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Why Homeowners Should Not Try To Be Their Own General Contractor

By Author: True Restorations
Total Articles: 78

In this post I will chronicle many of the reasons why a typical homeowner (H/O) should not attempt to act as their own General Contractor (GC), especially for projects that entail hiring many different trades (like a room addition). The issues and potential pitfalls are numerous but the main topics are: time spent managing the project, construction knowledge, first time / one time subcontractor pricing, loose estimates causing cost overruns and more. Acting as a GC is way more than just calling in different trades, getting pricing and selecting someone to perform work. Even equipped with a full set of architectural drawings, the H/O neither understands nor appreciates just how overmatched they are in trying to produce their project and either their budget or the project or both will suffer the consequences.

Time Spent:

Once a H/O has gone through the laborious process of interviewing multiple subcontractors for each phase and signs contracts the job is not over, it has only just begun. H/O’s and lower priced GC’s who can’t afford to spend time on their jobs or pay a project manager or don’t really care about building efficiently or looking after the small details will let the subcontractors do their job however they see fit. This is a “HUGE” mistake with countless ramifications, most of which will cost more money and impact the end product of the job.

A GC, or at least a good one, will be on site daily making decisions as it pertains to how all the different trades execute their phase. The devil is in the details as we all know, the same applies for construction, the details on trade execution is what makes a job come in on budget, what makes one job look great and another look shoddy.

Construction Knowledge:

Does the framer know how much space to leave between the door opening & the wall so that the 3 ½” casings will fit? Does the flooring guy know where to stop the flooring where the tile in the kitchen & the kitchen cabinet meet? Did the plumber run a vent line where the recessed vanity is supposed to go into the wall? Who runs the thermostat line, the plumber who is doing the heat or the HVAC guy or the electrician? I think you can see where this is going, I could type to my fingers bled and I would only scratch the surface. If a H/O thinks a sub is going connect these dots for them, they will be sadly mistaken and the end product will suffer severly or they will suffer countless additional costs and delays in project execution.

A good GC will use his construction knowledge & experience from the moment he walks into a H/O’s house to look at the plans and evaluate existing conditions. With one review of a set of plans by a GC, with changes on how to execute the plan, a client could save thousands of dollars. Most draftsman & architects

1st time / one time Subcontractor pricing:

The H/O interviews the subcontractor / tradesman and gets a quote on the purchase of materials & labor for their project. This same subcontractor likely does the same types of jobs for a GC with the only difference being that the GC will be giving the sub many jobs the same year and perhaps many, many more during their careers together. The sub will naturally give better pricing to the GC based on that relationship, plus the sub knows that the GC knows all the ins & outs of the industry and what standard pricing is for their trade. Additionally, the sub understands that the GC will set the whole job up, ensure all the necessary supplies are there, will coordinate all the other trades cooperation, etc…. in short, the job will go much smoother with minimal wasted time & effort as opposed to what typically happens when the work directly for the H/O’s. The money that the H/O thought they were saving are the very same funds that the GC earns when he performs his valuable service, plus the job goes more smoothly and the H/O doesn’t have to waste valuable time being on the jobsite.

A good GC surrounds himself with a team of quality subcontractors who often times work together for years & years. The subs look after these relationships because they know they will all be together on the next job. Happy subs = happy jobsites.

Loose Estimates:

Loose estimates, bad job specifications, lack of detail……these are the budget killers. Sadly, a lot of GC’s don’t scrutinize this aspect of their jobs, the H/O’s have almost no chance with this aspect as their lack of knowledge & more importantly experience is where this chicken comes home to roost. The architectural drawings are mostly a reference and not specific instructions for the successful completion of any single trade. In fact, the actual building inspectors that perform the onsite inspections as a part of the building process are often times lacking in their abilities to interpret the plans or properly evaluate the work performed as it pertains to the NYS Building code. Coming up with a clear spec for each trade with little to no lose ends is a GC’s job. The H/O has no chance, as in NONE, in entering into agreements with subs with confidence that things won’t pop up. How the plumber ties in the new drain line from the new 2nd floor bathroom, is he using PEX piping or copper and with what connectors? How the doghouse dormer gets flashed, by the roofer or the siding guy, if there is a leak, who is responsible? How the new deck attaches to the existing house?…..all these and a gazillion other options come into play when jobs are being discussed, estimated & executed. The good GC comes up with the most efficient or most cost saving or best structural or best whatever plan and prices in most if not all the labor & materials to execute the project, writes up a fully detailed proposal and then goes to work. When the H/O tries to navigate these same waters on their own, they typically get very little of the above. The subs write down very little job specifications in their proposals, they aren’t typically interested in all the other trades that need to be meshed with theirs, they all have their own agenda. The best part for the sub is that when a H/O runs their own job, the very environment of lack of detail & specifications is a profit “killing field” for them, they know they can “extra” a H/O over and over with the “we never talked about that” or “It doesn’t say that on the plan” routine.

A good GC doesn’t count on any sub to establish the spec for a job, it’s a collaborative effort by all. The good GC acts as the maestro of the symphony called contracting and the wise H/O rests easy and enjoy the show when they hire him/her.

And more:
A few more items that a H/O should consider when anticipating running their own jobs:
• Being on site for all the inspections
• Being on site for deliveries
• Cleaning up and organizing a job site daily & at the end of the job
• Punch list items for each trade, who does them? Did you negotiate that into the contracts with subs?
• When things don’t go right, who will make them right? The sub?
• The architect missed a detail, who will catch it? The sub?

For pricing & particulars on our unique Design Estimate, call us at 631-757-0212

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