Tina Gleisner knows what she’s talking about when it comes to home contracting, repairs, and renovation. After all, she ran her own “handyman” business for 8 years, she’s owned (and fixed up) 15 houses, and she’s now a successful entrepreneur. Her company, HomeTipsforWomen, publishes homeowner guides and offers workshops that coach women through everything they need to know to improve their home. We were excited to ask Tina some questions and, more importantly, to share those answers with you. Here’s what she had to say.
What inspired you to set up a company specifically focused on helping women?
Women approach their homes (like many things) very differently than men. When I had my handyman business, women would call and sound nervous. They weren’t sure what the problem was or they didn’t know how to describe the problems they were having. They appreciated talking to another woman, and I’d talk them through a set of questions to uncover what I thought was happening, so I could estimate the repairs needed.
We’d schedule the work, but after getting off the phone, their uncertainty made me worry that perhaps they weren’t explaining the problem correctly. To reduce the risk of any men in their home encouraging them to cancel appointments, I started writing emails that summarized our discussions. This helped me see that many of the problems were similar so I started to reuse the emails and then put the information on my handyman website. Our first 50 articles came about this way.
Do women approach building and renovating differently from men?
Absolutely. Men tend to focus on the end result they want, and leave it to others to make it happen on time, and on budget. From my experience, only men who are interested in doing projects themselves will search the web for the information they need. Women tend to be different; we like to research everything beforehand—from personal style choices, to new recipes and everything we want to do with our homes—which is why websites like Pinterest are so popular. But it’s frustrating because most of the content is focused on selling a product versus educating you on how to make the best decision.
This research isn’t easy because few homeowners, not just women, lack construction knowledge—and that’s the gap I’m trying to fill with Home Tips for Women, to focus on the concepts and terminology women need to talk to contractors with confidence. I want to empower women so that they know how to make smart homeowner decisions.
Are there many women contractors and “handymen”?
While I’d love to say yes, there are very few women in the housing industries. They’re out there, but it’s hard to find women architects, builders, and remodelers. There are more women doing interior design, kitchen and bath design, and interior decorating like window treatments—and women represent a large percentage of real estate agents, too. In the 8 years I ran my handyman business, I was only able to hire one woman for my handyman business but she didn’t work out. Her experience was too limited, coming from commercial building where she hung drywall, taped, and mudded. This is an important set of skills but when she couldn’t install a replacement door, I knew it wasn’t going to work.
What’s the difference between a contractor and a handyman? When should you use one rather than the other?
With respect to home construction, there are builders, remodelers, and what are known in the industry as specialty contractors. My recommendation is that homeowners always have a team of home repair resources that includes an electrician, plumber, HVAC company, and a handyman. In most states the first 3 contractors must be licensed—which typically takes about 2,000 hours of classroom work, plus an apprentice program working under the supervision of a master tradesperson for several years.
The handyman is someone who’s worked in several trades and is able to transfer those skills to related tasks. They can replace exterior wood rot, patch holes in drywall, wash and seal a deck, and so much more. The convenience is you only have to build a relationship with one person versus finding lots of different contractors. Of course, there are specialties a handyman shouldn’t touch, like appliance repairs (don’t have the tools or industry insight), refinishing floors (don’t have the tools and renting them is too risky)…you get the idea.
There’s also a career path in each of the specialty trades, so some contractors take that path, while those who work as handymen prefer the variety and independence of working solo so they don’t have to take direction from others. For example, many handymen get their start on a framing crew where they start out carrying lumber, and they work their way up to leading a crew through framing a house. From there it’s a big step to becoming a finish carpenter—someone who installs baseboard and the trim around doors and windows. Even higher skills are required to build furniture or staircases, and you typically need to go to a millworks for custom wood because the investment in equipment is huge.
You’ve written a book about finding the right contractor for a project. Can you give some examples of what you mean?
It’s both about knowing what kind of contractor you need, as well as who will do a reliable job. There are general contractors, like builders and remodelers, as well as group specialty contractors who handle building your home’s systems like plumbing. There are also product-based contractors, like companies installing solar systems.
My focus, though, is helping homeowners pick a contractor strategy that fits their personality, lifestyle, and budget. I encourage women to gain experience by hiring their home repair team, and I share the process I used to hire my handyman technicians—starting with phone interviews, followed by in-person meetings and small test projects to find your best contractors. It might seem like a lot of extra work, but trust me, you always want to meet at least three contractors because you’re also learning what’s important with each specialty.
Are there particular issues women who are first-time homeowners should know about?
I always encourage women to do a little research before they call a contractor, just like you’d do when you’re checking out a new restaurant or doctor. This can go a long way toward giving you the confidence to speak peer-to-peer to the man on the other end of the phone call.
That’s the biggest problem that I’ve seen in the women I’ve worked with—they don’t have enough confidence to demand what they have every right to get. There are all sorts of personalities, and you’ve got to find contractors that fit your personality, which is true of teachers, doctors, lawyers, too. If their communication style doesn’t satisfy you, it’s not going to be a comfortable working relationship. I’ve had to tell women on the phone, if you’re not getting reasonable answers to your questions or are uncomfortable with the work being done, politely ask the contractor to leave. And if you’re nervous, have a friend come over so you’ve got support.
When a project goes poorly, some women might be intimidated about challenging their contractor and insisting the job be done right. Any advice there?
This is a tough situation for every homeowner. What I learned from my handyman business is to get a second opinion. A woman once called us because she wasn’t comfortable with the handyman building a canopy over her front door on the second floor. It was the solution recommended, and she had already agreed to it, but as it started to take shape, she became nervous that it wasn’t going to solve the water leak in the door below. I sent someone out and it turned out she was right—noone had determined the cause of the leak and all she needed was gutters to direct the rain water away from the doors.
You can have someone review the work being done at night when the contractor isn’t there, and if you’ve got to fire them, you hopefully haven’t given them too much money up front. And yes, make sure all the materials are stored on your property, as that might be the biggest risk.
Some women work outside the home, some have home offices, and some are full-time moms. Everyone is probably too busy to keep their houses in tip-top shape. What advice do you have for women who are just swamped, but still want to keep their homes in working order?
It’s important to add home maintenance to your calendar—things like checkups from your HVAC company (before heating & air conditioning seasons) and 2 to 4 visits per year from your handyman. As you discover small problems, you’ve now got a place to write them down so you don’t have to worry about it.
Then, 1-2 weeks before you want your handyman there, call to schedule and review your list with them. That helps them estimate how much time they’ll need to set aside for your house, what tools and special materials they can pick up ahead of time (but don’t be surprised when they need to make a trip to the store), and also a time for them to ask you about things you might have forgotten, like cleaning the gutters.
Green building is a big priority for homeowners who want to reduce their energy bills and help protect the environment. Do you encourage your clients/members to include energy considerations in their plans?
Green building and green lifestyle concepts are very important, and they’re becoming integrated into so many homeowner products so that we don’t even notice them today.
On my website, I group “green” with “healthy & safe homes.” I’ve written lots of articles about lead paint, eating healthy, and the importance of indoor air quality. One thing I love is how many new model homes post their HERS rating near the front door, so prospective buyers are learning that investing in better building materials offers measurable savings.