Dear PoP – Contractor or handyman? Or neither?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rukasu1

“Dear PoP,

I just bought a condo in Adams Morgan, and the kitchen is in desperate need of an update. I know you’ve covered contractors before, but I’m not sure if that’s actually what I need. I’m hoping to put in a new backsplash, floor, and countertop. I’ll also be installing new appliances, which will involve creating a laundry hookup (for one of those combo washer/dryers) as well as a dishwasher hookup — the kitchen currently has neither — so some plumbing will definitely be necessary.

Does anyone have any recommendations for someone who would/could do all that? I’m afraid it may be too small a job for a general contractor since there’s no real construction, but I obviously want someone skilled/properly licensed who will do good work! If it’s feasible I could just hire out separately for everything, which would be nice since it’s probably cheaper, but I work pretty long hours so I’m worried that would be difficult. Thanks for any guidance/recommendations you can provide!”

Some recommendations were made here. Who do you guys think would be good/necessary for a job(s) like this?

22 Comment

  • I would like to know too…I’ve tried to call a few places and apparently my jobs are all too small for them to call me back!

  • You need more than a handyman. But, if you are willing to GC the job yourself, you can hire each of the experts separately (i.e. plumper, electrician, counter top installer, tile guy for backsplash and floor. No handyman is going to be able to do all of those things well (though most would probably not admit it). The contractor is charging you extra b/c he knows the guys who can do it and he will be coordinating them. If my experience bears out, you are going to be doing a lot of GCing yourself anyway.

  • Go to akitchen and bath store. Buy the counter top and backsplash materials and possible floor covering there and then get their people to do install it.

    If you have the space I recommend against a combo washer dryer – they work – but not well enough for daily use/living. IUf you can put in a stackable that woudl be much better in teh long run. Also the combo unit uses the same line to drain that your dishwasher does so they can not be used at the same time…. will back-up into the sink.

    Putting in a dishwasher is easy – I recommend getting a handy man to do it…Also the plumbing for the combo washer dryer is pretty light work too.

  • I seriously can’t say enough about Urban Referrals –

    My boyfriend and I just bought a house and had some typical contractor work (drywall, etc.) and some handyman-type work (installing ceiling fans) done by the company they recommended. It was great – a very easy to work with owner, competent staff, quality work. A few months later we hired a handyman by ourselves for some things we thought he could do – 1/3rd of the way through the job we fired him because he managed to cause more damage than any thing else. Then we called the first company back to fix his mess.

    Urban Referrals can find you someone decent, licensed and responsive who will take your job. I have nothing but appreciation for the grief they saved us as we were trying to get our new house in order!

  • We hired a contractor via Urban Referrals. Not great. He was not terrible, and I hated him less than a lot of other people we have had working in the house, but he was way over his head on the job we hired him for, he didn’t communicate with his staff (i.e we had to have things ripped out and redone b/c the contract said X but the carpenter did Y b/c Y is what he always did and the boss never mentioned that we wanted X — X was more expensive, so I’m sure he was hoping we’d never notice).

  • Sounds like more than just handyman stuff. Not sure a GC is needed though, but I bet you can find several who’d like to help. You should break it into separate tasks and then dole the jobs out as needed.

    The place where you plan to buy the flooring, counter top, backslash should be able to help you with an installation recommendation. The appliance company can handle installation for those.

    Plan out the entire process. You don’t want to lay down a beautiful new floor only to have the plumber say, “Yeah, I gotta cut this a little.”

    Also, don’t ever feel bad about asking,”So how would YOU handle this?” to any vendor. That one question can save you a ton of time and money.

  • Don’t forget to first make sure you are hiring people your condo will allow – licensed, insured, whatever.

  • Hiring a general contractor doesn’t mean you’ll pay more– a good general contractor will get you discounts at tile, stone, appliance distributors. They also manage the delivery and installation.

    For tile- if you want something a little more classy then your boring HomeDepot tile, check out Architectural Ceramics (location in Old Town and I think Rockville). Tons of variety at all price points.

    While new plumbing for the dishwasher and washer/dryer combo isn’t rocket science, it does require a professional. Plumbers will run the new water/drain lines but they won’t touch electrical– washer/dryer line will likely need a 30amp?? connection nor will they connect the power source for the disposal.

    A $12 monthly subscription to will save you a ton of headaches.

    • “a good general contractor will get you discounts at tile, stone, appliance distributors. ”

      Ha ha ha!! Good one. They themselves may get a discount, but they will mark up everything they buy before charging you. Hiring a contractor will not save you money on materials.

      That said, hiring a good contractor will almost certainly save you money on the job, if you don’t know what you are doing. Which almost everyone doesn’t. Individuals with little or no experience absolutely should not try to be their own contractor, unless you have a great deal of patience and a very good network of tradespeople at your disposal. Even those who think they know what they are doing often regret it.

      Are you prepared to take time off work every day for a month or more? Be able to show up anytime a question comes up, or trust your passel of subs to do the right thing? They won’t.

      Because what you will get by being your own GC is: incompetent subs, extensive delays from people not starting/finishing when they said they would, and doing things in the wrong order (which will be entirely your fault) because you don’t know any better. You will get many mistakes because you can’t supervise them the way a GC can. They will not have worked together before, the way a GC’s subs have.

      You should only be your own GC if you know how to do it and have the time to watch them like a hawk. The job being described above is not a “handyman” job unless you find the world’s best handyman. Doing it legally will require several permits, too.

  • My 2 cents. Which is really a 1/2 cent having just been through the renovation from hell. If cost is not an issue, go with a company that specializes in kitchen remodels.

    If not, I would start with a plumber and the dishwasher. A new dishwasher could potentially change the configuration of your existing cabinetry which would involve carpentry. A plumber should also be able to do your washer/dryer combo. The rest of the appliances can just be installed by the box store you purchase them from (likely for less and with some guarantee). Do your appliances before your countertops or at the same time/from the same people. I have this lovely break in my countertop from doing the opposite.

    Get the same people for your countertop and backsplash as they will need to line up correctly. I bought mine at Lowes, and it was the ONLY thing they did not screw up. Nice countertops.

    Renovation books differ on the floor first or last thing. In hindsight, I would have done it last because it was so scuffed up by the end.

    I really like Budget Plumbing, they have not screwed me yet and certainly could have. (301) 864-1800

    Helen Archiega is the best electrician and knows her way around a house. [email protected] You can’t have her now (because I still need her) but she also has a plumber and I would trust her recommendations.

    A highly recommended handyman that can do carpentry etc is Johnathon Walcot at (240) 852-8675. I did not personally use him but trust the recommendation.

    I would stay far away from Lowes, Mid-Atlantic Contracting, and J&A Home Improvement.

    Last thought-warn your neighbors. Even if they end up awful, at least you tried. And stock up on the beer or wine. Seriously. Best of luck!

    • Thanks! This is really helpful. I’d actually struggled with the issue of what to do first, if I wind up splitting it up. Sorry about your renovation from hell!

  • For all plumbing, installation for electronics, etc call Greg at 202-355-4646. Possibly the best plumber in DC hands down. Since he just started his business two years ago, he’s willing to do additional work i.e. wiring, plumbing, appliance installation, etc. Can’t say enough good things about him … seriously!

  • Anyone have experience with GC Albarth Molina? We hear good things, but don’t have many references.

  • I had a small-ish renovation project (no structural, plumbing or electrical changes) and subbed it out myself. It seems GCs couldn’t be be bothered with my job and the ones who gave me an estimate were $3K-$4K more than what I had priced the work out separately. It was a bit of a pain because I had to coordinate everything and work from home quite a bit, but I saved a lot of money that way. Then again, my work consisted only of a new countertop and backsplash, tile floor, painting, and installing a new light fixture.

    I had good luck with Urban Referrals and ServiceMagic when looking for painters and tile guys.

  • Check out Four Brothers.

    We’ve had them do a few jobs for us, both large and small, and they’ve been great. And they DID get us discounts on tiles. With no mark-up. They’re responsive, professional, fast, and give great advice. I don’t think you’d be dissappointed with their work at all.

  • Vonstallin

    I use to post some of my home remodeling in the BBS section of this. I just had my old ghetto looking Awning tore down and a Georgetown like front Porch put in, Flag Stone steps and porch and a 17×17 driveway with garden style privacy fence put in also. I think clicking my name takes you to my face book page and I have a home and garden photo section full of all the projects i had my contractor do.

    I use the same guy that i brought the house from.
    I remodeld in 1994, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009 and just 7 weeks ago.

    Everything from walls knocked out, Full 17×9 covered patio deck put in, electrical upgraded, Major and very minor upgrades. The guy (Patrick) is amazing and no body ever could touch his prices.

    I have visual prof of his work and you can stop by to see it.

    Also here is one of 2 million dollar houses he have for sale that he built. Big or small He does it all.

    1342 Montague St NW, Washington, DC 20011 (16th Street Heights)

    click my name and send me a FB message if you want information or his number. I dont keep up with post to offten.

  • Thanks SO much, guys! This is so incredibly helpful. I can’t spend much time away from work, so it sounds like I may have to use a GC – I really appreciate the recommendations for folks who will do smaller jobs, or places to find them. Glad to have confirmation that a handyman wouldn’t be able to do this.

    It’s my first place, and I really don’t want anything to get messed up! (/foolish optimism)

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