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Choosing a General Contractor

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General contractors are construction experts that manage medium and large projects.  As their title suggests, general contractors oversee all aspects of a build from purchasing materials and hiring tradespeople and subcontractors to applying for permits and maintaining project timelines.  It should be obvious by now that hiring a general contractor is not a process one should enter lightly.  If you want to ensure that your job is done well, on time, and on budget, your general contractor can make or break a project.

The first rule of choosing a general contractor is finding somebody with whom you can work easily.  Communication skills and integrity are important qualities of a good contractor.  But even the most reputable general contractor may have a working style that doesn’t fit your personal style, so take some time to get to know your contractor before you make your final decision.  You can assume that there will be bumps along the road for your project, so the right fit between owner and contractor is incredibly important.

Next, it’s important you understand the roles of your contractor.  Early in the process, potential contractors will bid on your job and this will usually include an estimate for the project.  Beyond negotiating their own contract with the owner, general contractors will also hire and negotiate contracts for tradespeople and subcontractors.  General contractors obtain permits, arrange inspections, manage payments to subcontractors and other workers, order and pay for materials, and provide general supervisory duties.  As the owner, it’s your responsibility to negotiate your rights and expectations before making an agreement with a general contractor.

When you are choosing your contractor, choose wisely.  Arrange for bids from competing general contractors who have experience with the scope and scale of your project.  Ideally, choose somebody you’ve worked with and have established a good relationship with in the past.  If that’s not possible, choose a contractor who offers an appropriate bid but who also has established roots in the community and can provide references on request.  Trusted referrals are also a good way to find a reputable contractor.

Finally, ask your contractor specific questions before making a final decision.  This might mean you ask for examples of past projects that are like your own, but you may also consider asking more hard-hitting questions.  For example, ask your contractor to describe a project where they experienced cost overruns or delays and what happened.  Challenging questions will force your contractor to think on their feet while also providing you an opportunity to assess their expertise.

Choosing a general contractor can be a time-consuming process, but you should never rush.  Hiring the lowest bidder can be fraught with problems, but you’re not safe by simply choosing a more expensive option.  Choosing a qualified contractor with whom you have established a comfortable working relationship will save you money in the long run.

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