There are numerous books and websites that tell you how easy it is to save thousands of dollars by being your own contractor. Most exaggerate the savings and minimize the time commitment required, the difficulties, and the risks. There are owner-builder success stories and owner-builder nightmares. Before going too far down this path, take a hard look at what is required to succeed at this and a clear-eyed view of the potential savings. Then decide if it’s worth it.
Why Hire a General Contractor?
Having read this far, you may already have a sense of why you might want to hire a general contractor. A general contractor can be a major asset. Here is why.
First, they know the codes. Hopefully you have hired someone who is recommended and has a good reputation. They will understand what permits need to be pulled and how to get code enforcement to approve the project. If you have never dealt with building codes and inspectors, this can be a major asset.
Second, they know the process to get the job done as efficiently as possible. They should understand which components need to be completed when and know how to schedule their sub-contractors accordingly.
Third, the liability is often transferred to the general contractor if someone gets hurt. Any general contractor worth his salt will have worker’s comp insurance and thus protect you if someone falls off the roof.
Fourth, they likely can get better prices on materials and labor. This is simply the nature of the business. They do more volume and already have good relationships with sub-contractors; thus, they get better prices and may actually save you money in the long run.
Finally, they can warranty their work. If something goes wrong in six months, most folks will come out and try to make it right. After all, they want more business from you, and good ones stand behind their work and reputation.
PROS & CONS OF BEING YOUR OWN CONTRACTOR
It’s possible to be your own contractor and save money, but you need to first evaluate if you have the time, and organizational and business skills, and technical knowledge to get the job done.
Pros of being your own contractor
- Can save 15% to 20% of construction costs (if all goes right)
- You maintain full control of the project and have a better chance of getting exactly what you want.
- If you hire good subcontractors, overall job quality will be good despite your inexperience.
- You have pride and satisfaction of building your own home.
Cons of being your own contractor
- Real savings are usually less than expected due to unanticipated expenses and cost overruns.
- The project will probably take more time and energy than you expect.
- The job will likely have more problems, due to your lack of experience.
- Quality of construction may suffer due to your lack of experience.
- You will be absorbing most of the risk for cost overruns, and for construction problems that occur during the job and after you move in. (In most cases, there will be no one to blame but yourself).
- Obtaining a construction loan may be difficult.
Pros of hiring a contractor
Time: A good general contractor will be able to give you a general timeline and an anticipated date of completion. The GC will also keep you on track for making timely selections. It is frustrating to learn you didn’t order the new windows early enough to arrive when the house is being framed. Delays are cumulative and will cause a ripple effect through your schedule.
Logistics: It’s part of a general contractor’s job description to coordinate all work done by subcontractors; check to see that the work is completed in compliance with local building codes; warranty the work and deal with any problems that develop during and after construction; and collect lien releases and process payments.
The Unexpected: Suppose your home is a historic property. An experienced general contractor will know how to handle the challenges that older wiring and plumbing systems as well as an aging structure and foundation may pose. Good GCs will not only know the safest, most cost-efficient way to work; they will also know who to call to get the job done.
Overhead and Profit: GCs need to make money, too, so you may expect that they will add between 15 and 20% (or more) to the cost of materials and labor. On the flip side, they can purchase materials and fixtures at wholesale or with a contractor’s or volume discount to which you may not have access.