Knowing what a general contractor (GC) is and what he/she does is the first important step to knowing if this is the right person to help you get your project done. This blog post from our friends at the Des Moines Rehabbers Club gives a nice overview of what a general contractor does and costs (original post 2013). You can read more from them at renovateDSM.org.
A general contractor is someone you hire to coordinate a home improvement or construction project. Although many will take on a variety project types and sizes, they are normally used for bigger projects, complex projects, or in cases where there are multiple interconnected projects to be completed.
Traditionally general contractors will have some workers on their payroll to handle demolition, carpentry, electric, plumbing, and other basics; for everything else they will hire various subcontractors, or “subs” (the balance of subs to staff varies). In some cases, a “paper contractor” will not have his or her own staff, but will subcontract all work. In almost all cases, they will have developed relationships over time with certain subcontractors that they know and trust.
Using a general contractor instead of “subbing out” the work yourself will usually cost around 10-20% more on average. In some cases, however, it may actually cost less than doing it yourself, particularly if you don’t get multiple bids when hiring subs. Often the general contractor’s staff can do certain jobs for less than subs.
There are a number of advantages to hiring a general contractor.
In other words, a general contractor can make a project move faster and with less heartache for you.
If you do decide to use a general contractor, interview him or her thoroughly. Be sure to check references and get an itemized cost breakdown as part of the contract.
Note that if you plan on getting a loan to do a major project, the lender will often require that you hire an experienced general contractor unless you can demonstrate substantial experience in the field.
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