When taking on a big project, many folks wonder if they should take on the role of General Contractor. Our company is in a position in which our customers are General Contractors and homeowners alike so we’ve seen a lot over the years.
As a trade professional who deals with professional General Contractors, not-so-professional General Contractors, and homeowners who oversee their own projects, I think I can give some great insight from a third party birds eye view to help with this decision. Lets use GC for General Contractor from here on out to make life easier for us both.
There are many things a good GC should do to earn your money. They are getting paid to oversee the project at hand. That means taking responsibility if subcontractors don’t show up, for mistakes made on the job, ordering and picking up materials, and very importantly subcontractor timing. For a job to go smoothly and have a happy ending, they must precisely and consistently explain to the client and subcontractors what is to be done. Done correctly, it is absolutely a full time job.
So do you GC yourself? If you have the time to dedicate to searching out great trade professionals, will to admit that you make mistakes, and have a developed ego to pay for mistakes you may have made, then yes. Depending on the size of the project, expect to spend a few hours each day explaining to subcontractors exactly what it is you want. The following pitfalls apply both to hired GC’s and homeowners who take the job by the horns, learn from these before you make the same mistakes!
Pitfalls we have seen:
- Poor timing: If you time something poorly, for example schedule the sheetrock to be installed before the electric or plumbing is completed and inspected, be prepared to undo that and pay for the mistake. DO NOT forget about inspections when it comes to electric, plumbing, and any other trade inspections that may be required in your town. DO the research to find out what it is you need. Hint; these go by the name of Underwriters Certificate, Permit, CO, and many more”
- The blame game: “It’s the masons fault,” “The plumber never told me…” “The electrician was supposed to…” Stop right there and accept the responsibility and the hard truth that you are not well enough versed in the many facets of the project. All of these things are 100% the responsibility of the person GC’ing the job. If it is you as a homeowner and you can not take responsibility for these things, hire a reputable GC. If you’ve hired a GC, fire that person and hire a reputable one.
- You’ve hired a not-so-professional GC: Each day a different plumber or electrician is on the job, the GC tells you that there is a hold up because the painter accidentally painted the wrong room, or the tiles went down before the floor heat and now you need more tiles. PAY ATTENTION to these things and have a talk with your GC, these are tell tale signs that something is awry. Again the GC NEEDS to take responsibility for these problems, NOT the trade professionals. That is exactly what you are paying them to do.
- “General Contractors are crooks anyways!”: Sure, depending on your attitude and who you deal with this can very well be the case. There are as many GC’s out there who are looking to cheat someone out of money as there are professional, honest GC’s. Crooks exist in every corner of this world from contractors, lawyers, politicians, and priests, so get the idea out of your head that ALL GC’s are out to get you and profit from your naivety.
What to look for in a good General Contractor:
A good GC will have years of experience. They will admit they do not know everything about everything, specifically ALL trades, but they will definitely know the flow of how jobs go and probably a good amount about many trades. Most likely they will have their own crew of carpenters who do framing, sheetrock, tape, and spackle. They will make time to answer your questions and be honest about how everything is going. Here’s a little list of the good and bad things to look for:
-10+ years of experience
-Licensed and Insured (they don’t just say it, they can prove it)
-Completion of similar projects with pictures and happy customers to show for it
-Open to suggestions, glad to explain why something can or cannot work
-Dedicated work vehicle such as a van or box truck that is clean and neat with the contractor’s information and DOT information on it.
-Provides drawings or even blueprints for the job to flow smoothly
-“We do everything, I know everything” (seriously, huge red flag here)
-Forgets to call you back
-Too busy to oversee the job personally
-No specification of who is doing specialized trades work (Plumbing, Electric)
-Frustrated by questions you may have
-Expects you as the homeowner to know what’s going on
One last important point I have here: find reputable contractors by referrals, don’t count on internet ratings, you’re not looking for the best burger in town. Hire a responsible, experienced GC if you’re expertise is far from anything in the construction trades. Whether you GC a job or hire a professional, don’t expect everything to go exactly as planned from the inception of the project. Unforeseen things come up when walls and floors and fixtures are removed, it’s part of owning a house and the journey to getting exactly what you want. Go with it, ask credible people and do your research. Its better to ask a stupid question than to make a stupid mistake. Be patient with your project and let it be fun, good luck!