Frequently asked questions...

How long have you been doing this?

It’s a simple question, but a complex answer.  To the point, I’ve been incorporated since April of 2002, but I’d been learning skills from different trades for a long time before that.

How did you get into this business?

When I bought my house in ’99, I naively discovered you have to maintain a house or pay someone else to do it.  After hiring a few contractors across various trades, I didn’t like their attitudes or the way they treated my property, and I didn’t feel like I could trust them in my house even if I was there.  On top of that, I didn’t like the quality of product that they installed.  The realization came to me that, if I was going to redo their work to my liking, I might as well just buy the tools required to do the job and do it myself right the first time.  This of course taught me knowledge and skills, but also that my expectations as a customer were unreasonable.  Unforeseen obstacles made frustratingly difficult that which before appeared so simple.  Assessing risks and controlling for variables are still core parts of my job today.

What training do you have?

Since there are no set standards for handyman training, many handymen learn their skills informally – myself being no exception.  I had 2 years of Electronics at a vocational school in high school (’86-’88), and, immediately following that, 3 years of electronics at DeVry.  After trying to get a bachelor’s degree in Math at NIU, I finally earned it in Geography (and settled for a minor in Math) only to learn quickly upon landing a job that I am just not the business office type.  After 2 years at a dead-end job in an unrelated field, I went back to school and got certified in Residential Heating and Air Conditioning and in Commercial Refrigeration.  I then worked for a relatively large outfit where I learned I am just not the union type.  After working for a short time at a second, smaller, non-union company, I met the owner of a demolition business who needed my exact skills.  My job became disconnecting all mechanicals for his residential guts (jargon for a house that is being gutted to the studs), which involved shutting off and removing gas, electrical, plumbing and ventilation, with most of the work being disconnecting and removing large boiler systems – up to 800,000 BTUs.  He encouraged me to start my own business, in which I soon found myself doing more and more remodeling.  A year later, I called up another friend of mine who’d been asking me for years to come work for him remodeling kitchens and baths.  Two years of that gave me enough to start subcontracting with confidence for a handyman company.  That was November of 2005. In November of 2010, I left that company to depend solely on serving customers directly.

Over the years, I have worked with concrete laborers, electricians, roofers, pipefitters, plumbers, HVAC technicians, carpenters, painters, drywallers, tilesetters and remodelers.  Interestingly, when remodeling a kitchen, every system of the house is touched, and you have to know both how to handle the components of those systems and how altering parts of one system affects the performance of another system. I employ cyclical cause and effect as well as the more common linear cause and effect. Unfortunately, most tradesmen do not care about the other trades that precede or follow them on a job.

Having said all that, I am not saying I know everything there is to know about a house, nor am I saying I can do whatever anyone throws at me – if a project is beyond my limitations, I will offer the services of someone from my network of competent and trustworthy specialist contractors.  Advancing technology and today’s new products make knowing everything impossible, but my education and experience give me what it takes to navigate almost any task.

Do you specialize in anything?

I excel at troubleshooting, applying custom solutions to unusual problems, and putting in atypical installations of any kind. Not that I'm a miracle worker, but most of the time when people say it can't be done, I'll find a way to make it happen, make it work, and make it look good. I am a problem solver.

Why do you charge by the hour?  Why not by the job?

My experience has been that charging by the job almost universally sacrifices quality.  It’s been said that “a penny saved is a penny earned.”  This principle has been exploited by manufacturers, builders and contractors to increase or maintain profits at the expense of value, while promising consumers the value is still there or even that there’s more value than before!  The truth is that manufacturers substitute or reduce the amount of raw material in the final product and eliminate positions in Quality Control.  Builders opt to install inferior products and use less experienced labor under shorter deadlines.  Contractors who bid by the job take shortcuts of all kinds to avoid “working for free” when the job takes longer than planned.  The end result is actually a decrease in value evidenced by less durable products and poor work and workmanship. Even though cost cutting and corner cutting have always been around, all this is reflected in the quality of houses built and maintained in the last decade and especially in the last few years.  To be sure, these are generalities, and quality workmanship can still be found, but it is getting harder to find....

Let me explain what usually happens when a contractor, working on a quoted job, runs into an unforeseen problem that demands extra time.  The contractor immediately begins working faster, which naturally includes tolerating sloppiness and being less thorough in order to make up for lost time.  The problem may be the homeowner’s fault (like purchasing the wrong product), the contractor’s fault (like taking a bad measurement), or neither (like a product missing parts out of the box).  Regardless of whose fault it is, someone has to pay for that extra time, but I guarantee that backcharging the manufacturer or distributor is not an option.  Even though that’s not right, that’s the way it is.  Many homeowners are reluctant to accept responsibility for these problems because they feel the contractor is the professional who should have enough experience to expect potential problems.  To them, getting their job quoted puts a ceiling on the cost – it’s like insurance against cost-incurring matters.  But most contractors do their best to avoid eating extra costs, so if the homeowner will allow it, it gets added to the bill as an extra.  If that’s unacceptable to the homeowner, it may be “slipped in” the bill somewhere anyway.  In some cases where there’s no resolution, the contractor might leave the job unfinished....

I prefer to do business differently.  (Before I explain how, I must tell you that I have found that pride goes before a fall.  In other words, boasting or bragging about whom I am or what I can do is an invitation for me to be put in my place, that is, to be humbled in an unpleasant way.  I hope you never hear me lift up myself or my work pridefully, because it won’t be long before an error in it is discovered or someone demonstrates that they can do it better.  I will, however, let you know when I am pleased with my work for the customer’s sake, as I enjoy very much delivering a sound product and quality service to the customer.) Should an issue arise, even if the problem is my fault, I’ll disclose it to you between when it happened and when the bill is written up.  The larger the issue or mistake, the sooner I’ll mention it.  When appropriate, I’ll inform you of the circumstances and possibilities, then give you choices on how to proceed.  Whether it’s my fault or not, rather than doing what’s “fair,” I strive to do what’s “right” from the customer’s point of view.  I repeat:  I strive to do what’s right from the customer’s point of view.

Charging by the hour allows me to provide this kind of service at reasonable prices.  Remember, the focus of my work is repairs, installations and to-do lists that last from an hour to maybe a day or two – I don’t do full scale remodeling anymore, where labor costs can unintentionally and easily grow by the thousands of dollars after the job starts.  Also, working under a deadline does not make me work faster – I work at the same pace either on a quoted job or on the clock.  In my conscience, to work slower because I am on the clock is the same as stealing.

There are some instances when a task done “quick and dirty” (to keep costs down) is acceptable to me, but the homeowner must understand that I usually prefer not to produce that kind of work and that there is no guarantee of its permanence.

Why don’t you quote over the phone?

People often ask over the phone how long it takes to do a certain task.  Unfortunately, without seeing the job, I cannot give a definite time.  Even at the job, I may only be able to give an approximate time, because anything can happen once the cover is taken off, the wall is opened, the hole is dug, etc.  In most cases, people have a hard time understanding that the time given can only be approximate.  Unfortunately, I almost never can put a ceiling on what a job will end up costing due to the possibility of an unforeseen variable or a latent condition popping up.  On the rare occasions that I do mention a specific dollar amount, then I consider myself to have given my word, and I go to uncommon lengths to make my word good.  Concerning how easy it is for things to go wrong, a favorite saying of mine is, “Every job is a can of worms – we just need to see how many worms are in the can.”

Do you charge for estimates?

I do not charge for estimates because, technically speaking, I don't do "estimates" like most people think of estimates. Please understand, I seek value-minded customers, not price-minded customers, so giving estimates for people who are price shopping is something I want to avoid because being one person, I do not have time and other resources to give away for free like that. Nor do I want to compete against people who undercharge because they aren't aware of their own costs, because they are not paying taxes, or because they don't have insurance, or because they don't allow for vehicle reimbursement.

That said, I prefer to see most jobs before I commit to them. Some partial assessment time will be unavoidable. (This time falls under the category of "slippage.") However, both the customer and I will agree upon when the clock will start.

Why do you have a declining rate structure?

A few small jobs scheduled in the same day can turn 8 billable hours into a 12-hour workday due to "slippage" like travel time.  Similarly, a job scheduled for a day that gets finished in 2 hours leaves the rest of the day empty when it might otherwise have been filled.  In these cases, the higher initial rate helps me.  Plus, I do not charge overtime for work done after normal business hours.  While I don’t promise emergency service 24/7, please give me a call to see if I’m able to come out to serve you.

Why do you sometimes include a trip charge?

Simply put, it’s to offset both depreciation on the vehicle and the high price of fuel.  A distance longer than about 10 miles one way will have a trip charge.  The farther the travel, the larger the trip charge.

Are you insured and bonded?

I am fully insured, but I am not bonded.