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Starting a Handyman Home Repair Business Q&A

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Dear NH,

I've been visiting your site periodically when I'm in the office and have a minute to spare. I am giving serious consideration to starting a one man "fixit' service. From what I can find in asking around, there really seems to be a demand for it in my neck of the woods, and if I might say so, I'm pretty good at it.

I am planning to get listed on your website. Other than that, I'm mainly counting on word of mouth for advertising at first. Do you have any words of wisdom or suggestions? I am 61, in good health and like woodworking and fixing stuff.



You sound like the perfect handyman... young (by my standards), handy (of course), motivated and available! The last criteria... available... probably won't last for long once you hang out your shingle! You will undoubtedly have more work than you can possibly handle within a few years... maybe sooner if you live in a very populous area.

In many areas, there are too few reliable handymen serving too many needy clients. This unfortunate situation (for the customer, anyway) has occurred for a number of reasons. The first is that many very skilled people don't want to take the chance of striking out on their own. And I understand their concerns... until a handyman business becomes well known and develops a following of loyal customers (and the endless flow of referrals), there is always the risk of "cash flow" problems... e.g. not enough income to pay the bills!

Another reason is that many handymen are overwhelmed by the demands of their successful business. Though it may seem inconceivable that "too much business" is possible, it is a fact of life in a one-man (or woman) independent trade! After all, how much work can one person do in a day? And how many hours can one person work before the quality of ALL his work deteriorates? What about personal life and recreation? Yes... a small handyman business can own YOU if you let it get out of control. To some people, a regular "9 to 5" job can look pretty good when the weight of overwhelming business becomes unbearable!

So, you asked for advice. In a nutshell, here is a list of important considerations...

1) Develop your skills as you go! Don't be afraid to try something new but also be honest with your clients about your skills. If you are wary about a certain type of job OR if you prefer not to do certain types of work, be upfront with your customers... you will gain their respect and trust.

2) Control your destiny by controlling your business! Make a few fundamental decisions now regarding the type of work you will do and the job size you feel comfortable with. These parameters will change as your business matures but you must decide from the get-go the kind of home repair business you want. If you like long-term projects, then you will use small jobs to fill in the gaps. If you hate long commitments, then only schedule larger jobs during slow times. Again, these are things you will learn by trial and error as you get a sense of seasonal workflow in your area.

3) Don't be afraid to refuse work! This is the biggest mistake a handyman can make. Friends, former colleagues, etc. may approach you to take on projects you are not ready for or just flat-out don't want to do. Well, my advice is to just say NO! Keep in mind one thing... it is YOUR business and YOUR life. Balancing the needs of your business with your personal goals will keep you sane in the long run.

4) Consult a startup filings expert or visit you state or locality's website to understand the state and local rules regarding your business! Some areas require registration or licensing. Some areas severely limit the handyman's ability to do certain types of "protected" crafts such as plumbing and electrical work.  Some areas require written contracts for certain types of work or certain dollar amounts.  Keep yourself legal and keep yourself in business.

Good luck and have fun... loving the work makes it much easier!

Dear NH,

I am considering starting my own Handyman business, like one of your readers in the June, 2001 newsletter. In your answer to him, you said, "Some areas severely limit the handyman's ability to do certain types of 'protected' crafts such as plumbing and electrical work. Keep yourself legal and keep yourself in business."

OK, how do I find out what the limits are for these "protected" crafts? I've read through the state laws for electrical work and, though I'm not a lawyer, it appears that I'm technically not even allowed to operate a "light bulb changing" business as light bulbs could be considered to be part of "wires, ..., apparatus, devices, fixtures, ... for carrying or using electricity for light, heat, power".

WG from Tewksbury, MA


Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules concerning the work you can and can't legally do in any state. The laws vary so widely and some are worded so vaguely that whatever your interpretation, you could still be ruled wrong in court!

Judging by the way the CT law is written, you may be quoting from the "definition" of electrical work, not the regulations regarding it.

CT has some common sense exceptions to licensing requirements. There aren't enough electricians to do the work if every single job involving an electrical appliance needed a licensed electrician on hand. For example, the CT statute states:

"The provisions (of the law) shall not apply to... persons engaged in the installation, maintenance, repair and service of electrical or other appliances of a size customarily used for domestic use where such installation commences at an outlet receptacle or connection previously installed by persons licensed to do the same and maintenance, repair and service is confined to the appliance itself and its internal operation."

(If you are interested in reading the original text, here is the url of the page:  )

In my non-legal reading of this rule, it appears to say that as long as a "licensed electrical contractor" performed the initial installation of all wiring according to the electrical code, it would appear that non-licensed persons may perform future installations or repairs as long as the work the electrician did is not modified or undone. For example, an unlicensed person cannot install original wiring for a garbage disposal but CAN replace garbage disposal that had been previously installed. The same would apply to dishwashers and other "hard-wired" appliances.

Similar rules apply for plumbing work, with shutoff valves and soldered joints being the limiting connections allowing repair and replacement of toilets and faucets by non-licensed individuals. Therefore, a handyman can do a variety of plumbing and electrical jobs in Connecticut within the legal framework and within his own education and skill level. Some states have very few restrictions on work that "overlaps" into the crafts... others have very restrictive licensing policies.

Of course, the actual "line" of legality is always somewhat vague and I shouldn't have to remind anyone how important it is for any businessman to have adequate insurance to cover all eventualities!!

I am sure all states have statutes which lay out the limits of your involvement in the "licensed" crafts. You just have to do a little more searching for your state!


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