The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a General Contractor for Your Remodel

Ready to start your remodel? Here’s everything you need to know about hiring a general contractor

amagansett beach house remodel with wood floors and pitched ceilings
Home remodeled by a general contractor with Sweeten

Major remodeling projects are extremely complex, and require a high degree of planning, coordination, and oversight. That’s where general contractors come in. 

At Sweeten, we’re experts at all things general contractors — we pre-screen them for our network, carefully select the best ones for your remodeling project, and work closely with hundreds of contractors every day. So, we’ve tapped our expertise to give you everything you need to know when it comes to hiring a general contractor. 

Skip to: How do you hire a general contractor?

What is a general contractor? 

General contractors, known more simply as contractors or “GCs”, are the lead professionals on major construction projects. They oversee teams of subcontractors such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and painters, who carry out the various specialized aspects of each construction job. They’re responsible for procuring materials, obtaining permits, and ensuring that a project is completed according to plan. Depending on the specific requirements of a given project, they may also be responsible for coordinating with architects or designers, coop or condo boards, engineers, expediters, or inspectors. 

The term “general contractor” can be used interchangeably to refer to an individual person or a general contracting company. These companies come in all shapes and sizes, from one- and two-person operations, to mid-sized companies of 10-20 employees, and even large firms of 50 employees or more. 

Depending on your area or region, general contractors may also be known as home improvement contractors, builders, renovation contractors, or remodeling contractors. 

What makes a great general contractor? 

At Sweeten, we’ve been vetting and working closely with general contractors for over a decade. In addition to our 7-step contractor vetting process, here’s what we think gives some contractors that extra edge and a reputation of satisfied clients:

  • Communication: There are a lot of variables in the construction process. A great general contractor understands the dynamic environment in which they work, anticipates potential issues, and is proactive in communicating all of this with their clients. They can provide clear instructions to subcontractors and are open to feedback. 
  • Realism: The best general contractors are honest with clients about what their budget can realistically achieve, and will work with them to create a feasible scope of work, so that they can adhere to budgets and timelines. 
  • Agility: When the unforeseen inevitably happens on a major project, great contractors can think critically on their feet and approach their clients with proposed solutions. They can handle a variety of tasks and adapt to changes.
  • Eye for detail: A great contractor does not make excuses for shoddy work. They scan their jobs with a fine tooth comb, regularly looking for imperfections in craftsmanship and addressing them head on — not avoiding them and hoping their client doesn’t notice!
  • Tidiness: A great GC will clearly spell out the ways in which they intend to protect your home and personal belongings in their estimates & contracts. If your GC doesn’t have a game plan for protecting your beloved possessions, look the other way! 

Typical remodeling projects

You’ll probably need to hire a general contractor if you’re planning a project like renovating a kitchen, remodeling a bathroom, finishing a basement or attic, adding a deck or patio, remodeling an entire home, or converting a garage into an accessory dwelling unit. They focus on transformative projects that involve multiple trades, which is why you’ll typically only hire a general contractor for projects that cost $15,000 and up. 

Traditional general contractors vs design-build contractors

A traditional general contractor oversees all of the build-related aspects of a given job. They are responsible for procuring materials, hiring subcontractors, and managing the construction process. While general contractors are not responsible for design work, some are happy to offer creative solutions to smaller-scale design challenges, or even produce basic renderings where advanced design services are not necessary. The level of creative input you can expect from a traditional contractor varies greatly from firm to firm. 

A design-build company, on the other hand, is a company that takes responsibility for both the design and construction of a project. They typically have in-house architects and designers, as well as construction experts, that work together to create the plans and then carry out the construction. Where architectural design service is required, design-build companies are often the most efficient option, as they can take responsibility for the entire project from start to finish.

At Sweeten, we work with both traditional and design-build contractors, and with so many firms that we cover a broad range of service offerings to meet your needs. Post your project to start connecting with our vetted, trusted contractors today!  

Why hire a qualified general contractor for your remodeling project?

Because remodeling projects are so expensive, you may be tempted to save money by making yours a DIY project or hiring unqualified labor at a discount, but cutting these types of corners carries major risks, including:

  • Inferior workmanship: A DIYer or unqualified contractor may not have the necessary skills or experience to complete the project to a high standard. This can result in poor quality work that may need to be redone or repaired, which can be costly and time-consuming.
  • Code violations: Building codes and regulations exist to ensure the safety and stability of structures. A DIYer or unqualified contractor may not be familiar with these codes and could potentially make mistakes that violate them, leading to problems and costly repairs down the line.
  • Increased liability: If an accident or injury occurs on the job site and the contractor is found to be at fault, the homeowner may be held liable for any damages. This can be particularly risky if the person doing the work does not have the necessary insurance.
  • Delays and cost overruns: A DIYer or unqualified contractor may not have the knowledge or resources to accurately estimate the time and cost of a project. This can result in delays and unexpected expenses.

General contractors are there to ensure that your project is completed in a safe, efficient, and code-compliant manner. Additionally, contractors can tap their vast experience to provide valuable advice and guidance on how to best complete your project, including, importantly, helping to identify potential issues before they become major problems. 

What kind of training do contractors have? 

General contractors typically have a variety of training experiences, including classes, certifications, and on-the-job experience. Many general contractors have a degree in construction management or a related field, and may also have industry certifications from organizations such as the National Association of Home Builders or the American Institute of Constructors. Additionally, many general contractors gain experience through apprenticeships or hands-on experience working on construction sites. With such a wide range of training, they are able to bring a variety of skills and knowledge to the table, ensuring that any project they undertake is completed professionally and to the highest standards.

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What are the license requirements for contractors?

The licensing requirements for general contractors in the United States vary from state to state, and often between local municipalities, so it’s important to look up your local requirements if you want to be sure what is required in your area. 

Most states have a state-wide license requirement for general contractors. The exact requirements vary by state, but usually include passing a written exam, providing proof of financial responsibility, and providing proof of experience in the construction field. In most cases, applicants must also provide proof of insurance, as well as a bond to guarantee their work. In some states, general contractors may also have to complete additional training or courses in order to obtain their license. 

For example, in California, general contractors must pass a written exam that covers state laws, construction codes, and business practices. They must also provide proof of financial responsibility and experience in the construction field. In addition, they must complete a 16-hour pre-licensing course and a 4-hour exam prep course in order to obtain their license. In contrast, in Texas, there is no statewide license required for general contractors. 

Generally, if you’re in a major metro area that metro may issue a license, which may also correspond with a county license. Or, you may live in a town or city that has specific licensing or permitting requirements that general contractors hold for a set amount of time or on a per-job basis.

How much does it cost to remodel with a general contractor? 

A combination of service level, experience, and factors like firm size and overhead might all contribute to how competitive a contractor’s pricing is. General contractors make money by charging a fee for their services, which may include a commission or markup on any materials purchased and labor costs. They may also charge additional fees for project management, risk management, or other services. The general contractor’s fee, whether a flat rate or a percentage of the total project cost, is usually negotiated with the client prior to the start of the project. 

We have an extensive library of remodeling cost guides to help you plan your project budget, plus hundreds of additional renovation process and planning guides. Below are a few of our most popular guides:

When you post your remodeling project on Sweeten, you’ll get matched with a selection of contractors for competitive bids, so that you can feel good about the balance of cost and value that you’ll get from the contractor you ultimately select to work with. Learn more about how Sweeten works.  

How do you hire a general contractor? 

You’ve come to the right place — helping people hire the right contractor for their remodeling project is exactly what we do at Sweeten! Here’s a breakdown of the process. 

1. Source 3-5 contractors who are fit for the job 

This is so much easier said than done! You’ll want to research and narrow down a handful of qualified general contractors, with the right experience, who work in your area, who provide the services you need, at your budget level, and who are available and interested in the job. You could start by asking friends or researching online, and making some phone calls — however, if you’re in one of Sweeten’s service areas, we highly recommend that you save yourself the legwork and start meeting trusted contractors on Sweeten!

2. Hold site visits

Schedule and hold a separate meeting at your project site with each of the contractors you’d like to get a bid from. This is your chance to learn more about their firm and evaluate how well you think you’d work together with them. Come prepared with questions! (Hint: we made you a list below.) 

3. Collect estimates

After your site visits — unless otherwise discussed — each contractor should prepare an estimate, or bid, for your project. This process can usually take 1-2 weeks, since they’ll need to coordinate with their subcontractors to prepare the document. 

4. Compare the bids

There’s no standard form for contractor estimates, so it’s rare that you can truly compare them apples to apples. Instead, you’ll need to comb through to get an idea of what is and is not included in each bid, ask some questions, and do your best to evaluate those differences. This is the critical decision-making stage, which is why we offer a free bid-leveling call to help you make the best hiring choice for your project.

5. Conduct negotiations

At this point, you should have a good idea of who you’d like to work with, but is there one or two items you’d love tweaked on their proposal before you’re ready to commit? This is your chance for that final conversation. 

6. Sign a contract and pay your deposit

You’ll seal the deal with a formal contract and deposit, which allows the contractor to begin acquiring the necessary materials ahead of your agreed-upon start date. We’ve made that process more convenient for you by offering secure, electronic deposits when you sign with a Sweeten contractor. 

If you’re ready to hire a contractor, check out Sweeten’s service locations to see if we can get you connected with our trusted contractors today. Our personalized contractor matching service is totally free!

Sample questions to ask at your site visits

  • How long have you been a general contractor?
  • How many projects have you managed simultaneously? How many do you plan to manage while working on my project? 
  • Are you familiar with the local building codes and regulations?
  • Who will be in charge of my project and who will be working on it?
  • How will you handle any unexpected challenges, delays, or changes during the project?
  • What is your policy for communication and updates during the project?
  • What potential challenges could you foresee with my project? 
  • How do you plan to protect my home during the course of my renovation? 
  • How does your payment schedule work?
  • What is your insurance coverage?
  • Do you provide a warranty for your work?
  • Do you have references from previous clients?

How does Sweeten connect me with the best general contractors for my remodeling project? 

Our purpose at Sweeten is to help homeowners transform their homes as seamlessly as possible — so you can stop living at home, and start thriving! And we’ve helped over 2,000 renovators do just that. Here are some of the ways we bring value to your renovation experience (for free!):

  • We only work with thoroughly vetted, trusted general contractors 
  • We carefully select the best contractors for your unique remodeling projects and connect you with them
  • You’ll get a set of competitive bids to ensure fair, market pricing for your project
  • You can take advantage of a bid-leveling call with someone from our team to help you through the toughest part of the decision-making process
  • Our team has extensive knowledge and experience in renovations, and we’re available to you for support from start to finish!

If you’re planning to start your own home renovation within the next 6 months, it’s time to post your project on Sweeten and start making your vision a reality!

Originally published December 16, 2022

Updated on April 4, 2023

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