What kind of repairman do I need?
April 29, 2009 12:39 PM   Subscribe

My house needs repairs. What kind(s) of repairmen/craftsmen do I need? Any recommendations North of Boston?

My house has some old carpenter ant damage to the sill plate. The damaged section is immediately behind/under the front stairs. Our home inspector indicated that the (brick) stairs would need to be torn out in order to do the repair (the house is a split entry ranch, and the damaged section is in a crawl space under the entryway).

I'm a new homeowner. I've always lived in apartments, and so I don't have a sense of who I call to get repairs like this done. Am I looking for a General Contractor? A carpenter? A mason?

My driveway also needs repair/patching. Would this be a job for a different repairman all together?

Also, does anyone have a recommendation for such a person north of Boston (specifically, in Woburn, MA)?
posted by JonahBlack to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Angie's List is what you need - customer-reviews plus guides for hiring all this work.
posted by unixrat at 12:47 PM on April 29, 2009

Call a general contractor and get someone out for a free estimate. The driveway, depending on what kind of driveway it is and the amount of repair needed, is probably going to be a different professional.

I'm in MA too. I use angieslist.com to find contractors. Its a subscription service, but its been generally useful.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:47 PM on April 29, 2009

"General contractor" usually refers to a manager-type rather than the person who does the physical work, although there can be some overlap. A contractor handles a whole project, gets appropriate permits and doles out the various parts of the work (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc.) to specialists. Unless the repair is fairly simple and small in scope (which doesn't sound likely) then you'll probably need a contractor. If it is relatively small and simple, you might be better off finding a good handyman.

The driveway is likely to be a separate arrangement. Who you call depends on what it's made of (or what you'd like it to be made of). Is it concrete, gravel or asphalt?
posted by jon1270 at 1:00 PM on April 29, 2009

I don't think it will be that small or simple, since the stairs have to come out. As long as they have to re-build them, we'd want them modified (widened/larger landing).

The driveway is asphalt, and we'd want to remain that way.
posted by JonahBlack at 1:06 PM on April 29, 2009

Find a laid-off carpenter. Any decent carpenter should be able to do the whole thing.
posted by notsnot at 1:22 PM on April 29, 2009

Your first concern is whether you can trust the contractor to complete the job. You may not have heard of the "disappearing contractor" problem, but it is real: if the guy underestimates the job and discovers that he's going to lose money on it, he's likely to disappear part way through. We even had one who left his tools and ladders behind. Check your neighbors for references to people that have completed work for them. Incidentally, our kitchen has just been gutted. We hope the contractor will appear tomorrow with the materials to start putting it back together.

There's also the issue of the speed at which the contractor works (again, another argument for references). As with most things, whether laying brick or writing a computer program, there are a few individuals who combine diligence with a talent for avoiding errors, which make them get things done 4 to 5 times as fast (but just as well as) others do.

Last, watch out for the "artist." If you have a definite idea of how you want your new steps to look go and see work the contractor has done for others. You don't want someone who "knows how it ought to look."
posted by RichardS at 1:56 PM on April 29, 2009

We've had good experiences with ServiceMagic as a free alternative to Angie's List. We're north of Boston (Salem) as well. Have not had any carpentry done, but the plumbers and roofers we've hired from them have all been pretty good.

Just be ready for them to call you back quickly. The contractors pay for the leads so it's a race to be the first to touch base with you. Have several come out and give you an estimate, ask for references, then pick your dude.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:49 PM on April 29, 2009

Nthing ServiceMagic.
posted by inkyr2 at 3:06 PM on April 29, 2009

I have had the best success with word of mouth recommendations--and I work in the construction industry.

This is a great opportunity to strike up a conversation with your new neighbors.

You'll need a carpenter for the wood job. There are people who specialize in asphalt but they likely do more commercial work than residential.

Before hiring anyone, check them out with the state licensing board, if there is one. The state licensing board likely sets rules about deposits on materials. For instance, there is probably a threshold in place where if a job is over $2500, for instance, you are not required to put down more than 10% for a deposit. The state licensing board for contractors will tell you if there have been any complaints against the contractor's license. BBB is also another good place to check. And please make sure you have a copy of the contractor's insurance policy, including worker's comp. Safety is the top-most priority for all trades workers, but accidents happen, and you want to protect yourself by making sure they are properly insured. (It's also a pretty good idea for you to look into an umbrella policy; a $1m policy usually runs around $300/year.)

But my best advice is... go with your gut. Even if someone has sterling recommendations, don't hire him/her if you feel something's not quite right.
posted by FergieBelle at 4:43 PM on April 29, 2009

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