the vent cover thing in my closet to stop falling of the blinkin’ wall or I’m going to start throwing my body against it until it goes in its home.

Tell me how to hire someone trustworthy to help me do these things. Please?

Now, of course I know there are services online, but it’s the wild west out there. I live in a big city. It’s a shot in the dark, trying to find someone who won’t take advantage of my household fix-it ignorance. Believe me, I’ve been here before: I hired a handyman a year ago to do a few things and it was an awful experience. He did a poor job. It was so expensive. Afterward, the dumb, big corporate company kept calling me and texting me with advertisements and things. Ugh.

Angie’s List might have worked years ago but Angie sold that business awhile back and now it’s just big, corporate, plastic companies who buy space on the thing. I asked Dion, one of the maintenance guys in my building, if he knew anyone who did this kind of work; he didn’t. (And yes, my building has maintenance staff, but they do building stuff, common area stuff, water shut-offs and the like. They don’t hang pictures and they don’t do fridges, washers, dryers, etc.)

What I’m hoping is that one of you dear people has a brother in Evanston who is the best handyman in three states and you can give me his number. Or you have been using the same handyman for 20 years and why, he/she lives right down the street from me! This is what I’m hoping, because I don’t know what else to do.

Thanks, everyone. I need you. Perhaps more importantly: The dishes need you.

29 Responses

  1. K Aspray
    | Reply

    Ask building manager and neighbors, people in the elevator

  2. Patricia Czaplicki
    | Reply

    Perhaps Home Advisor. We used them to find a lawn service in our area…worked well.

  3. Michele
    | Reply

    What brand is your dishwasher ? call Sears Repair, they fix all major brands.

  4. Andrea S.
    | Reply

    I went through this a few months ago at my bosses house. Good news first, you get a new Dishwasher. Bad news is you need a new dishwasher. Sorry .

  5. Jane B
    | Reply

    How old is the dishwasher? We just had the same problem with ours and by the time we called a repairman to put in a new control panel and paid for the service call, it was cheaper to buy a new one and have them haul the old one away for $15. My husband installed the new one. We got ours from Lowes.

  6. Debby Grav
    | Reply

    Sears fixes any appliance… really. If I lived closer, I would lend my hubby. He can fix anything. He’s a mechanic… autos and small engines.

  7. Pamela Keown
    | Reply

    My ex-husband is really handy. He lives in southwest lower Michigan. Sometimes I miss him.

  8. Susan Nicol
    | Reply

    If you find someone, ask if they will commute to Canada to help me. I have a list of little irritants and odd jobs that need doing (some do involve climbing the ladder past the 2nd rung) . Being an independent woman is great, and I will tackle just about any job with a “how hard can it be” attitude, some things are beyond me. I have a sofa in the second floor TV room that needs to go to the curb (and has had to for about 2 years). Living alone, bar cutting it into pieces, I ain’t carrying it down the stairs.

    • Michele Leonard
      | Reply

      Throw it out the window ! LOL then drag it !

  9. Li
    | Reply

    Please take it from me, Mary. Buy a new dishwasher. Please.

  10. Pam
    | Reply

    I always ask on Facebook and my friends have always been recommended great people!

  11. Kerry
    | Reply

    We have a thing over here called Checkatrade where customers rate their work done, reliability, polite, tidiness etc. – I think there are more websites, but this has been pretty darned good for us. But if you don’t have an equivalent how about contacting the dishwasher company for recommended engineers to fix it. Most will have trusted folks – they may even send one of their own engineers. Good luck with the handyman hunting!

  12. Barb Allen
    | Reply

    Mary, after being married almost 49 years to the world’s handiest man (no, not handsiest, well maybe a little but only in a good way), I can say with complete confidence that your dishwasher is its own thing. And that when a dishwasher starts to misbehave, it is actually dying and needs to leave your home immediately. So divide this list into 2, one for a new dishwasher and one for the other stuff. Get a dishwasher from Lowes or Home Depot or Best Buy or CostCo (etc.) where you can get a floor model that is marked down because it has a scratch that no one but you will ever know about or see – and pay for installation and haul-away of the old one. As for part 2 of the list, look for local bulletin boards, either on-line or in coffee shops or building lobbies (also etc.) where people post tiny ads. A handyperson is serious business – we let someone into our homes and trust them with work that we can’t even supervise because otherwise we would be doing it ourselves. Think of it all like a pieced triangle – audition fabrics and pick what you want; then follow through until you can bind it and say, “There now!” Hubby and I would come to you so that he could amaze and delight us with his home repair skills, except that we live in Alabama. And my list comes first. Sorry.

  13. Ann Bailey
    | Reply

    What a great bunch of advice! Sorry, I like the “buy a new one” piece. I find when dishwashers start that stuff, they never seem to be repaired to new. Just get a really good one that will last 20-30 years. As far as the handyman – keep asking friends for recommendations – seems the safest route for you. Good luck and God bless.

  14. Mary Spriet
    | Reply

    Talk to people. Do not get someone unrecommended. Not safe and not smart. …and as far as the dishwasher goes, unless you purchased it yourself, have receipts, warranty, whatever, you’re probably going to have to purchase a new one. By the time you purchase new parts, pay someone to fix it you can get a brand new model. Even my hubby, who is extremely handy, won’t touch appliances.

  15. Kim S
    | Reply

    My daughter lives in west loop and had the same dishwasher woes. Sears was recommended to her and she was very pleased with the service.

  16. Karen
    | Reply

    This is an issue for many people and I’ve always thought that a what a good handy-person needs is someone to help them market their business and keep track of their schedule. If you do find a handy-person they are often bad at the basics of running a business and annoy you with their lack of communication. Maybe someone should start a business that manages a group of handy-people and takes a percentage.

  17. Clark
    | Reply

    Did you try a dishwasher cleaner? Sounds like it is clogged. It cleans your dishes, but, sometimes it needs cleaned. Try it before buying a new dishwasher.
    I live in PA or i’d stop over to fix your stuff.
    I went to trade shool right after high school. Do you have any trade schools nearby? There are always students looking for some spending cash. Odd jobs (and jobs too small that pros don’t want to be bothered) get done right for a small fee.
    Good luck.

  18. Tammi
    | Reply

    Here’s a repairman story for you. We bought a home recently in a small town; older, charming, next to a park. And it had a stacking washer/dryer in the basement that the seller included. Great! Until we ran it. On the spin cycle the washer made an unearthly noise that sounded just like a jet engine taking off–a whine that gradually rose in pitch higher and higher until you expected the washer to take off. As it slowed and stopped it dropped in pitch, still sounding remarkably like a plane. It seemed to work OK though, so we ran it a few times, causing visitors (and ourselves the first time) to go outside and look for the plane descending on our house. It was kind of fun, actually, though we knew it couldn’t last.

    Not knowing anyone nearby, my husband used Google to find a repairman. When the phone was answered, my husband asked for the repairman. The reply was “HOW DID YOU GET MY NUMBER?!!” My husband isn’t easily intimidated, so he told him about the Google search. To which the man replied “But I never GAVE Google my number!”

    Then he became friendly, and told my husband that he used to work for Maytag (the washer in question was a Maytag), but was now retired. But he asked about the washer’s symptoms. Then he instructed my husband (an engineer) to test it by doing a couple of things. After hearing the results, he said the bearings were shot (or something like that) and what it would take to fix it., and what it would cost. But if it was that particular model and age, he said forget it, not worth repairing, we should get a new one. Right away, because one day it will stop completely, mid-cycle, leaving us with wet, soapy clothes and a washing machine in the basement full of water, making it much harder to empty and get out of the house. They then had a great chat about the town, the area, and hung up as almost friends.

    Moral of the story? Not sure there is one; just one of life’s more interesting encounters. And free advice, avoided a useless service call.

    By the way, I’ve found that realtors usually know good repairmen, because they often need to help home-owners get things done quickly in order to sell their home.


  19. MrsB
    | Reply

    Have a hardware store anywhere close? They can recommend a trusted handyman. Also Honeadvisor is pretty good. Check references and if you feel funny being alone with handynan, get a friend to come “visit” for a few hours.

  20. Glenda
    | Reply

    My sister maintenance manages 150 units in the Chicago area. She knows legitimate contractors. How can you be contacted directly.

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Glenda! Email me! mary @ maryfons .com

      [everyone is amazing and i will look into a new dishwasher, too]

  21. Lisa Vaught
    | Reply

    I work for a property management company and have found Sears to be awful. Their customer service is lacking big time and most of their service techs are not the brightest. I have my own list of vendors I use on a consistent basis because they can be trusted. When in a jam, I use Home Advisors and all the contractors have been great. A service call on the dishwasher should run around $90. A handyman can do anything you want around the house from hanging pictures to fixing a faucet. When you fill out the form at Home Advisor, you’ll be contacted just about immediately by several handymen. Ask what their hourly prices are because they can vary. Also, don’t fill obligated to go with the first one that contacts you. You can always call them back. Good luck!

  22. Karen
    | Reply

    Let me add my additional 2 cents; unless your dishwasher was a state of the art $1500 machine or still under warranty, then you are better off buying a new one. I tried fixing our 8-year-old dishwasher, only to discover that the part that we MIGHT need is $200 and replacing it might not even fix the thing so it would clean dishes. It’s usually $100 to have someone from Sears just come out and look at it. $300 is half a dishwasher, and chances are it won’t last another year, anyway. Just get a new one. Save yourself a lot of hassle.

  23. Kathryn
    | Reply

    1st, buy a new dishwasher! Once out of warranty repairs are usually are more costly than a new appliance.
    2nd, in addition to the people in your building, ask people you work with for the name of a good handyman.
    Good luck!

  24. Molly
    | Reply

    Mary, I expect you to start off your lecture at QUILTCON with the statement, “I have a new dishwasher!” And if not I’ll be asking why. Really, trying to fix a dishwasher that’s not still under warranty is a fool’s errand, and you’re not a fool. Just inexperienced in dishwasher travails.

    Someone has already mentioned going to a realtor for handyman referrals. An excellent idea, and you could also try property management companies – they have a never-ending need to have such work done, and probably have several sources. I know 2 gentlemen who do excellent work but the commute from San Francisco would be a deal breaker.

    Best of luck! I’m looking forward to your lectures in Pasadena next week.

  25. Kathie Hood
    | Reply

    High Five to the manufacturer brand name service people – they will do it correctly to keep you buying their product again. Before you loose all hope that you are capable. with the dishwasher. get the manual out and in backwards order film the removal of the lower rack and then the water spray bar and the filter. –OH BUT I FORGOT to say put on latex disposable gloves and clean the guck out. and then following the pictures on your phone put it back together and run a load empty with vinegar and hottest water and you will see the difference. in flatware and dishes…

  26. Bette vogel
    | Reply

    My neighbor works in one of the high rises in Chicago and does handy man type stuff as you describe loop condos ets. He does awesome work.

  27. Barbara
    | Reply

    But Mary, didn’t you write not long ago you eat out mostly? So where are these dirty dishes coming from??? Just curious.

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