How to Find General Contractors
If you want to do some renovations around the house, whether it’s a big fix or small, a general contractor can help you get things done, on time and on budget. Although the internet’s a good place to start, don’t just settle for the first result in a “general contractors near me” search. Finding a good contractor is about doing your homework before you hire: from exploring online reviews to speaking with previous clients to verifying the general contractor’s business finances are solvent.
Hiring the right general contractor can help ensure that your home projects are done correctly. That means the renovation will have a better chance of being done right the first time. And when done well, home renovations can boost real estate values and make your home more livable.
Take a look at our tips to help you source a general contractor you can trust:
Table of Contents
What Is a General Contractor?
General contractors are professionally licensed, bonded and insured professionals who typically manage the day-to-day operations of large-scale construction projects like renovations and home remodels. They typically source the materials for your project, hire subcontractors to get the work done and provide many of the tools and equipment necessary to complete the project.
What Does a General Contractor Do?
General contractors are key because their deep industry knowhow can help prevent costly delays in a number of important ways. Consider general contractors your home renovation’s private manager.
They’ll coordinate the timing of specialized subcontractors and help ensure all aspects of your project run smoothly and get done on time.
If your project requires code inspections, many general contractors are familiar with local ordinances, permit requirements and building codes — they can help steer the progress of your job so inspections pass without a hitch.
What Does it Cost to Hire a General Contractor?
The cost to hire a general contractor depends on factors like your location, the materials needed, the scope of the project and the general contractor’s rate. Some general contractors will charge a flat rate — between 10 and 20 percent of the complete project cost.
Whether your general contractor needs to hire subcontractors to get a specific task done is also a big factor when trying to understand pricing. For example, if you are renovating your kitchen, your contractor may need to hire a plumber to help with installing the sink. Those added subspecialty labor costs can add up quickly.
Home Advisor estimates the average rates of contractors and the average costs of projects that general contractors are typically hired for:
- Electricians: $50 to $100 per hour. Average $321 for an average project
- Plumbers: $45 to $200 per hour. Average $315 for an average project
- Bathroom remodel general contractor fees: $300 to $500 per day
- Average cost of home kitchen remodel: $13,053 to $37,018
- Average cost of home renovation and remodel: $15,000 to $200,000
20 Tips for Finding a General Contractor
Because you’ll be trusting the general contractor with managing your entire project, you’ll want to find the most reliable contractor you can for your budget. It’s also important to know what red flags to look out for.
1. Define your goals and contact your realtor
You know what you want, right? Put pen to paper and get specific on your home improvement goals. Your general contractor can help you find the right experts later — now’s the time to think about how this project can best suit your needs and increase your home's resale value. Now might be the right time to check in with your real estate agent. They can guide you towards home improvement projects that can maximize your return on investment if you're planning on selling soon.
2. Leverage your agent’s skillset
Your American Family Insurance agent is a great resource and always ready to help. And with Hedge by American Family Insurance, you’ve got resources waiting in the wings. Hedge’s Home Ready Assist utility can help you find a pre-approved professional in your area. Best of all, as an American Family customer, the service is free!
3. Explore insurance-friendly materials now
Talk to your agent about homeowners insurance discounts for using preferred construction materials now. Going with the cheapest bid and least-expensive products may actually cost you in the long run. High-impact roofing tiles and sturdy cement-based siding options can outlast other products and cost less to maintain. Likewise, installing smart home monitoring systems can do a lot to help save on your premiums, too.
4. Seek out general contractor referrals
Word of mouth is a great way to do business. Start out by asking your friends and family if they know any good contractors. Reach out to your social media circle and ask for recommendations from co-workers. Don’t forget to look through online reviews, too.
5. Use caution when seeking storm damage bids
In the wake of a catastrophic weather event, “storm chasers,” AKA outside contractors, often descend into the affected area. Some may seek to take advantage of you after a severe weather occurs. Do your best to work with local contractors near you who have ties to the community and a reputation to uphold. They’ll also be better versed on where to find subcontractors and suppliers in your region and are more likely to comply with local licensing requirements.
6. Ask the right questions at your contractor interview
Ideally, you should interview at least five prospective contractors. Dive deep into the details of your project and make sure your top pick has a history of construction efforts under their belt just like yours. The right contractor will be willing to take the time and help you understand each phase of your project. Here are a few key questions to ask in order to help you properly vet a general contractor:
- Do they handle jobs like yours regularly and is the size of your project within their skillset?
- Do they subcontract any of the work? If so, interview the subcontractors they use.
- How long have they been in business?
- Do they have the proper licenses for your municipality?
- Will they give you a list of references or previous clients that you can call?
- When can they start working and how long will it take?
- How many projects will they have going at the same time?
- How do they handle municipal permitting and code compliance?
- How much will the entire project cost and how much of that is for supplies?
- Are they currently insured and bonded?
Plan on interviewing five to ten different contractors and getting a written bid from each one. Once you have three (or more) bids, don’t be afraid to negotiate on price.
7. Select a contractor that specializes in your type of project
If you have hail damage and you need your roof replaced, you’ll want a contractor with roofing experience. The goal here is to find the right builder, with the right set of skills, for the job at hand.
8. Learn what you can about subcontractors
It’s not uncommon for a general contractor to use subcontractors for specialized jobs. Take time to learn more about who they are, what they do, what that means, how payments are handled, etc.
9. Check references
If the contractor gave you references, don’t hesitate to give them a call. Even better — find a project they’re currently working on and ask the homeowner if you can stop by to see them in action on the job. Check out how clean the jobsite is. How many people are working? Does it look safe and are they being respectful of the homeowner’s property?
10. Research the solvency and reliability of your candidate contractors
The Better Business Bureau and local court records online are excellent resources for learning about any past issues connected to a contractor. It’s also a good idea to dig into professional disciplinary board records in your region. Also consider researching online through popular review sites like Yelp or Angie’s List as a quick way to find top-rated local contractors.
11. Determine if their licenses are in order
Municipalities can vary on licensing requirements, but a license of some sort is typically required. Check to see what your area recommends and then make sure the contractor you’re considering is up to date on their requirements.
12. Insist on having the proper permits
If a contractor suggests skipping the permits to save money and time, it’s time to find a different contractor. If you don’t get the proper permits, you could be at risk of violating local ordinances, and that could lead to a fine. And when you have the right permits, it means the work will be properly inspected by the city or county to ensure everything is up to code.
13. Require a detailed, signed contract
It’s best if you can have each phase of the project clearly defined in your contract. Specify amounts to be paid and milestones that trigger a payment. If changes occur, get it in writing and be sure it’s signed by all parties, as well. Request dated and signed receipts for all payments.
14. Be wary of low bids
If one of the bids comes in way lower than the others, it’s probably not a good idea to go with that contractor. It may be a sign that they intend to cut corners. The money you think you’re saving now could lead to big expenses later.
15. Verify insurance coverage
Request a copy of the contractor’s insurance policy for your records. And be sure to speak with your agent so you know what’s covered by your homeowners insurance and what’s covered by the contractor’s business insurance.
16. Pay only a small percentage upfront
While it’s expected that you’ll make a down payment upfront in order to buy materials, never pay the entire bill until work is complete. If you can, set up a payment schedule. Both parties should feel comfortable that the payment schedule is fair.
17. Put funds aside for unforeseen expenses
Often, breaking into walls and floors can reveal unpleasant surprises. Mold, rot and electrical problems can and do surface frequently after work starts. It’s best to budget for unexpected costs before you need them, in the event that more work will have to be done to keep your home up to code and safe.
18. Stay in touch with your general contractor
As the project gets underway, be sure you’re getting regular progress reports and updates on how things are progressing. You’ll be able to see more clearly how your money’s being spent and when issues arise, that check-in can help you react quickly if something’s wrong or needs additional attention.
19. Agree to standard operating procedures before work starts
A great way to avoid conflict is to anticipate issues before they arise. Create an addendum to your contract that lays out the ground rules for how the general contractor is to operate when on site. From working hours to detailing workers use of your home’s facilities, ironing these details out now can help keep your sanity after the laborers arrive. And be sure to specify how workers should clean up at the end of each workday.
20. Manage product receipts and lien releases carefully
When you’re entrusting others with your hard-earned money, be sure to remain diligent about how it’s being spent. If your contractor’s placed a temporary lien on your home in lieu of payment, be certain you receive a release of lien document once the project’s been paid in full. Also, be sure to reconcile the purchase receipts against the estimate and the final bill.
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