How to Hire a General Contractor

Who Do You Really Need?
How big is your project? Does it need a permit? Is it less than $500?
If so, you can probably get by with hiring a reputable handyman unless it requires special licensing such as plumbing or electrical.

Get Recommendations.
Turn to your family and friends first. Word of mouth is the best advertising and they can share their recommendations and horror stories. If you come up dry there, try a local lumberyard. They know which contractors are regulars and buy quality products. They also tend to recommend those that pay their bills on time, showing that they are financially capable.

Call Them Up.
Once you have your list, give them a call. Ask pertinent questions such as “do they take on projects your size?”, “can they give you a list of prior clients?”, and “how long have they worked with their subcontractors?”.

Get Estimates.
Pick your favorites from the phone interviews and get them onsite for an estimate. Make sure you are comfortable with them. Do they appear knowledgeable about your project? Remember these people will be in your house for hours at a time. Do you feel they can meet your need? Ask for a detailed bid. Remember that materials is usually only about 40% of the total estimate. The rest accounts for overhead and labor costs. Also make sure you have a budget decided and know exactly what you are looking to have done.

Don’t Pick the Lowest.
Estimates will have quite a wide range. Don’t go with the cheapest unless they come well referred. Being the lowest usually indicates that they are cutting corners, not fully insured or licensed, or desperate for work. All of which, are signs to look elsewhere. Pick someone you are comfortable with and that you can communicate well with. Pick the one that seems to be “on the same page” about your project.

Set the Payment Schedule.
Be wary of the contractor that wants to be paid up front. Even 50% to start a large job is quite a bit. Small jobs consist of usually only two payments. One up front and one either towards the end or at completion. Large projects are usually broken into more payments. One to start that may be 15-30% of the total price and then equally spaced payments through out the job at set intervals or when milestones are reached.

Get it in Writing.
Draw up a contract that outlines the work to be done, the pay schedule, and start and estimated completion dates. Get a proof of insurance and license. Make sure all parties are clear on every detail.

Enjoy Your Project.
The hard part for you should be almost over. Now you just relax why the general contractor takes care of your need and provides you with everything outlined in the contract.