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How Do I Find a Good General Contractor?

Pro Referral > Home Guides > General Contracting > How Do I Find a Good General Contractor?
How Do I Find a Good General Contractor?

In order to enhance the value of your property or to make needed improvements, it might be necessary to renovate it or overhaul it completely. In addition to making cosmetic updates, replacing roofing, repairing walls, installing new flooring, waterproofing a basement, and rewiring or insulating the home are common upgrades and maintenance projects that most homeowners face eventually.


When completing a number of substantial projects, it is helpful to retain the services of a general contractor who will hire and supervise specialized subcontractors for the various jobs a renovation involves. This will enable you to deal with only one person and leave all the coordination to the general contractor.


While it is certainly possible for a homeowner to hire a variety of contractors to fix specific aspects of a house, the process is very time consuming. You will end up having to schedule various jobs and coordinate the work with a number of providers. Moreover, you will have to negotiate with individual contractors, evaluate their bids, finalize contracts, and so on.


On the other hand, by using the services of a general contractor you can reduce the paperwork and legwork involved and be assured that the renovation will proceed on schedule.

  1. 1. What Does a General Contractor do?

    The role of a general contractor is to coordinate and oversee all aspects of a particular project. In most cases, the contractor will have a crew that completes some of the work, but specialized aspects of the job will be subcontracted, or “subbed out,” to other providers, such as carpentry, foundation, electrical, plumbing, or mechanical contractors.


    Regardless of how much work the general contractor, or “GC,” and his crew completes, the supervisory nature of his role includes many legal and logistic functions. The GC is responsible for securing permits, overseeing inspections, and screening, hiring, and scheduling subcontractors.


    The contractor is also the only party with whom you enter a contract, so assumes liability and accountability for the entire project, from code compliance to jobsite safety and quality of workmanship.


    2. Do I need a Contractor or Handyman?

    General contractors are the pros to choose for large jobs that may include work in several trades, such as a whole-house remodel or building a room addition or garage. Most contractors employ a crew that completes general construction work, and will hire out specialized work as needed. This is typical for trades or tasks that the crew is not qualified or licensed to complete, such as electrical, plumbing, or HVAC work, but is also common for jobs that are more efficiently completed by a specialist with the right equipment, such as foundation work, roofing, and landscaping.


    Since general contractors develop relationships with various subcontractors and are familiar with permitting processes and the typical sequence of construction, they can coordinate bidding, contracts, permits, work schedules, and inspections more easily than the average homeowner.


    A handyman is suited for small-scale jobs that don’t require a large crew or specialized subcontractors in order to complete the work efficiently or safely. Most handymen do work in multiple trades, but are usually limited to making basic replacements and repairs unless they are licensed and insured to do plumbing, electrical, and HVAC work.


    If your project involves a relatively minor repair or improvement project or just a cosmetic update, hiring a handyman may be more timely and cost-effective than using a general contractor that has a sizeable crew to employ and a busy schedule of long-term projects to work around.


    3. Why Hire a General Contractor?

    One of the most important functions of a general contractor is to coordinate each aspect of a complex job. It requires considerable knowledge of construction trades and methods to plan and schedule each phase and aspect of a big project--or even a small job that requires multiple specialized pros to complete the work.


    Trusting a general contractor to screen, hire, and pay subcontractors, secure permits, and schedule each phase of the job can simplify the entire process for the homeowner. This behind-the-scenes work is often the most stressful and time consuming aspect of a home improvement project, so leaving it in the hands of a pro can make the job go smoother, quicker, and with fewer headaches than if you try to manage it on your own.


    4. Importance of Finding a Quality General Contractor

    Since the general contractor will be the primary pro you deal with during the planning and completion of your project, and since he or she will be responsible for the entire job, you need to spend time finding a quality GC. Working with an experienced and qualified pro will help ensure that your renovated home meets or exceeds all local building regulations as well as your requirements and expectations.


    Additionally, a quality general contractor will ensure the job is completed with a high quality of workmanship, within the agreed cost estimates, and on time. A good general contractor will communicate well with you throughout the course of the job and may help you save both time and money.


    5. Characteristics of a Good Contractor

    A good general contractor will be licensed to operate in your area, familiar with local building codes, and have up-to-date and adequate insurances to cover liabilities. A good general contractor should be able to provide references from satisfied customers who can vouch for their ability to complete work on schedule and within the estimated budget. A general contractor should have a good rapport with subcontractors as well as material suppliers and be able to provide advice on designs and materials to be used.


    When it comes to planning your project, a contractor should visit your home and make an onsite assessment of the work that needs to be done before bidding for the job, then provide a transparent estimate for the jobs involved and a timeline for the various stages of work to be done.


    A pro should offer constructive suggestions and present and discuss various options and methods when relevant, so you can make informed decisions about the project. A good contractor will provide contracts, change orders, and warranties in writing and will stand behind the quality of the services provided.


    6. Signs of a Poor Contractor

    As important as it is to look for characteristics of a quality contractor, it is equally as important to be able to spot the signs of a bad one. An unreliable contractor may be unwilling or unable to commit to a firm schedule, provide a detailed estimate or bill, produce proof of current insurance and licenses, or offer a warranty on the work.


    If a general contractor is unable to provide local references that you can call up or visit, or a list of regular subcontractors and suppliers they use, that may be an indicator that they do not have a record of quality work or management practices.


    7. Type of Jobs for a General Contractor

    General contractors oversee and complete jobs of various sizes and scopes, so it’s often best to consider the complexity of the job when deciding whether or not you need a GC.

    • Drywall Installation: A large scale drywall installation can be completed in record time by an experienced crew, and is usually part of a larger renovation or construction project that a GC can coordinate.
    • Pour Concrete: Whether part of a major construction project or a smaller landscaping update, a GC can handle the site and prep work required, as well as the forming, pouring, and finishing of the concrete.
    • Room Addition: Building a room addition may involve all residential construction trades, from concrete, earthwork, carpentry, and roofing to electrical, plumbing, drywall, and painting. It’s rare that a single provider can complete all the work in-house, but an established GC can bring in the right pros to pull the whole project together seamlessly.
    • Family Room Remodel: Even on a smaller scale, a single room remodel can call for specialists in a number of fields. GCs often coordinate carpentry, flooring, painting, trim, and electrical pros to complete these less complicated updates.
    • Garage Remodel: Whether to improve functionality for work and storage areas or to convert the space to living areas, remodeling a garage calls for work in a number of trades so requires careful coordination of pros like framers, drywallers, electricians, plumbers, and painters.

    General contractors are well-suited for just about any job that requires work in a number of skill areas, even a seemingly small repair project. Some jobs, like installing a ceiling light or a dishwasher in a new location, repairing a second-floor plumbing leak, or converting from an electric appliance to gas, typically involve licensed pros as well as carpenters, tile setters, or other tradesmen whose skills are needed to repair damage created in the process of the repair or conversion.


    A GC is a natural choice for any interior remodeling project as well as for exterior updates that might involve multiple trades, such as window or door replacement that affects the trim or siding or a landscaping job that involves grading, deck building, a pool installation, or driveway replacement.


    8. What is the Cost to Hire a General Contractor?

    Since the jobs that general contractors manage are usually complex and involve subcontractors, they are typically priced as a whole, rather than by the hour, square foot, or other unit. Rates for each aspect of the job are generally based on the cost of labor for each trade, which ranges from $25 to $60 per man hour for general construction and $55 to $150 per hour for licensed trades like plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems.


    A GC’s total bid may include a markup of 10 to 20 percent on materials or work provided by subcontractors, which covers the time they invest and the liability they assume by taking responsibility for the entire job.


    To see how the features of various projects affect the cost of hiring a general contractor, take a look at our Contracting Price Guides and see how your own job compares.


    9. Find Local General Contractors

    Hiring the right general contractor can help ensure your project runs smoothly, but the process of finding local pros can be intimidating at the outset. Our in-house staff has verified the credentials and insurance coverage of each pro in our referral network, taking a lot of the guesswork and effort out of the process for you. Hiring one of our trusted pros can give you the assurance the job will be done right, every step of the way.

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