When doing it yourself isn't an option

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Years ago, I bought one of those bookcases in a box. You know, you go to a discount big box store like Wal-Mart and buy these boxes filled with thin pieces of wood, and if you follow the directions correctly and have a few hours (or minutes, I guess, if you know what you're doing), you can put together a functional piece of furniture.

In my bookcase's case, when I was finished, I had furniture that wouldn't be allowed to enter even a rummage sale. One shelf was uneven, so that if you put books on it, they slid off; another shelf was so wobbly, I couldn't fill the entire thing with books, lest the weight bring it all down; and the back of the bookcase was crooked when I nailed it in, and so you can imagine how that looked.

But I had spent the money, knew I could never return it and get my cash back, and so I kept it in my one-room apartment until I moved across the country. I couldn't possibly take it with me, and since nobody would let me give it to them, I had to throw it away. And this is why I think people should be licensed to use a hammer and nail.Now that I've been a homeowner for several years, when things break, I'm naturally a bit nervous when I think about fixing things. After all, chances are, if I try to fix something, I'll fix it but good. I once said something to my wife about trying to fix our refrigerator's ice making capabilities, and I swear I saw the machine tremble.

So last week, I brought in a professional handyman to take a look at several problem areas in my house, including some leaky spots in the roof. I won't say the name of the company I ended up calling because I don't want to endorse anyone or make it look like I'm bartering services, so I'll just say that over the last decade, franchised professional handymen services have been popping up across the country, and having written about a couple over the years and feeling like there might be something to these, I thought, "Hey, I'll finally try one."

I gave this handyman a tour of my house ("here's our refrigerator that I partially destroyed... and that smoke alarm has been dangling from the ceiling ever since I changed the batteries, but I'm proud to say that it still works), and later, he emailed me a very reasonable quote. I can't completely endorse the idea of a professional handyman service yet, since they won't be fixing things for another week or two, and for all I know, this won't go well.

But it does look promising. I showed the handyman our garbage disposal, which hasn't been working for about a year. With a broom handle, however, this MacGyver-like guy fixed our garbage disposal in about two minutes -- for no charge. And he didn't even laugh at me.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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