Being Your Own General Contractor


Now is a great time for a major home improvement project – many contractors are looking for additional work and you can still get a decent return on your investment with many home upgrades.

Should you be your own general contractor?
If this is your first major home remodeling job, you may be wondering how much money you could save by not hiring a general contractor. You might be able to afford that Sub Zero you’ve been eying or have toasty feet on a cold morning thanks to the new radiant heat floor made possible with all the extra cash you could save. After all, what could they possibly do that you couldn’t handle – you’re intelligent, you watched the contractors build your neighbor’s deck last year, and you’ve seen a few home renovation shows on TV.

The reality is that you could probably do a good job as the general contractor on a small remodeling project, but if you decide to manage a larger job such as a kitchen remodel or finishing your basement, be prepared for the job to take longer to finish and possibly cost much more without a professional at the helm. Training and experience might eventually make you a good general contractor, but learning on your own home while you’re footing the bill may not be the best way to go.
What does an experienced general contractor bring to the party?
The first place a general contractor can save you money is by listening to your plans and making suggestions for a more economical method of tackling the project. Moving a planned basement bathroom might put it closer to existing supply and drain lines and make it less expensive to rough-in or expanding your kitchen in a different direction could eliminate the need to move HVAC and plumbing lines in an existing wall. Other ways a general contractor can ensure your job runs smoothly and stays within budget:

•    Permits – how much do you know about your local jurisdiction’s building permit and inspection process? Probably not much, but an experienced contractor understands what permits are required for your project, knows what’s needed to obtain them, and hopefully has a working relationship with the inspectors.
•    Sub-contractors – have you ever hired a sub-contractor? Do you even know what sub-contractors are needed for your project? An experienced general contractor can take a look at the scope of work for the job and know exactly which sub-contractors are required. In many cases they will already have a work history with the sub-contractors hired. Certain home improvement jobs require specialized skills – you usually don’t want an electrician wiring your kitchen remodel who normally works in poultry houses.
•    Scheduling – a person familiar with the construction industry can walk into a home remodeling project or house addition and know immediately whether an experienced general contractor is managing the job. The secret to a well run project is coordination and proper scheduling. If sub-contractors are walking around the site looking for materials or for someone to answer their questions, there’s a good chance the homeowner may be trying to act as their own general contractor. It might appear to be easy, but coordinating material lead times, dealing with vendors, and getting sub-contractors to show up when they’re needed takes patience, experience, and a lot of knowledge. Few things can delay completion like having a contractor show up to do their job only to discover you’re not ready for them and the next open spot on their schedule is two weeks away. The only thing worse might be having the plumbers scheduled to show up tomorrow and finding out that the soaking tub they need is special order and won’t be delivered for three weeks.

•    Budgeting – can you resist the temptation to make changes to your job or add upgrades while it’s underway? A general contractor can be the little voice in the back of your head letting you know when a change is going to increase your final costs.

Managing a complicated home improvement project takes a large time commitment — unless you’re willing to spend your vacation time talking to sub-contractors instead of soaking up sun at the beach, you might want to leave project management to a professional. Even though it might cost you a little more initially, in the long run you may save money. If you want to be a part of your project, the best of both worlds might be to set up a time to meet with your general contractor each week to tour the job. Use that time to ask any questions you may have or discuss any concerns and leave the headache of managing your home improvement project to a professional – that’s what they’re being paid for.

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