What to Look For when Hiring a General Contractor

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When a new home needs to be built or a remodeling project must be completed, you will almost assuredly need to hire a general contractor for the job. General contractors are directly responsible for managing construction projects and will be the main individual who speaks with the property owner throughout the construction process. Since general contractors manage the entire construction process, they will also be in charge of hiring specialists and subcontractors to handle a wide range of tasks, which extend to the painting, roofing, heating, and plumbing components of a construction project.

In order for someone to become a general contractor and obtain the necessary license, they will need to first receive a high school diploma. Though not wholly necessary, having a bachelor’s degree significantly improves job prospects. The degree fields that a person can study in to become a general contractor include civil engineering, construction management, and construction or building science. Licenses are also required in all states. To eventually become a general contractor, practical experience is highly important. This experience can include work as a plumber, electrician, or carpenter and will need to cover at least four out of the past 10 years.

This article goes in depth about what it takes to find the right contractor for the job.

How General Contractors are Involved in the Permit Process

General contractors are necessary for the building permit process. Obtaining a building permit is essential if you want a general contractor to be able to complete the project at hand. In California, building permits are needed for major renovations and new home construction projects. While it’s possible to obtain the initial building permit without the help of a general contractor, the contractor you hire should take care of this for you.

These contractors are also needed for the eventual inspections that occur within the building permit process. All construction work that occurs after receiving a building permit will need to be inspected at least once to ensure that the completed work matches the building plans that were submitted at the beginning of the building permit process. The general contractor you hire for the project will be tasked with coordinating the inspections as well as any work that occurs on the project.

If the construction work doesn’t match the building plans, the general contractor will be required to make the necessary changes and corrections. On the other hand, the property owner is still the responsible party when it comes to making sure that the project is completed to specification. If the property passes inspection, the property owner will receive a final Certificate of Occupancy, which means that the general contractor’s work is done.

5 Things to Look for in a General Contractor

While there are many things that you should look for when selecting the right general contractor for the job, the following offers five of the most important guidelines that you should adhere to.

1. General Contractors Must Be Licensed

Likely the most important aspect of hiring a general contractor is to make sure the contractor you hire is fully licensed. In California, any contractor that alters or constructs a building must be licensed, which is done to ensure that the contractor in question is legitimate and has the training necessary to provide a certain level of quality with their work. If a general contractor that you interview hasn’t been licensed, it’s likely that they are attempting to get your money without providing adequate work.

It’s also important that the contractor you hire has a license if you want to sell the property in the future. If renovations or any kind of work is done to your property, this work will need to be performed by a licensed contractor in order for future buyers to feel as though the work has been completed properly. Otherwise, buyers could claim that the work isn’t up to code or doesn’t match the quality that they want. Banks are also wary about providing loans for a home that has been modified by an unlicensed contractor. Keep in mind that this varies by state. While all general contractors throughout the state of California require a license, the same isn’t true in states like Colorado, Iowa, and Maine.

2. Experience and Reviews/References

When you’re searching for the right general contractor for the job, make sure that you check their experience and any reviews/references that they can provide. Even a general contractor who has just received this particular job title must have at least four years of experience as a journeyman contractor, foreman, or supervisor if they want to operate as a general contractor in California. Along with this base level of experience, it’s recommended that you only hire general contractors who have garnered extensive experience working on the type of project that you’re hiring for.

Ask the contractor how long they’ve been in business, if they can provide customer references of their past work, and how many projects they are able to complete in a given month. The answers to these questions should help you determine if the general contractor in question is legitimate and would be a good hire. It’s essential that they are able to provide you with reviews from previous clients. If your request is denied, it’s possible that past customers didn’t have good experiences. You should also check their website for any images or videos of their past work, which could give you a better understanding of their reliability.

3. Cost and Budget

It’s important that you look at the overall cost of the general contractor, which will allow you to compare this cost to your budget. Before you hire a general contractor, you should request at least three quotes. Once you obtain these quotes, they can be compared to identify what the price for their services will be. Though you might be tempted to choose the lowest price to save money or the highest price to obtain better qualify workmanship, it’s more important to select a contractor who offers competitive pricing.

Before you request a quote, identify the hours you want the general contractor and any workers to be on the job site for. Once you set these hours, the general contractor in question should be able to provide you with a price estimate for what you want. However, you can’t be certain that the price estimate will be reflective of the final price you’re required to pay.

There’s always a possibility that unexpected costs will arise during a construction project, which is why you should expect to pay at least 10-15 percent over the price estimate. Before the job starts, you’ll likely be provided with a payment schedule by the contractor you hire. This schedule will require you to make payments at different stages of the construction process. You should never pay more than 10 percent of the total project costs before the work starts.

4. Property Permits

As touched upon previously, general contractors play a substantial role within the permitting process. Most renovation projects and new construction projects require building permits. If you don’t obtain a permit, the penalties can be severe and may include complete removal of the work that has already been done. When you’re hiring a general contractor, they may request that you obtain the necessary permits for the job. If this request is made, you should consider hiring another general contractor. A reputable contractor will apply for and obtain any permit that’s needed for the project at hand without first requesting that you do so.

The general contractor is also involved in the inspection process. They are required to schedule inspections throughout the construction process. In the event that some of the construction work doesn’t pass inspection, the general contractor must make the necessary corrections before requesting another inspection.

5. Sign a Detailed Contract

If you believe that you’ve found the right general contractor for the job, it’s now time for a contract to be signed. Before you sign any contract, make sure that the documents provided to you aren’t scant and devoid of details.

The contract should display a significant amount of information about the general contractor, which includes the license number for the contractor, answers to questions about materials that are being used in the project, timelines for the project, and even the total experience that the contractor has. In the event that the contract doesn’t have much details, it’s possible that some fees are being hidden. Before you sign a detailed contract, make sure that you fully understand what work you want to be done, what your budget is, and if there are any workers’ compensation agreements or liabilities for the project.

What to Remember When Hiring a General Contractor

When you’re looking to hire a general contractor, there are several things to remember that should help you make a good decision. For one, communication is key if you want to be kept informed about the progress of the construction project along the way. If the contractor doesn’t answer your questions or return phone calls promptly, this might indicate that they won’t provide good communication throughout the project. Frequent conversations are very important during any construction project to ensure that you are wholly satisfied.

Trust is critical when you’re trying to find the right contractor. The contractor you’re thinking about hiring should be willing to answer any question you might have about the work they’ve done or their experience. It’s also important that you ask questions about the project while it’s ongoing and that you point out any aspects of the work that you don’t like. With clear communication, you should be happy about the final result and the work that the general contractor provides.

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