Contractor for Building a House
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Most medium and large construction jobs are handled by a general contractor or GC. The general contractor may be called a builder, building contractor, remodeling contractor, etc. What makes him a “general” contractor is that he enters into a contract with the owner to complete a project and takes full responsibility to get the job done for the bid price. In general, he purchases the materials, hires the tradespeople, and brings in subcontractors to get the work done. The subcontractors are responsible to the general contractor, not to you, the owner.
Choose your contractor carefully! No other decision will have a greater impact on the success or failure of your project. Great plans, contracts, and construction documents cannot get good work from someone lacking in skill or integrity. Find someone whom you can trust and feel comfortable working with. If you have to pay a little extra to hire the right person, you won’t regret it. The savings from hiring the low bidder often evaporate as the job progresses.
Assume that there will be problems along the way and select a person whom you feel will work cooperatively with you to find the best solutions.
Among the GC’s responsibilities are:
- Estimating and bidding the project
- Negotiating a contract with the owner
- Hiring and negotiating contracts with subcontractors
- Obtaining the necessary permits and scheduling inspections
- Establishing a payment schedule based on work progress
- Disbursing money to subs and material suppliers
- Creating a schedule for workers, subs, and deliveries
- Negotiating material prices and ordering materials
- Interpreting the plans and specifications
- Supervising and coordinating the work of employees and subs
- Troubleshooting job-site problems
While doing all of the above, the GC is often meeting with the owners to address their concerns, while juggling the myriad little things that can turn his tightly scheduled enterprise into chaos. For example, bad weather slows down the framing crew, so the plumbers and electricians need to be rescheduled, but his favorite electrician will not be available when needed, delaying the insulation crew. Later, the special-order windows are shipped with the wrong jamb profile, requiring custom shop work or another long delay. And so on…
In larger companies, the GC will probably have a foreman, lead carpenter, project manager, or superintendent (in a development), overseeing day-to-day job-site management. In smaller companies, the GC may be on the job site regularly, even swinging a hammer from time to time. In any event, the GC is a busy guy or gal and arguably deserves the 20% overhead and profit they typically (hope to) earn for holding it altogether. Their profit comes from some combination of marking up labor costs, subcontractor bids, and material costs.
MANAGING THE SUBCONTRACTORS
As you see, GC is a busy person – like the conductor of an orchestra making sure each section comes it at the right time. A lot of this energy goes into managing the subcontractors. In general, smaller companies rely more on staff carpenters and larger companies rely more on subcontractors to get the work done. Nearly all companies use subcontractors for the mechanical trades such as plumbing and electrical, and most use subs for excavation and foundation work, roofing, drywall, and painting. On smaller jobs, they may do some or all of this work with their own crew members.
A good contractor has good relationships with competent and reliable subs. That means the subs will show up when needed and do good work with minimal supervision. They know what level of work the contractor expects, they know they’ll get paid promptly, and they know that the job will be ready for them when they show up. For example, the drywallers can’t hang their drywall until the plumbing and electrical are completed and the walls are insulated.
While some subs, such as insulation installers, are not known for the precision of their work, they know that if they want work from a particular contractor, they need to meet his standards. Maybe they can charge a little more for the higher level of quality he demands, making it worth their while to take the time to do it right. In the end the owner pays a little more for a job well done – seems fair to me.