Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Renos 4 Pros and Joes and Bathroom Update Guide

I recently completed a list of maintenance and repair tasks for a residential client. As I finished up her tasks and was packing up and cleaning up the work area, she stopped me to tell me about some of the additional repairs that she wanted to have done at her home and at her office. The list of tasks was very diverse in scope and required skills, but I explained that I could handle all aspects of the projects/ honey-do lists. Out conversation prompted her to ask me, “What does a Handyman Do?


The type of projects and tasks that a handyman does varies based on the skill level, knowledge, experience and in some cases licensing of the handyman or handyman company. A handyman is often sought out to complete tasks that are varied in scope. And for this reason, he/she must be cross-trained in a variety of different skills. Anything from plumbing repairs and plumbing fixture installation or replacement, to carpentry and wood repair, drywall repair, to light fixture and ceiling fan installation and replacement, to painting, to tv installation, to tile installation, gutter cleaning, pressure washing, junk removal, and the list goes on. In some instances, a handyman may end up taking on a project like a bathroom renovation.


Why hire a Handyman?

A handyman is an awesome option if you have a list of tasks that you want to be completed and you don’t want to hire a different individual or company to complete each task. Finding one person or company can save you time, and minimize the stress of you trying to manage the tasks yourself. If you are a DIYer, hiring a handyman could also be a good option when you run into issues that are outside of your comfort zone or beyond your skill level. 


Can a handyman do electrical work?

That depends on the scope of the work. Changing a light fixture or ceiling fan is one thing, rewiring a house is a whole other ball of worms. And admittedly there is a huge area in between these two ends of the spectrum that most of the work may fall into. In many instances, the limits to what a contractor can do depend on the local jurisdiction and licensing of the company performing the work. 


What is a Handyman?

A handyman performs tasks that typically center around repair, maintenance, and improvement of a property. Handyman is a “catch all-term” and it can literally encompass ANYTHING, but it typically centers around property whether residential or commercial. We have to keep in mind that the term handyman does not always tell the entire story. Some jurisdictions have a handyman license, while many do not. Also, many companies and individuals that market themselves as handymen also carry professional licenses. Many handymen are licensed electricians, some are plumbers. My company, for example, provides handyman services in Atlanta, and I hold a general contractors license. 


A handyman is a company that is willing to take on a variety of tasks and may also hold professional licenses. Every plumber, electrician, and general contractor is not interested in performing handyman work. 

What can a handyman do?

This is a slightly different question than the ones we’ve answered so far. Part of what a handyman can do depends on the client and the scenario. I’ll give you an example. As a licensed general contractor, and real estate agent in Atlanta, I constantly work with homebuyers and sellers, and real estate professionals on real estate transactions. If a seller is preparing a home to go to the market they have more leeway in who they hire to make the desired repairs and improvements to their property. 


But once the property goes on the market, the bar rises. In Atlanta, Ga most homebuyers opt for a home inspection on the property. If the inspector notates outstanding issues in the buyer’s property inspection, the buyer may negotiate to have some or all of the issues addressed. Well, in most property inspection reports, if the inspector finds anything that’s amiss, he or she will note what they observe, and then they will conclude the finds on that line item with words similar to these: “Recommend having the issue inspected and repaired by a licensed contractor. AHA! Now you see where I’m going. 


Many of the repairs may technically be classified as “general repairs” or “handyman work” or “honey-do lists” ,but now that you have multiple players involved and everyone want to prudently follow the “C.Y.A.” philosophy, as they should, you now likely will need a licensed contractor to help work through the findings and hash things out. There are many examples like this. And you can see why its not always about the scope of work. Sometimes the parties involved and the overall circumstances dictate who can do the work.


What can a handyman legally do?

This is a bit of a loaded question. It really depends on the jurisdiction. But before I give you the correct answer for my jurisdiction, let me start by saying that NOBODY follows the rules. With that said, in the state of Georgia, ANY project with a value of $2,500 or more requires a permit according to the secretary of state professional licensing board, which oversees the licensing of all general contractors and licensed trades in the state of Georgia. 


Now what?  Well, for starter’s a handyman is not a licensed profession in Georgia, which means they cannot pull/apply for a permit for a project. Now, how many homeowners are going to tell the contractor that they want a permit pulled on a $3000 project? Very very few. So based on the $2,500 price cap, many honey-do lists and handyman projects technically fall into the category of permitted work based on project value regardless of scope. As a matter of fact, most are not going to be willing to pay for it. So essentially the parameters that have been put in place to protect the homeowner are actually typically avoided by the homeowner due to additional cost and time. 


For comparison, in the state of California, where there is no specific handyman licensing, a handyman is limited projects of $500 including labor and materials. This means that technically a handyman must have a professional license of some sort in order to perform handyman projects exceeding $500 regardless of scope. I’m way over here in Georgia, but I’d love to see how often that stipulation is followed and enforced. 


Handyman vs Contractor

The main difference that comes to mind is the type of project that each is willing to do. The remodeling contractor may choose not to do handyman work. This is particularly true if they specialize in large projects and don’t have an interest in diversifying. However, there are some companies that do everything from design-build projects all the way to handyman work. A handyman is generally considered to be willing to take on smaller projects that may be more varied in size a scope. One major difference between a handyman and a contractor that does handyman work is that the contractor works with subcontractors. This allows them to focus on the things they do best and hire out the specialized tasks to ensure that the client gets the highest level or work across the board.


The difference between the contractor and handyman also depends on the level of work that is common in an area. For example, here in Atlanta, remodeling and renovation is a way of life. And with that said, homeowners here often do higher-end bathroom remodels. Higher-end bath remodels include elements like freestanding soaker tubs, floor-mounted tub fillers, frameless glass shower enclosures, ceiling showerheads, and body sprays, showers enclosures with dual heads, heated floor systems, etc. When you compare these types of elements to a bathroom remodel that involves installing a standard 5-foot tub, tile on the floor and tub surround and a toilet and vanity and countertop and faucet, there is a pretty big difference in the difficulty of execution. With that said,  there are more folks that can execute a basic bathroom remodel with high-quality results. The bathrooms with more design elements require more expertise and experience and often require subcontractors. 


Does a Handyman need a license?

The type of licensing needed for a handyman depends on the jurisdiction where the handyman is performing work. There are two different types of licensing that are typically involved. First, is the business license, this license is issued by a local municipality where the business is based. This license is essentially for local tax purposes. The second type of licensing is professional licensing, which could in some instances be handled by the municipality, but in most instances, professional licenses are issued at the state level. A business license is usually required to do business in many jurisdictions. Whether a handyman will need a professional license will depend on whether the state actually offers a professional license for the handyman profession. As I mentioned above about California, many states don’t offer a handyman license, but they do place limits on the value of the dollar amount of the projects that person can perform for customers. This is one reason why its easier for companies that already hold professional licensed to get into handyman work because they often don’t have the same project size limitations.