Value of a General Contractor

A flashback and lesson learned

I learned the importance of a general contractor when my dad hired a plumber to come fix a leaky shower valve. The plumber arrived, saw the leaking shower valve, and proceeded to knock out the tile in the shower to complete the repair to the plumbing. The plumber made a mess with the knocked out tile, and didn’t haul it away, leaving a big gaping hole in our shower. It was only then my dad realized he needed a tile subcontractor to complete the repair. After a week without a shower, the tiler finally arrived only to explain to my dad that he would need to first buy the tile he wanted, THEN the tiler would schedule the work. My dad had to clean up the removed broken tile mess, then purchase the new tile, then re-schedule the tiler. The tiler did the repair work, but in the process he created so much dust cutting the tile inside the home that my dad needed professional cleaners to come clean the entire house!

People think that they only need a general contractor for large construction projects, and they overlook this valuable resource as a result of their narrow thinking.

A general contractor can be helpful the minute your project requires more than one sub contractor (aka sub), and in fact the presence of a general contractor when there are multiple subs involved will usually lead to savings for the overall cost of the job, even if you are paying the additional fee. Think of a general contractor as a project manager for the job and the coordinator of the activities involved, similar to that of a wedding coordinator. They manage everything so you don’t have to on your own.

Subcontractors give general contractors more favorable pricing than they give to homeowners, and even better considerations when it comes to scheduling. Simply the presence of a general contractor makes a project more appealing to most subs. Here are the reasons subs like working for general contractors more than they do working for homeowners directly:

  • A general contractor will pay on time, and therefore a sub is sometimes willing to start work without a deposit especially on small jobs.
  • A general contractor will have certain conditions on site that a homeowner overlooks: ample trash receptacles, good lighting, brooms and dustpans, a clean toilet; they also often have scaffolding and other staging requirements like tarps and rolls of plastic for protection of existing finishes.
  • A general contractor will understand the proper sequencing and will more likely be ready for the sub before scheduling him or her.
  • A general contractor is ready for the unexpected, and has likely thought the project all the way through before beginning work, which results in quicker problem solving and better drawings and details to answer questions.

Benefits for the homeowner:

  • The homeowner is tracking payments to one entity only, and the general contractor will break costs down to digestible details to budget the overall costs of construction in advance, instead of just finding out at the end what it all costs.
  • The general contractor will coordinate proper sequencing and will be sure to complete one phase before beginning the next. The general contractor will also help the homeowner decide what things can be done now, at a cheaper cost, and what items should be deferred to help save money.
  • The job site is usually better managed. Trash, toilets, scaffolding, materials storage and cleanliness are all part of the daily work for a general contractor.
  • A general contractor will always have a contingency plan, so if a sub is unable to come through at the right time, the general contractor usually has a backup, trustworthy replacement they can quickly call on.
  • A general contractor has superior liability insurance and therefore is more careful when doing the work properly the first time and will stand behind the finished product better and longer.

Flashback - if we had used a general contractor

Going back to the earlier scenario with the leaky shower, a good general contractor would have met with my dad and told him what to expect in advance. The general contractor would have put down protection of the other finishes so the workers’ mess would be contained, and would have provided a trash receptacle that the tiler would be happy to use. The general contractor would have secured the new tile as early as possible, so when the tiler came (the day after the plumber), the tile could have been installed in one day. The total work on site would have taken two days instead of two weeks, and the subs would have charged a little less. Also, the general contractor would have ensured the tiler cut the pieces outside and cleaned up after themselves, eliminating the need to clean the entire house.

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With a general contractor, the job site is better managed.

Most of my clients call me for small projects because there is always more than one sub involved, and we have all of our subs pre-screened and already under contract before they arrive at the site. They work in unison with the other team members and they do a professional job because they know we will not hire them again if they are not clean and courteous. There are also less surprises for the subs that come in after a previous one has completed their work because they know how to work together.

Next time instead of “saving money” by hiring each sub one at a time, consider hiring a general contractor for that small project because it will likely go quicker and cost less money.

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