When starting a home remodel or new construction project, you will probably hire a general contractor. A general contractor is a professional who is qualified to take a set of building plans and construct them as outlined. The general contractor may help perform the day-to-day building, or they may just hire workers and oversee all the work activities. In either case, the job of the general contractor is to see that your project gets built.
When you have a building project, ask for bids from various contractors. The bids tell you how much each will charge and what their scope of work will be. Once you have selected a bid, you sign a contract with that general contractor outlining the specifics of the project and the milestones during the project when they will receive payment installments. Once the contract is official, the general contractor will bring in their crew to begin construction. The contractor will manage the workers and subcontractors (anyone who doesn’t work directly for their company but that they need to outsource, like a marble installation pro), order all the materials, obtain work permits, and confirm that all the workers and subcontractors are completing their projects as planned. They typically handle all the payments to the workers and subcontractors, and send you invoice. For all these reasons, it’s also especially important to follow a few smart hiring practices when it comes to finding a general contractor. If you are organized and competent to oversee construction projects, and are able to make sure everything is being built properly and meeting code, it’s possible you can be your own general contractor.
Construction project managers help in all stages of your construction project, starting from the very first step. Typically paid a percentage of a total project cost, they are part of the design and planning process and help ensure seamless communication between the design parties and the construction team. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, their scope of work includes preparing cost estimates, budgets and work timetables; interpreting and explaining contracts and technical information to other professionals; reporting work progress and budget to clients; collaborating with architects, engineers and other construction pros; selecting subcontractors and scheduling and coordinating their tasks; responding to work delays, emergencies and other problems; and ensuring compliance with legal requirements, building and safety codes, and other regulations.
The work of construction project managers may seem very similar to that of general contractors, but there are some critical differences. One difference is that, unlike most general contractors, project managers are not engaged in the actual construction — they are onsite overseeing the work of subcontractors. Another key difference is that project managers are hired during the design phase, while general contractors are hired after plans have been made. The project manager is generally paid a percentage of the total project cost, while the general contractor is more typically paid according to the bid they gave to build your project.
Hiring a general contractor is a good idea for many remodeling projects. Home renovation contractors have a broad range of skills to manage, coordinate and complete a project. They should help make sure your project comes in on time and within your budget as they hire and supervise all the necessary subcontractors, including electricians and plumbers. They also handle procuring all the materials required for your job. Some homeowners look to save money by acting as their own contractor, but an experienced home renovation contractor is worth the cost. They should know local building codes, be able to pull all necessary permits, and work with inspectors to make sure the construction meets local codes. Also, because they get professional discounts, they can typically buy materials at a better price than you can; better prices on materials and labor save you money, and make up for at least a percentage of the cost of the contractor.
It’s important to know if your project requires work by a licensed professional, as licensing laws can vary by state, locality, and job details. You can find general licensing information online at the government websites that handle occupational licensing for a given profession in your state or location. Some states designate a project cost over which you have to hire a licensed contractor. To find qualified licensed contractors, search your state’s licensing board. For example, in California, the Department of Consumer Affairs operates a searchable database through the Contractors State License Board. In some states, contracting licenses are provided at a regional level. You can find links to specific databases on BRB Publications’ Occupational Licensing page. Red flags that a contractor may not be licensed or may be providing an expired or false license number are unreasonably low bids or a request for complete payment upfront. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring on Thumbtack.
A few home remodeling projects can be done by an ambitious DIY-minded homeowner or local handyman, but many are best completed by a professional home renovation contractor. You should hire a contractor when you’re planning a large project that takes time, machinery or large tools, and several workers; a kitchen remodel, new bathroom or home addition will be most successful with a licensed, expert contractor at the helm. It’s particularly important to have a professional contractor on board for construction, electrical, plumbing and HVAC projects that require inspections to meet local building codes. Of course, you can hire a contractor for smaller projects, too, if you prefer to let an expert handle things like addition or removal of a wall, small framing projects, or anything that requires a permit.
You should hire a contractor when you’re ready to start a remodeling project and you have plans, a budget and a timeline for the work in hand, but before any remodeling work begins.