Do You Need a General Contractor?
Typically, if your job requires more than three subcontractors, a general contractor may be a good idea. A general contractor can free you from such burdens as maintaining a work schedule, obtaining necessary permits, and resolving disputes with suppliers. He or she will have more leverage than you do with subcontractors, since you’re only a one-time job. In a tight labor market, that could be important. A general contractor may get discounts at lumberyards and supply houses. Whether or not these savings are passed on to you or retained as part of the contractor’s fee is something that should be covered in the contract.
Don’t count on newspaper advertisements or the phone book. The best contractors don’t have to advertise. They get work through satisfied customers’ referrals. Consult friends and neighbors who have had work done. Call the Better Business Bureau or a local consumer-affairs agency for complaint histories of the contractors you’re considering. You’ll also want to check with the appropriate agency to see if the contractor is properly licensed and insured. As a rule, licensing entails passing a test to measure competency, while registering involves only payment of a fee. When checking references, ask whether the contractor is insured and, if applicable, licensed to do the work. If, for example, someone gets hurt or your neighbor’s property is damaged by an unlicensed or uninsured contractor, you could wind up paying. It’s wise to know what your homeowners’ insurance covers before work starts.