The last time Alan Clarke needed to do some work around his Casa Linda house, he set aside a weekend to do it. But something came up, and it didn’t get done. So he set aside another weekend. And another one.

Finally, he realized he was going to have to hire someone to do the work, since he couldn’t find the time. Which led to another problem – Clarke wasn’t quite sure how to find someone who was both reputable and professional. Wouldn’t that take almost as much time as doing the work himself?

Not necessarily, says Jeannette Kopko, a Lake Highlands resident who is a senior vice president for the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Dallas.

“That’s a question we get all of the time,” Kopko says. “It’s possible to look for certain things handymen and sub-contractors do – and don’t do – that send up red flags so homeowners will know they may be dealing with someone who is not on the level.”

So keep this checklist handy the next time you need to hire someone to take care of that job you just don’t seem to have time to do yourself.

If the proposal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Reputable handymen don’t show up at the front door offering to do a job for less than cost, or with materials left over from a previous job.

Ask your neighbors. Who have they used? What kind of experience did they have? In addition, some neighborhood associations keep lists of contractors, both good and bad.

Check with the Better Business Bureau. The organization’s information is online at dallas.bbb.org or through a 24-hour automated telephone system at 214-220-2000.

Get references. Professionals should have several to give you (preferably some in our neighborhood), and don’t assume they will all be favorable, Kopko says. “You’ll be surprised at what references will tell you,” she says. “Besides, you can get a feel from what they don’t tell you as much as what they do tell you.”

Get a written estimate. As soon as someone says they don’t provide written estimates, or insist it’s not necessary, find another handyman. Fly-by-night operations are notorious for quoting a price, and then returning with a higher quote, saying they had miscalculated or that you may have “misunderstood” them.

Does the contractor have an address with that phone number? Another warning sign, says Kopko, that a company isn’t on the level is if they aren’t willing to provide a physical location. Phone numbers, she says, always seem to be disconnected when a customer has a problem or complaint.

Don’t pay for a job up front. On a relatively large job that may take several days, or if the contractor says he need to “go buy supplies” before starting the job, set up a payment schedule. Start with one-third to one-half of the amount quoted in the written estimate at the beginning of the project (meaning the day the contractor shows up to do the work), and stage additional payments as the work progresses.


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