The Ultimate Guide to Hiring General Contractors in Chicago

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

Remodeled kitchen by Chicago general contractor with Sweeten
Home remodeled by a general contractor with Sweeten in Logan Square, Chicago

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 we closely with many of the top general contractors in Chicago every day. So, we’ve tapped our internal expertise to bring you this guide. 

Skip to: How to hire a general contractor in Chicago

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 Chicago 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? 

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!

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.

The firms we work with at Sweeten cover the full spectrum from build-only traditional contractors to full-service, design-build contractors in Chicago. So, whatever your needs are, we’ve got you covered! Post your project to start connecting with a selection of our trusted contractors today.  

Typical remodeling projects

In Chicago, 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. 

Browse Sweeten renovations on our blog to see some of the amazing homes Chicagoans and others have created with Sweeten and our trusted contractors. 

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Sweeten brings homeowners an exceptional renovation experience by personally matching trusted general contractors to your project, while offering expert guidance and support—at no cost to you.

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How much does remodeling cost in Chicago? 

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. 

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 Chicago pricing 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.  

Risks of remodeling without a qualified contractor

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. 

Chicago contractor licensing requirements

In Chicago, general contractors must obtain a general contractor license from the City of Chicago Department of Buildings. The requirements for obtaining the license include being a registered business, proof of financial solvency, proof of insurance meeting the required amount, and copies of government-issued photo identification documents for all involved parties depending on the business structure (e.g., individual, corporation, LLC, general partnership, limited partnership). Additionally, the insurance provider must be rated B+ or better. For towns and villages outside of the city of Chicago, check local requirements for general contractors with your municipality, as they can vary within the area.

How to hire a general contractor in Chicago 

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 (currently all of Cook County and Lake County), 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.) Here’s more on how to prepare for your contractor meetings

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. 

Sample questions to ask at your site visits

  • How long have you been a general contractor in Chicago?
  • 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 in Chicago 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 2,900 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 July 27, 2023

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