5 Steps to Hiring a General Contractor for Your Renovation

Knowing how to hire a contractor successfully takes patience, asking the right questions, and understanding your needs

lady discussing plan with general contractor

Renovating can be a complicated process; and the more you know about working with a general contractor, the better prepared you’ll be to navigate the road ahead. While these professionals execute the labor of your renovation, they are also your collaborator to the home you’ve dreamt about and the team who will be in your home for several months. Because of this, you really want to be confident in knowing how to hire a contractor—the right one for your project.

Sweeten, experts in the renovation industry, provides a guide on how to hire a contractor—from what to look for, to the key responsibilities you can expect from your general contractor.

Do you need a general contractor or a handyman?

One of the first steps of starting your project is figuring out who to work with. When considering your scope for a renovation and whether you need to find a general contractor versus a handyman (or DIY!), a good place to start is by weighing the level of labor your project will require. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you hanging things on walls, or taking down walls?
  • Are you re-grouting tiles, or replacing them?
  • Smaller projects to make repairs or patch-over errors are handyman-ready, whereas large-scale projects that may involve your electric or plumbing will require a permit or inspection. In this case, a contractor with a state Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) license will be obligatory.

Determining labor for your renovation

For first-time renovators, figuring out what kind of labor is required for the project can be hard to determine. If you live in a building with a co-op or condo board, your alteration agreement may have parameters that will give you guidelines for hiring a general contractor. In other situations, checking in with your city’s Department of Buildings will give you a sense of what types of projects will require a permit. The most important thing to remember is that cutting corners with unlicensed workers is never worth the risk. It often leads to homeowners needing to pay extra to fix unfinished, subpar, or non-permitted work.

Doing the research to find out whether or not you’ll need to find a general contractor is a crucial step in getting your project off the ground, and once you’ve figured out that you need one, the next step is finding the best contractor for your job.

How to hire a contractor suited to your project 

In the process of interviewing and hiring a general contractor, start by looking for someone with experience in your neighborhood and who has done similar work. This can help you narrow down the field from thousands of general contractors to just a handful of experienced professionals. Keep these questions in mind as you search:

  • Has the contractor done work in your neighborhood?
  • Has the contractor done similar work to what you’re looking to get done?
  • Can the contractor provide quality references and photos of past work?
  • Is the contractor licensed? (Working with an unlicensed contractor isn’t worth the risk!)

Don’t be afraid to ask to see some of their past projects in person or to speak to their past clients—at least two. When we consider general contractors who have applied to join the Sweeten network, we ensure that they have completed transformational renovations with happy customers who are willing to rave about the work even years later. This indicates that the contractor’s work has held up over time. This is what we do at Sweeten when matching our clients to a selection of contractors based on location, budget, scope, and style for the job.

Once you’ve found someone you think would be a good fit for your project, take it one step further and make sure they’re a good fit for you. You’ll be working with this contractor for the duration of your project, so you should like them! Here’s what to look for:

Are they communicative?

  • Make sure that you can trust your contractor to be responsive throughout the entire renovation process. Both parties will need to be on the same page, especially in terms of timeline.

Is it a good fit personality and style-wise?

  • First impressions do matter! The contractor should be able to understand and carry out your particular sense of style. Additionally, with the amount of time they’ll be spending in your home, look for someone who meshes with your personality.

Do they have recent and reliable references?

  • It’s important to review recent references of similar projects that your contractor has completed. You should be aware of the level of satisfaction of past clients. At Sweeten, our contractors have profiles that highlight past projects and client reviews to help you decide.

What does a general contractor do?

Your general contractor manages your project from start to finish, focusing on the following responsibilities:

  • Obtain proper licensing, insurance, and additional documents required by city, state, and specific to building needs
  • Review site conditions and all relevant documents and drawings in order to fully understand the project and generate a proposal and bid (the proposal is the plan and the bid is the proposed cost)
  • Specify the final scope of work, schedule, and come up with a contract
  • Define the payment and deliverables schedules
  • Request and follow advice from the architects, engineers or design team
  • Manage and coordinate general aspects of a project, like site requirements
  • Provide skilled labor, tools, equipment, and various services
  • Coordinate subcontractors and other trades required by the scope of work and oversee the quality of their work
  • Maintain schedule and communication with clients
  • Review project completion with the client and final payment

Asking general contractors for estimates (at least 3)

A contractor will partner with you to decide on:

  1. The final scope of work
  2. Materials
  3. Timeline
  4. The best form of communication, and how often they should check in with you
  5. Budget and payment schedule (make sure you have everything in writing)

Sweeten recommends getting 3-5 estimates from contractors to see where the price range falls. This also allows you to experience the different personalities and communication styles of the contractors. Who you have the best rapport with? Who do you feel the most comfortable with? These factors will play a big part in your decision when hiring a general contractor.

Understanding estimates from general contractors

Bid leveling is a crucial step that will allow you to break down and compare the services the contractor can offer at each price point. This occurs once you have received estimates, or bids, from contractors.

For example, one contractor who gives a higher-priced bid may provide more individual services, like answering questions on the weekend or putting a mood board together for you. A comparative breakdown of the bids will reveal a clearer picture of what services you want as a renovator.

Sweeten offers free bid-leveling services to homeowners

New to renovating and unsure how to read bids? Sweeten provides a free bid-leveling call to all homeowners who use the service. Read all about Sweeten’s bid leveling and estimate comparison call. (You can also read up on this process with Sweeten’s guide to bid leveling.)

When you meet the contractors during site visits, be prepared with a list of questions to ask. Do not be afraid to speak up about what you want! That being said, be open to a contractor’s ideas and suggestions. The licensed contractor is a professional with a wealth of knowledge about construction and years of experience. This is their speciality, and they likely have the information to answer all of your questions.

Ready to hire a general contractor?

Start your renovation on Sweeten and we’ll match you, for free, with vetted general contractors for your project. We’ll also provide free bid-leveling services, and answer any questions you have during the duration of the project. Sweeten also offers up to $50,000 of financial protection for ultimate peace of mind during your renovation.

Be prepared when it comes time to read one or a few contractors’ bids. Our post on understanding and comparing bids will help you navigate this process.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten

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