Every homeowner should have one

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

Here’s a question for you: what DIY-type item should every homeowner have? A drill? A hammer? Screwdrivers? A spirit level? A saw? Duct tape?

The answer: a handyman in the family. Why buy those items yourself when you have family members who own them and better still, know how to use them? Sure, I could watch a Youtube tutorial or read a step-by-step guide to building a birdhouse. But I know that if I built such a contraption, it would lead to more avian deaths than a bird flu outbreak.

I’m quite lucky to have technically-minded people in my family. Between my fiancé and I we are related to people who can wire houses, remodel bathrooms, service cars and tile. I can change a light bulb.

Bob’s your uncle

This arrangement works out well for all involved. If you are fortunate enough to have a handyman-type in the family, you can get much-needed work done by someone you know and trust. They earn a few bob and get a word of mouth referral. It’s a win-win situation.

It’s a good idea for both parties to set a few boundaries though. Don’t expect a freebie because they’re family – your uncle the electrician also needs to eat. For the handyman, if you’re being paid for a job then you need to stick to project deadlines as you would with any other customer.

From research (and by research I mean beer-fuelled discussions around the braai) the biggest problem when getting family members to help with a project can be traced to lack of formal agreements. Too many repairs and renovations are based on “I’ll try pop round this weekend to fix it” rather than a solid working arrangement.

Having plumbers, electricians and other handymen in the family does present one other problem: what if they’re useless at their vocation? It’s an unwritten rule in my family, but we all know that I am the last person that should be asked for assistance on DIY-related issues. Need a wedding MC? I’m your guy. Need a plug wired? Make sure the fire brigade is on standby.

Think first, demolish second

The decision to let a family member assist with a project can be a difficult one to make. There are three questions you need to ask before giving them the job:

  • Are they hobbyists, professionals or novices when it comes to the project at hand? If they fall into the first two groups they’re probably able to assist.

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Have they asked to be paid in booze – upfront? Unless it’s a demolition job, you don’t really want a brandy-drinker working in your home.

  • Have they casually mentioned any lawsuits resulting from previous botched jobs?

If you do have an inept electrician whose assistance you’d rather not have, your best bet is to let them down gently with a white lie. “I’d feel bad taking advantage of family” is good.

“I’d sooner let a trained chimpanzee do it” may be closer to the truth, but will almost certainly ensure that you are removed from the Christmas card list.

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