If you’re looking into building or remodeling, you’ve probably run into the term “general contractor.” What is a general contractor? Put simply, a general contractor or GC manages construction projects. 

Whether an individual or a company (like Pro.com), a GC oversees the big picture: sourcing materials, hiring subcontractors, and furnishing equipment and tools. They also assume responsibility for key factors like timeline and site safety. If your project is an orchestra, the GC is the conductor. 

What does a general contractor do? 

Residental general contractors are seasoned experts on home improvement. They work with you to conceptualize your project at a high level, including design and project timeline. They hire subcontractors to accomplish specific tasks (like installing wiring or hanging drywall) at the right stages of construction. The same construction industry know-how that helps GCs source the right subcontractors also helps them enforce quality work. 

Ensuring quality and compliance is perhaps the most important function of a GC for the average homeowner. When GCs pull building permits, they file under their business name. This makes them accountable for following building codes. Any violations will be theirs to remedy. A serious boon, considering the hefty fees and lingering legal trouble (an unsellable house, for one) of out-of-code construction. 

GCs also protect you from liability. You’ve probably heard that the magic recipe for good general contractors is “licensed, bonded, and insured.” Like building codes, licensing requirements vary by locality. While not all states require general contractors to be licensed, you should always look for the other two ingredients: bonded and insured. Experienced general contractors carry worker’s compensation, which relieves you from liability for injuries sustained on your property. 

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What’s the difference between a “subcontractor” and a “general contractor”?

Subcontractors, or simply, contractors, are hired to perform specialized tasks, like plumbing or electrical work. General contractors hire subcontractors and coordinate their work to keep the larger project on track. 

One common misconception is that a general contractor is a general laborer — a jack-of-all-trades handyman who can perform all the work needed on a construction project. Another misconception is that a general contractor personally employs all the tradespeople needed in construction. In reality, most GCs are project managers. They may keep some tradespeople on staff (Pro employs electricians and handymen, for example), but their job is to oversee the project, the site, and the schedule, from pouring the concrete to hauling away the last debris. 

When do I need a general contractor? 

Hiring a general contractor is a wise first step for home remodeling and new construction projects. In short, any building project that will require permitting and involve multiple tradespeople. You get the relief of having someone else handle the day-to-day while making sure the entire project gets completed — safely, legally, and in a timely manner. 

With small projects, it might be more cost-effective to hire needed trades directly. If your bathroom reno needs only a plumber and a carpenter, you may feel comfortable sourcing and directing that labor yourself.

How do I hire a general contractor? 

We put together a detailed guide on hiring a general contractor to help you make that first hire that helps the entire project go right. There’s a lot to consider, but here are essential points:

  • Put together a shortlist of promising GCs. Word-of-mouth recommendations, online reviews, building inspectors, and industry organizations can all supply ideas. 
  • Check their work. You want to hire a GC that has successfully completed similar projects with glowing reviews from clients. 
  • Verify that they are properly licensed and insured. Requirements vary by state, but checking credentials appropriate to your area is the best way of confirming track record and responsibility. 
  • Request bids from your top picks. And don’t just look at the bottom line. A full breakdown of costs and a detailed project timeline are two signs of a detail-oriented and conscientious GC. 

How much does hiring a general contractor cost? 

The cost of working with a general contractor depends on the project, the company, the location, and many other variables, like whether they will be responsible for pulling permits or collaborating with an architect. You will receive a price point in their bid that should include labors, materials, and project management, as well as their profit margin.

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