Ultimate Guide to Hiring General Contractors in New York City

In New York City, hiring the right general contractor is crucial for any project’s success. Our guide provides essential insights and practical tips to navigate the process effectively, ensuring you make informed decisions every step of the way. 

Remodeled kitchen with wood kitchen cabinets and sage green backsplash
Kitchen remodeled by a general contractor with Sweeten in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, NYC

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 general contractors in NYC every day. So, we’ve tapped our internal expertise to bring you this guide.

Skip to: How to hire a general contractor in NYC

What is a general contractor?

General contractors, also known as contractors or “GCs”, are the lead professionals on major construction and remodeling projects. They oversee teams of subcontractors who carry out the various specialized aspects of each construction job. Contractors are responsible for procuring materials, obtaining permits, and ensuring that a project is completed according to plan. If your project requires, they may also coordinate with additional parties such as your architect or designer, or your NYC coop or condo board.

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.

What makes a great general contractor?

Selecting the right general contractor is pivotal for the success of any construction or remodeling project especially in New York City. Distinguishing between good and exceptional contractors requires a deeper understanding of the qualities that set them apart. Core attributes indicative of excellence in general contractors include open and honest communication, adaptive agility, keen attention to detail, and unwavering commitment to organization.

Open communication and realistic expectations: A skilled general contractor excels in transparent communication, recognizing the unique challenges posed by construction projects in major cities like New York. They understand the intricacies of city regulations, tight spaces, and busy schedules, effectively conveying potential challenges to clients. They prioritize honesty about budget limitations and collaborate closely with clients to develop realistic scopes of work, ensuring alignment with budgets and timelines amidst the fast-paced urban setting.

Adaptive agility: In the face of unexpected obstacles, top-tier contractors demonstrate their ability to think quickly and creatively. They approach clients with innovative solutions, demonstrating flexibility and resourcefulness to navigate the complexities of urban construction and maintain project momentum.

Meticulous attention to detail: A reputable contractor takes pride in their workmanship and holds themselves to high standards of quality. They meticulously inspect every aspect of the project, identifying and addressing imperfections promptly to deliver impeccable results that exceed client expectations.

Respect for tidiness: A reliable general contractor prioritizes the protection of clients’ homes and personal belongings throughout the construction process. They outline clear plans for maintaining cleanliness and minimizing disruptions in their estimates and contracts, ensuring clients feel confident and comfortable throughout the project duration.

At Sweeten, our decade-long expertise in vetting and collaborating with general contractors sets us apart. Our rigorous 7-step contractor vetting process ensures that our partner contractors possess the extra edge and a proven track record of satisfied clients. 


Traditional general contractors vs design-build contractors

A traditional general contractor manages the construction process, including procuring materials and hiring subcontractors. Some traditional contractors may also offer creative solutions or very basic design services, but the level of input varies 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, designers, and construction experts that work together to create the plans and then carry out the construction. This is often the most efficient option when architectural design services are required.

At Sweeten, we collaborate with a diverse range of contractors in New York City, spanning from traditional build-only contractors to full-service design-build contractors. Whether you’re looking for a straightforward renovation or a comprehensive design-build solution, we’ve got you covered! Simply post your project to start connecting with our network of trusted contractors today. 

How much does it cost to remodel in New York City?

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 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. 

Common remodeling projects in New York City include kitchen renovations, bathroom remodels, basement or attic finishing, deck or patio additions, full home remodels, and garage conversions into accessory dwelling units. Given the complexity and scale of these transformative endeavors, hiring a skilled general contractor becomes essential, particularly for projects exceeding $15,000 in cost.

We recognize the importance of transparent pricing and informed decision-making for homeowners embarking on remodeling projects in the city. That’s why we offer an extensive library of remodeling cost guides to assist you in planning your project budget. You can also explore our collection of renovation processes and planning guides to gain insights into the intricacies of remodeling in the city. Some of our most sought-after NYC pricing guides include: 

Risks of remodeling without a qualified contractor

A home renovation journey in the city is an exciting adventure! From revitalizing brownstones in Brooklyn to modernizing apartments in Manhattan, there’s endless potential to transform your living space into a sanctuary that reflects your unique style and personality.

However, it’s crucial to approach the renovation process with care and consideration. Although DIY projects or opting for discounted labor may appear enticing at first glance, it’s important to recognize the potential risks involved. Here’s why:

Inferior workmanship: Your dream renovation deserves nothing but the best craftsmanship. Yet, DIY projects or inexperienced contractors may not deliver the quality and precision you expect. From crooked tiles to uneven paint jobs, subpar workmanship can turn your dream renovation into a nightmare, requiring costly and time-consuming fixes down the road.

Code violations: Navigating NYC’s labyrinth of building codes and regulations from the Department of Buildings (DOB) can feel like a daunting task. DIYers or unqualified contractors may unintentionally overlook or misinterpret these rules, putting your project at risk of non-compliance. From structural integrity to safety standards, ensuring your renovation meets all regulatory requirements is essential to avoid legal troubles and additional expenses.

Liability risks: Safety is paramount during renovations. If accidents occur on-site, uninsured or inexperienced workers could leave you vulnerable to liability. From slip-and-falls to property damage, the financial ramifications of accidents can be significant. Protecting yourself and your investment with qualified and insured contractors is essential for peace of mind.

Delays and cost overruns: Budgeting for renovations can be a tricky balancing act. Without accurate estimates and thorough planning, DIYers or unqualified contractors may encounter delays, unexpected costs, and budget overruns. From unforeseen structural issues to material shortages, navigating budgetary challenges can put a strain on your finances and your sanity.

By partnering with a trusted general contractor, you’ll ensure your renovation journey is smooth and stress-free. With their expertise and guidance, you’ll navigate the complexities of New York’s renovation landscape with confidence. Our contractors can also leverage their vast experience to provide valuable advice and guidance on the best way to complete your project, helping you identify potential issues before they escalate into major problems. 

How to hire a general contractor in New York City

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

Finding qualified general contractors in New York City can be a challenge. You’ll want to research and narrow down a handful of contractors with the right experience, who work in your area, provide the services you need, fit within your budget, and are available and interested in the job. While you could start by asking friends or researching online, if you’re in one of Sweeten’s service areas, we highly recommend saving yourself the legwork and meeting trusted contractors on Sweeten!

2. Hold site visits

Schedule separate meetings at your project site with each of the contractors you’re considering. This is your chance to learn more about their firm and evaluate how well you think you’d work together. Come prepared with questions! (Hint: we’ve provided a list below.)

3. Collect estimates

After your site visits, each contractor should prepare an estimate, or bid, for your project. This process typically takes 1-2 weeks, as contractors coordinate with their subcontractors to prepare the document.

4. Compare the bids

Contractor estimates may vary, making it essential to review each bid thoroughly. While there’s no standard form for estimates, you’ll need to evaluate what is and isn’t included in each bid. This is a 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.

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5. Conduct negotiations

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, discuss any adjustments or tweaks you’d like to make to the proposal before committing.

6. Sign a contract and pay your deposit

Providing deposits for contractors is a crucial—and normal—step in starting a renovation, allowing the contractor to begin acquiring necessary materials ahead of your agreed-upon start date. Sweeten offers secure, electronic deposits when you sign with a contractor, making the process more convenient for you.

Sample Questions to Ask at Your Site Visits

  • How long have you been a general contractor in NYC?
  • How many projects have you managed simultaneously, and how many do you plan to manage while working on mine?
  • Which local building codes and regulations will be relevant to my project?
  • 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?
  • What is your payment schedule?
  • Do you provide insurance coverage?
  • Do you offer a warranty for your work?
  • Can you provide references from previous clients?

How Sweeten connects you with top NYC contractors

At Sweeten, our mission is to facilitate seamless home transformations across New York City, allowing you to transition from merely living at home to truly thriving in your space! With over 3,000 successful renovations under our belt, here’s how we add value to your renovation experience, all at no cost to you:

Thoroughly vetted, trusted general contractors

We understand the importance of working with reliable professionals, which is why we only partner with thoroughly vetted and trusted general contractors. Rest assured that the contractors we recommend have a proven track record of delivering quality workmanship and exceptional service.

Carefully selected contractors for your unique project

Every renovation project is unique, and we recognize that. Our team carefully selects the best contractors tailored to your specific remodeling needs. Whether you’re planning a kitchen overhaul in Tribeca or a bathroom renovation in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, we’ve got you covered with the right professionals for the job.

Competitive bidding process for fair pricing

Ensuring fair and market pricing for your project is crucial. That’s why we provide you with a set of competitive bids from our network of contractors. This transparency allows you to make informed decisions and ensures that you’re getting the best value for your investment.

Guidance through the decision-making process

We understand that choosing the right contractor can be daunting. That’s why we offer a bid-leveling call with someone from our team to assist you through this crucial decision-making phase. Our experts provide valuable insights and guidance, helping you navigate the complexities of contractor selection with confidence.

Peace-of-mind from start to finish

From the initial planning stages to the final touches of your renovation, Sweeten is here to support you every step of the way. With extensive knowledge and experience in renovations, we’re dedicated to ensuring that your project is a success from start to finish.

New York City contractor licensing requirements

The Department of Buildings (DOB) issues licenses for general contractors in NYC, while the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) issues Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) licenses — more on the differences below.

Both DOB and HIC licenses have specific experience and insurance requirements that contractors must meet in order to qualify for a license. Once licensed, contractors must also complete continuing education courses every two years in order to maintain their license.

Note that the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a general contractor license may vary depending on the specific type of work being performed and the location of the project. It’s always a good idea to check with the appropriate licensing agency for specific requirements in your area.

NYC Department of Buildings license

A DOB license is required for contractors who perform construction, alteration, or repair work on buildings in NYC. This includes new construction, renovations, and repairs to existing structures. General contractors may also be required to hold additional licenses or certifications for specific types of work, such as electrical, plumbing, or asbestos abatement.

To qualify for a general contractor license, individuals must have at least seven years of experience in the construction industry, with at least two years in a supervisory role. Alternatively, they may qualify by completing a four-year apprenticeship program or by holding a bachelor’s degree in engineering or architecture. Additionally, contractors must carry liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance, and must comply with all local building codes and regulations

NYC Home Improvement Contractor license

An HIC license, on the other hand, is specifically for contractors who perform home improvement work in NYC. Home improvement work includes repairs, alterations, renovations, or modifications to any part of a residential building, including single-family homes, multi-family homes, and apartments. HIC licensees are not permitted to perform new construction or work on commercial or industrial buildings.

To obtain a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) license in New York City, contractors must have at least two years of experience in the home improvement industry with at least one year in a supervisory role, carry liability insurance, register with the Department of Finance and pay any applicable fees, complete a pre-license education course, pass a written exam, and meet bonding requirements by having a surety bond or cash deposit.

How does Sweeten connect me with the best general contractors in NYC 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 3,000 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! 

FAQs about hiring general contractors in New York City

Before hiring a general contractor, it’s essential to assess your renovation needs, establish a budget, and research potential contractors thoroughly. Look for experienced professionals with a track record of successful projects in NYC.

General contractors in New York can provide a wide range of services, including scheduling and planning, managing logistics including material orders and delivery, overseeing subcontractors, tradespeople and workers, liaising with renovation authorities like the DOB, co-op and condo boards, and more. They specialize in transformational  projects like kitchen and bathroom renovations, apartment combinations, and whole-home renovations, often from planning and design to construction and finishing touches.

When you hire a contractor for a condo space renovation through Sweeten, rest assured that the selected general contractor has met all the requirements set by our team. Our rigorous screening and matchmaking process guarantees that your contractor is fully qualified to execute your project with expertise and professionalism.

Preparing for a full-home renovation involves careful planning and organization. Start by creating a detailed project plan, obtaining necessary permits, and establishing clear communication with your chosen general contractor. Consider temporary living arrangements if the renovation will disrupt your daily life significantly. Learn more about full-home renovation in New York City from our blog.

The duration of a home renovation project in New York varies depending on factors such as the scope of work, size of the space, and contractor availability. While smaller projects like bathroom renovations may take a few weeks, larger projects such as full-home renovations can span several months.

Common challenges include finding reputable contractors, navigating NYC’s complex building codes and regulations, and managing project timelines and budgets. 

After posting your renovation project on Sweeten (for free), you can review proposals and pay attention to details such as project scope, timeline, budget breakdown, and warranty information. Look for comprehensive proposals that address your specific renovation needs, budget, and terms.

To ensure a successful renovation project, establish clear goals and expectations upfront, maintain open communication with your contractor, and stay flexible to accommodate unexpected challenges. Regularly inspect the work progress and address any concerns promptly to keep the project on track.

Yes, Sweeten offers access to qualified general contractors for hire in many locations including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and more, ready to assist with your renovation needs.

Sweeten has been in business since 2011. Over the years, Sweeten has grown to become a trusted platform that connects homeowners and business owners with the best general contractors for their renovation projects. With over a decade of experience, Sweeten has successfully completed thousands of projects, earning a reputation for quality and reliability in the home renovation industry.

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