Home Repair & Maintenance Advice for Newbie?

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I don't own a home and do not plan to in the near future. However, I've been working on some pet DIY projects with my uncle on my father's house, some church and other properties of mutual friends/acquaintances. My dad's not in the greatest health and doesn't have much home repair and maintenance experience, but my uncle is a retired engineer (civil) and spends a good portion of his free time learning and doing DIY type of work. I honestly hate this type of work (not my source of income), but I've been going along to learn.

On small projects, my uncle's been great to learn from (replacing a toilet, fixing a gutter, etc.), but he is aware of his limits (to a degree) and has said he's messed up a lot of stuff too while learning to do it himself. Thus, he never offers, nor recommends to have himself assist with my dad's major home repairs. For that, he recommends hiring a trained professional.

In talking with him, he's said it's been hit or miss at times. He's hired plenty of people who made mistakes (they had to redo the project) and also ones who've been great. One person started a job, he said, and never finished. They later found out he'd been arrested for a drug charge and in jail. We've been working with a crawlspace person recently at my dad's house and the person was so unprofessional in tone and behavior that I did a random court record search of him. He's been sued so many times (and lost) that I've lost count. His business reviews are the lowest in the city for his service. We had a roofer come last week to repair a leak (albeit very small) and that guy never returned! We have no idea what happened.

I've talked with a neighbor who has a son-in-law that does some repair contracting work and he's said that people have been showing up for a week or two and just quitting all year. I am fully aware of the labor shortage problem the U.S. has - partially related to the government offering better perks in enhanced UI to not work (although, that ends next month). Still, this sort of behavior is ridiculous and would get you fired and have lasting career impact in any other line of work. That brings me to some questions:

a.) How have you gone about finding someone to work on a home repair or maintenance project? I assume doing a Google search and looking at reviews. This method, however, has some drawbacks. Some businesses literally pay for reviews and some reviewers are trolls or paid saboteurs. Other times, the reviews are just inaccurate for other reasons (maybe sampling or being out of date, etc.).

b.) What sorts of other screening do you do? And, what sorts of warning signs do you look for?

c.) Should all workers have some sort of license or proof of training to ask for (like the equivalent of a college degree) for their field of expertise? My parents hired some guy for roofing who was recommended by a friend of the family. He doesn't have a website of any sort, although his business is registered in my area. What if you cannot find out much information from a person? Do you ask directly (expecting the truth)? Can you ask if they've ever screwed up a job massively? I'm guessing they wouldn't answer that?

d.) Should all initial estimates and inspections be free? Is that a general practice? How many inspections and estimates would you personally run through before having something done?

e.) Do you personally try to watch them work (if you can and have time)? If so, what is reasonable? Standing next to them the entire time or just "checking in" on them every hour or two?

f.) Do you take time to learn how a project should be done (done to technical details), so that you can tell if someone is doing a good job or not? Or, is that too cumbersome and unrealistic?

I have lots of other questions too, but figured I'd just throw out a few and re: more as the thread progresses. Don't want this initial post to be too long. I think as I've been learning to deal with such people in the home repair and maintenance industry, I've not been particularly trusting. It's been a good learning experience (for life wisdom), but also unpleasant at times. Many of the individuals seem highly uneducated and unprofessional. I think I have this developed sense of mistrust of people in this industry and always fear they're trying to scam me and/or are incompetent (and will cause major damage and not own up to it).

g.) Is there anything inherent in this line of work that makes it so you're dealing with seemingly shady people a lot of the time? Is it that it's hard work often (physical labor and sometimes exposed to harsh elements) and no one wants to do it, so only those who cannot get jobs doing something else will take it on?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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h.) What are some trusted resources you'd recommend on the subject? Am I right to think This Old House is a good one:
https://www.thisoldhouse.com/
https://www.youtube.com/user/thisoldhouse
This Emmy-winning home-improvement series takes the mystery and fright factors out of remodeling and carpentry chores. It follows one whole-house renovation over several episodes and features tradesmen Norm Abram, Tom Silva, Richard Trethewey, and Roger Cook, along with host Kevin O'Connor.
They look and sound trustworthy.
 
  • #3
strangerep
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Learn as much as you can yourself! It will be an excellent investment over your entire lifetime. Old greybeards at your local hardware store can be good value (although you should always double-check their advice from some independent source).

This forum is a fantastic source of expert, unbiased advice.

As for trades people, I've had more bad experiences than good (but the good have been VERY good). Reliability is one criterion. Do they turn up when they say they will? Are they vague about when they might be available? I don't bother with references, since they'll only give you the favourable ones. Instead, I try to give them a small job at first, or break a large job into stages -- so I'm overly committed to one person whose work quality and behaviour is initially unknown.

Also beware if a trades person wants a large deposit up front -- that's never a good sign, since it can mean they've had nontrivial disputes with previous clients.

I always watch tradespeople doing their work from start to finish, since (among other things) I often learn stuff by doing so.

As for DIY'ing, I highly recommend you do so. Invest in some good quality tools, and get advice from the sources mentioned above. Start with relative small tasks. You'll be amazed how good it feels when you complete a job yourself and didn't have to put up with A-hole tradies.
 
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  • #4
Borek
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Sounds like where you live is not much different from where I live.

Albeit that has changed, about 20 years ago, with much higher unemployment rates, my experience with finding people to do some work in the house was much better.
 
  • #5
gleem
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Many states require tradespersons to be licensed and insured. So check your state regs. No license no insurance take your business elsewhere. You should also check your local better business bureau to see if there are any significant complaints.

You could ask them for references from previous customers. Getting recommendations from friends or acquaintances who have used them is good. Sometimes you see them working at a job site so you can inquire from that homeowner about the quality of the work and any issues.

Estimates should be free but remember they probably do not look too deeply into any possible complication but you should ask if there might be any.

You should try to educate yourself about different types of repairs so you know what to expect. YouTube is great for this. You should look at a couple of different presentations because some people do things differently depending on the circumstance.

All guarantees or promises should be in writing.

I think it is common to have deposits and partial payments at different stages of completion.

Understand their charges, make sure they are reasonable for both time and materials.
 
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Many states require tradespersons to be licensed and insured. So check your state regs. No license no insurance take your business elsewhere. You should also check your local better business bureau to see if there are any significant complaints.
What type of insurance were you referring to, gleem?

Was it some type of insurance against possible damages they might cause one's home?
 
  • #7
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As for DIY'ing, I highly recommend you do so. Invest in some good quality tools, and get advice from the sources mentioned above. Start with relative small tasks. You'll be amazed how good it feels when you complete a job yourself and didn't have to put up with A-hole tradies.
The only drawbacks are:

a.) it's time-consuming and unless done regularly, I worry I might forget how to do something or not have the latest method (or even be up to code on something).

But, I agree it can be worthwhile for a lot of reasons - not least of which is knowing stuff so you can maybe spot someone else doing a poor job.

b.) I am clumsy and dumb at times. I broke part of our gutter system. Shoved part of it too hard. I guess there is always learning from one's mistakes too!
 
  • #8
strangerep
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The only drawbacks are:

a.) it's time-consuming
So start with something small, or which can be broken into stages. One good tip is: "never buy cheap tools -- always invest in trade-quality tools if they seem a bit expensive". I've bought plenty of cheap tools, then decided to buy better ones when I discovered the limitations of the cheap stuff. So it would have been cheaper overall just to buy good stuff at the beginning.

and unless done regularly, I worry I might forget how to do something
I can attest that "learning-by-doing" is a good way to burn knowledge permanently into your non-volatile RAM.

or not have the latest method (or even be up to code on something).
Heh, so check with a hardware store guy, or ask on that renovation forum I linked earlier.

But, I agree it can be worthwhile for a lot of reasons - not least of which is knowing stuff so you can maybe spot someone else doing a poor job.

b.) I am clumsy and dumb at times. I broke part of our gutter system. Shoved part of it too hard. I guess there is always learning from one's mistakes too!
I've been clumsy at times too. E.g., I was once trying to replace some beading around a leaking window at the end of a day when I was tired. I slightly mis-aimed the hammer and whacked the glass... :H

Another example: I was cutting 6mm aluminium angle on a drop saw, but thought I could hold the piece steady with my free hand instead of taking time to clamp it. I was lucky to avoid serious injury when the saw blade grabbed the piece and threw it far away. Lesson well learned!

So don't let occasional clumsiness stop you. Just learn from your mistakes, as you said.
(But maybe avoid table saws until you gain more experience.)

And invest in protective face+ear gear when using power tools.
 
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  • #9
gleem
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Was it some type of insurance against possible damages they might cause one's home
Yes.

The best enterprise to do business with is one that is licensed, bonded and insured see https://www.embroker.com/blog/licensed-bonded-and-insured-business/ for explanations

You might look into finding a business through Angi (formally Angie's List) since this service vets these businesses and offers some protection from poor workmanship or unfinished work.
 
  • #10
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Yes.

The best enterprise to do business with is one that is licensed, bonded and insured see https://www.embroker.com/blog/licensed-bonded-and-insured-business/ for explanations

You might look into finding a business through Angi (formally Angie's List) since this service vets these businesses and offers some protection from poor workmanship or unfinished work.
Thanks! Will have to look up what "bonded" means in this context too!
 
  • #11
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So don't let occasional clumsiness stop you. Just learn from your mistakes, as you said.
(But maybe avoid table saws until you gain more experience.)

And invest in protective face+ear gear when using power tools.
I don't mess with saws. :oldbiggrin:

Not yet at least. Uncle is going to replace my dad's fence and I'm supposed to help. Lord, help me!

I'll probably ask to just watch the sawing...I can do nailing, though. :approve:
 
  • #12
Janus
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I don't mess with saws. :oldbiggrin:

Not yet at least. Uncle is going to replace my dad's fence and I'm supposed to help. Lord, help me!

I'll probably ask to just watch the sawing...I can do nailing, though. :approve:
That's how I started. Dad would have me hold the board as he sawed it, have me fetch tools, etc. Over the years it evolved into our adding an addition onto our house and moving the Kitchen. Along the way I learned everything from pouring a foundation to wiring and plumbing.
 

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