Customers find `Husband' handy

Fix-it man: A Carroll resident is making his living offering his talents around the house for those in need.

January 09, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Donna Buckman needs a handyman around her Mount Airy home and several rental properties she owns. She rates her mate "really unhandy."

Karen Sones has a husband who readily admits he can't do anything around their house in Woodbine.

Marty Turlik's husband has a little know-how, but no time for home chores.

All three women have hired a husband -- a jack-of-all-trades who can finish those pesky pro-jects like painting the kitchen and grouting the bathroom tile.

Since he started his Hire a Husband business 10 months ago, Don Francella has accepted hundreds of "honey-do" lists with gusto.

Turlik calls the 56-year-old handyman "my favorite secret weapon." Now whenever she mentions remodeling her Monrovia home, her husband asks, "When is your other husband coming?"

"We both know Don can do anything from dry-wall repair to painting," she said.

Sones saw Francella's ad in a small weekly paper and decided "he is just what I need. My husband is the first to admit he doesn't enjoy home work. He told me to find somebody else rather than put things off."

Francella tended to all the little, nagging chores left undone since the couple moved into their new home four years ago. He has been back several times.

In the past 10 months, Francella has met countless "wives who can't get their husbands to do anything around the house," he said. "A lot of it is no time and no know-how."

Business is building by default, he said. People have less time to focus on home projects and limited ability to handle them.

"There are some totally inept people out there, who don't know a screwdriver from a hammer," he said. "It is nobody's fault. It is just the focus is different today."

With 40 years of experience in home construction and improvement, he can fix, install or clean almost anything.

"I put a sink in this morning that a husband started more than a week ago. She couldn't even do the dishes," he said. "I love it when guys mess up."

He has turned his attention from construction to "the little stuff, the odds and ends, rather than the things that take a lot of time," he said. "I prefer a challenge, but nothing is too mundane."

He started his company in March, with a 4-inch ad in Mount Airy's weekly newspaper that promised he would be available 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Employment has been steady ever since.

On one of his first husband jobs, he fixed a paper shredder in a home office. Then, he installed a garbage disposal and garage door opener, hung pictures and assorted taxidermy, cleared rain gutters and repaired every imaginable appliance.

He has been to a 7-year-old Colonial in Mount Airy so often that the family dog cries when he leaves.

Sones spotted Francella's ad that says "page Don" and called out of curiosity.

"It was a catchy business name and we found out that he was just what we needed for the little jobs contractors won't do," she said.

Buckman said, "Everyone is on the work schedule from hell. With so little free time, they would rather spend it with family. Don had a wonderful idea."

It is all a matter of convenience, said John P. Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and the author of "Time for Life."

"My general take on the popularity of these businesses is that they provide convenience and people are taking advantage of it," said Robinson.

Customers often complain of contractors who don't call back. Francella always returns a page.

"I call right back, unless my hands are on a live wire," he said. "Nobody wants to be told it will be three weeks before I can get there."

Francella can usually schedule a job promptly, he said. A frantic woman with three leaky toilets was an hour's drive from where he was working, but he promised to get there before day's end. He picked up repair kits on the way home to Frederick, stopped in and plugged the leaks. He has worked two more times for that customer.

He charges by the hour: $38 no matter what the job or skill required. He spent a day last month hanging hundreds of outdoor Christmas lights and promised to come back and take them down.

Customers usually have the same complaints: routine maintenance left undone, an unfinished project that disrupts the household or unresponsive contractors.

"I do everything except heating and air conditioning, but I am going to put a thermostat on right now," he said. "People generally ask can you do something, and I say, `How hard can that be?' "

Once a household hires a husband, it may never be the same.

"Now I really can't get my husband to do anything," said Buckman. "He is more than happy to write a check for Don."

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