Hiring a General Contractor (GC) for your construction project is a big deal, and possibly the most critical decisions you’ll make during the process. It can mean the difference between an enjoyable process or a nightmare! We’ve all heard the contractor horror stories, and some of us have experienced them first hand.
Honestly, it’s a lot like picking a mate. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together. They have the potential to see you at your worst – frustrated, overwhelmed, and just plain over it. You want to be sure you have a partner that is going to meet your needs to make the experience enjoyable and give you an end result you’re going to love.
Here are 6 important things to consider when you’re shopping for a General Contractor (and 1 that is probably not as important as you might think).
And be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom to grab a free resource that you are definitely going to want for your upcoming project!
LICENCE + INSURANCE
This one may sound obvious, but speaking as a people pleaser, it’s not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable in asking this most basic question.
If your state has licencing, you'll likely want to be sure your GC is licensed. Texas doesn't have specific General Contractor licensing requirements, but many states do. Other organizations like NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) can be a helpful resource in finding good qualified contractors and provide different certifications. But some great contractors aren't a part of this organization, so it's not the be-all-end-all.
There are many different sizes and types of insurance policies, but the contractor needs to be carrying at a minimum a policy that covers the workmanship of the project (General Liability) as well as covering any injuries that happen on the project (Workers Compensation). If he/she doesn’t have this, you could be left holding the bag should something happen on site.
SIMILAR WORK EXPERIENCE
There’s a comfort level in knowing that your GC has done this before. Check out their portfolio of work to see if it is similar to your type of project. This doesn’t have to be completely literal; just look for similar types and sizes of project.
Don’t be too swayed by the Interior Design style of the projects; a good contractor can build what you ask them to. But if you know you’re going to want something really specialty or high-end, it is good to see similar types of finish outs in their work.
Most folks don’t want to be the Guinea pig. If a GC has never done a home addition before, there is some risk in being the first one to trust them with such a large project. But I’ll say this – that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t capable because everyone has to start somewhere, and they might be willing to work with you on price so that they can gain the experience.
If their portfolio work is solid, and especially if you know others who have worked with them before to rave reviews, it might be worth it! We’ve watched our favorite GCs grow over the years to take on larger, more complex, higher end projects and they’ve been up to the task.
Another helpful tip – Contractors are notorious for spending lots of time in the field working, but not so much time updating their websites. If they have any Social Media accounts, follow them there for a more up-to-date look at what they are working on.
There are generally 2 ways that Contractors bid their work, and you need to know which method your GC is going to use before you sign on the dotted line.
1. LUMP SUM – the contractor will give you one number for the cost to do the entire project. You aren’t necessarily going to see a breakdown for how much they are paying for subcontractors, materials, or overhead and profit.
a. PROS: The nice thing about this is that you know exactly what you’re going to pay. Also, if a contractor has messed up the math in your favor, they will typically have to absorb that extra cost instead of passing it onto you, since they committed to do the job at a set price.
b. CONS: The downside is that it creates unease for some people to not understand where their money is going. If you don’t have a trusting relationship with your GC, it could lead to resentment.
2. COST PLUS – the contractor lays out a transparent bid for you to review, with line items showing what each piece of the project will cost. Demolition, dumpster fees, plumber, drywall, electrician; everything that it takes to put the project together. At the bottom there will be a line item for Profit and General Conditions – meaning their cost to manage the project for you. This can range anywhere from 15% - 35% (or more).
a. PROS: You have a full look at exactly where the costs are allocated in the project, giving you some peace
of mind that you know what’s going on behind the scenes.
b. CONS: You are far more likely to receive a Change Order (request for additional funds) should anything change. If you ask for a few additional can lights and the electrician works another half day, you’re going to get his bill plus the Profit %. If lumber costs, cabinetry costs, appliances, ANY cost change dramatically, you could see an increase on the bottom line of your project.
So which is the best method? Well, there’s no one size fits all answer. We work with several GCs that we know and love, and both methods are used. You need to do a little introspection to know which method sits right with you and will make you the most comfortable.
Communication is the piece of the puzzle that can make the biggest difference to how you feel about the construction process emotionally. The project can be progressing well, built solidly, with no major hiccups – but if the communication isn’t meeting your expectations, you’re going to be irritated.
Ask your contractor about his/her communication style, and share your expectations as to how you want communication to be handled. Think about:
Do you want frequent updates on a regular basis (daily? weekly?) or do you only want to be looped in on important matters, like if something unexpected pops up?
Do you want a regularly scheduled walk throughs where you can ask questions all at one time? Or is it more realistic that you will walk through on your own and then send them questions later?
What are their office hours? Do they prefer email, phone calls, text messages, or a combo?
Tough talk – are you a micromanager? Trust me, I mean zero disrespect and want to set you up for success. If you know you’re going to be invested in all the details, expecting daily reports of what tasks will be done each day and who will be working onsite, asking the contractor to explain their process and reasoning for why they do what they do throughout the job – tell your potential contractor this. It will be far better for you and a GC to know that you’re not going to be a good match in the communication department and go separate ways rather than pretending that you’re going to be hands-off if you know in your heart that you aren’t. Many GCs are fine with involved homeowners and are happy to walk you through what they are doing; others prefer to have the run of the show and update you when they think you need an update. Most are in the middle.
WHO IS ACTUALLY ON THE JOB
It’s important to ask who the actual human will be that will be in charge of your project. Often the person whose name is on the business is not your day-to-day contact. They may run the business and pop in from time to time, but they have a Supervisor or Project Manager that you’ll see running the job. Ask who this person will be, and what the level of involvement will be from the person you’re meeting with.
That je ne sais quoi factor of “do you guys mesh well?” This is the gut feeling that you have when you meet with someone. Conversation is easy, you get along well, and they inspire trust. If you start out with a bad vibe, it’s unlikely that will improve as the project goes on.
A NOTE ON REFERENCES
I’m sure many of you are thinking “why hasn’t she brought up references?!?!” Well, I have a good reason.
No contractor (or architect, or designer, or plumber, or hair stylist, or harmonica tuner) in their right mind is going to give you a list of references of people who will say bad things about them. They are only going to give you the names of folks that will give them glowing reviews. Sure, you can ask and you can call, but don’t expect to hear anything surprising.
START YOUR NEXT PROJECT RIGHT
Hopefully this list gives you a great starting point on your quest for the perfect contractor, but we want to give you even more tools for success. We’ve created a Project Planning Guide that is brimming with the info you need to set your project up for success. This FREE RESOURCE will help you:
Determine what your top priorities are for your project (not what Pinterest says is most important)
Understand project timelines and schedules
Craft a realistic project budget
Assemble your Dream Team
Give you more questions to ask your potential Contractors, Designers, and Architects
And so much more!