A Practical Guide to Choosing a General Contractor

Choosing a contractor can be complicated, especially if you’re hiring for your first home or renovation.

General contractors are responsible for overseeing work on an entire project, including planning and management of the design, hiring subcontractors to do the actual work, coordinating with owners/landlords/tenants (if applicable) and making sure everything is completed within schedule and budget.

A ‘general’ contractor performs many different roles depending on their experience level. For someone starting out in this industry, they’ll typically act as the GC themselves; beginning with small projects like additions or remodels then working up to larger scale jobs like new construction or commercial renovations. As their skill set grows, some eventually become construction managers (CM), who manage all aspects of a project, but don’t do the actual construction themselves.

General contractors are the main point of contact on any job site, so it’s important to find someone you feel comfortable with. Besides communicating clearly and answering all your questions in a timely manner there are several things that can be helpful to consider when choosing a contractor for your next renovation or new construction project. Here are some factors that may help inform your decision:


1) Ask For References/Reviews

The best way to find out if they’re good at what they do is by asking for references from past clients. They should have no problem providing these if they did satisfactory work. If someone won’t give you references or seems hesitant, this could be an indication that their work isn’t up to par.

Of course, keep in mind that some negative reviews may be unjustified or exaggerated. And just because they generally have good reviews, it doesn’t mean every aspect of the job was okay. If you see a lot of mixed reviews about an individual’s quality of work/professionalism/communication you’ll want to follow up and ask them directly what the issues were so you can decide if it makes sense for your project or not.

2) Make Sure They’re Licensed & Certified

Construction projects come with inherent risks and possible legal problems down the road – particularly if something goes wrong on-site. There are several different types of contractor licenses as well as various certifications which test specific trades, like carpentry or plumbing.

Before hiring anyone make sure to check their credentials and verify they are properly licensed and insured (which should be clearly stated on their website). This protects you as the client, but also your contractor in case something happens on-site (which is why liability insurance should always be part of the deal). Don’t take someone’s word that they’re certified/licensed; do some research online to confirm this for yourself.

3) Communicate Clearly

The more open you are with your vision, expectations and ideas about how you see your space coming together the better. It’s always helpful if at least one person knows what’s going on during construction so there aren’t any surprises down the road. Many general contractors will happily listen and help you come up with a workable budget, but be sure to tell them if you’d rather hire your own GC so they don’t waste their time/resources.

4) Get Everything In Writing

Contractors are generally reputable people, but even the most honest GC may forget something small over the course of several months on-site. Having everything in writing protects everyone involved by making sure there are no misunderstandings or confusion about timelines/budget/design elements etc. Make sure all revisions to initial plans are also documented for future reference by both parties. This way any changes won’t result in surprises if say the contractor notices some faulty wiring during installation or sees that you’ve made unauthorized changes to cabinets.

5) Trust Your Instincts

If you’re not 100% confident in someone’s abilities or feel something is off it may be best to look elsewhere. There are also some other key red flags to keep an eye out for during the selection process. For example, if a general contractor doesn’t have insurance, office space or has only been in business for less than 3 years they may be a fly-by-night operation. It’s also a good idea to confirm how many full-time employees they have and ask about their training/certification processes (if applicable). They should be able to provide this information with no problem. All of these factors combined will help paint a complete picture of who you’re dealing with and whether or not they’re the right one for the job.

6) Ask For A Written Proposal

Once you’ve whittled your list down to a handful of qualified candidates it’s time to request written proposals with in-depth breakdowns of their services, cost estimates and any additional fees that may apply (like travel costs or special material/equipment expenses). There should also be information about how long the project will take and when each step will occur.

Asking for this in writing makes sure everyone has access to exactly what was agreed upon when it comes time to sign contracts.

7) Make Sure They Are Significantly Involved & Actively Participate In The Design/Bidding Process

It’s good to have a contractor who knows their stuff and can suggest cost-effective solutions or ideas to improve your design, but they should never dictate the direction of the project without extensive input from you. It may also be helpful to have someone around who is capable of building something themselves in a pinch if other trades are delayed by weather or another issue.

8) Discuss A Timeline Of Events & How Payments Will Work

The construction process can be broken down into a series of individual steps which all require different timetables and payment schedules. This means it’s important to establish exactly when each part will occur (which is why it’s highly recommended that at least one person knows what’s going on during construction).

For example, you will probably want to pay the general contractor a deposit upon signing of the contract and then schedule up to three separate payment milestones (30% or 35% based on what’s specified in the agreement) before construction has been completed. It may also be helpful to state how much money will be “on hold” at any given time so there is never too much cash out at once.

9) Negotiate A Clear Contract With Detailed Timelines And Payment Schedules

Once all parties have agreed on terms and written proposals have been submitted it’s time to sign a legally binding agreement and get down to business. Since contracts can vary greatly depending on individual needs it’s always best using one that was specifically tailored to your project. If none are available, make sure to incorporate any necessary changes before finalizing the terms.

10) Make Sure All Necessary Permits Have Been Acquired

Contact your city or county office to find out what permits are required for your specific type of construction and obtain them as soon as possible in order to stay in compliance with local regulations. It’s also a good idea to have all documentation in hand when starting the bidding process so that you’re not faced with delays if things don’t line up perfectly. Although getting started early may be difficult for some, it will result in much less stress overall especially if you have a strict timeline to keep or need materials delivered at a certain time. There may also be special rules that apply to your project regarding when permits can be issued.


Are You Looking for a General Contractor You Can Trust?

If you’re considering a whole house, kitchen or bathroom remodel, New Key Construction, based in Walnut Creek California, is here to serve you. Our passion is to be the home for talented craftsmen who deliver beautiful projects to clients throughout the SF East Bay Area! Choosing the right general contractor for your project can be difficult, but we make things easy by focusing on Your Experience, Client Communication, Cutting Edge Technology and Pushing Our Design and Build Limits!  If we could have one goal, it would be that when someone you know is looking for a contractor you highly recommend our company because of the experience we deliver for you! Check out our website, our portfolio and our reviews to learn more – or give us a call today.