5 Steps to Hiring a General Contractor for Your Renovation

Here’s what to know and ask when it comes to your project


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. You’ll want to find the right partner for your project.

Sweeten, a free service matching renovators with general contractors, provides a guide on how to get started with a contractor—from what to look for to the key responsibilities you can expect from the contractor.

Do you need a 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 a general contractor versus a handyman (or DIY!), a good place to start is by weighing the level of labor your project will require.

  • 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.

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 whom to hire. 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.

Doing the research to find out whether or not you’ll need to hire a 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 choose the right general contractor

When reviewing contractors, 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. So remember to keep these questions in mind as you search:

  • Have they done work in your neighborhood?
  • Have they done similar work to what you’re looking to get done?
  • Can they provide quality references and photos of past work?
  • Are they 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 which highlight past projects and client reviews to help you decide.

What are a contractor’s key responsibilities?

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 schedule
  • 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 overseeing the quality of their work
  • Maintain schedule and communication with clients
  • Review project completion with client and final payment

Get 3-5 estimates for your project

A contractor will partner with you to decide on:

  1. Final scope of work
  2. Materials
  3. Timeline
  4. 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 but also to experience the different personalities and communication styles of the contractors. Who you have the best rapport and feel the most comfortable with will play a big part in your decision.

Bid leveling allows you to break down the services the contractor can offer at each price point. For example, one contractor who gives a higher bid may provide more individual service such as answering that one question on the weekend or puts a mood board together for you. A breakdown will reveal a clearer picture of what services you want as a renovator.

When you meet the contractors on 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 the professional with a wealth of knowledge about construction and years of experience.

Ready to hire a general contractor?

Start your renovation on Sweeten and we’ll match you with vetted general contractors for your project checking in with you until the project is completed. Understanding how to hire the professional best-suited for your renovation will set you on a path to the home you’ve always wanted.

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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