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Should I be my own general contractor?


Reasons to Hand Over the Reigns
Serving as a general contractor can also be a big headache since you're responsible for all details of the project  -- including how it turns out!
Serving as a general contractor can also be a big headache since you're responsible for all details of the project -- including how it turns out!
Hemera/Thinkstock

Who cares about time and hassle when you can save money, right? Not exactly. Consider that a large part of a GC's job is to figure out how costs can be minimized. This could mean a variety of savings that Regular Johnny Fix-it doesn't have access to: bulk discounts on materials, the privilege of looking through the scraps of a trusted source and simply knowing who has the best deals on what.

This brings us to another pitfall of being your own GC: How much, exactly, will your inexperience harm you? As we said, there are about a thousand ways to make mistakes in construction and renovation. A rookie mistake -- like realizing too late you've ordered 17 special-order brackets in the wrong size -- can turn into a financial and scheduling mess. And dealing with subcontractors doesn't just mean hiring the cheapest bidders; a good GC knows the best people who will give you the least amount of trouble for your money. (A GC might also be able to offer the possibility of ongoing work in the future, something you can't provide.)

You'll be in the unenviable position of trying to convince good subcontractors to work for you. You'll need to describe the job and schedule accurately, not to mention negotiate prices, draw up a binding contract and even take responsibility for getting I-9s and tax documents.

Some states won't even let you be a GC unless you've registered or have a license. The terms are sometimes very specific, like needing a license for a project over $10,000. The state of Florida even requires you to take an exam and have college or work experience. So be sure to check if you need a license in your state or county.

And while you're at it, don't forget that you're responsible for all permits. You'll have to research what work requires a permit in your county or state and fill out the paperwork. You'll also be in charge of dealing with the inspections that come along with the process. Subcontractors might not be interested in committing unless your permits are complete.

In general, being your own GC is probably a bad idea for the average Jane looking to save money on building costs. But if you do have inside knowledge about the construction industry (or are willing to spend a serious amount of time learning about it), then being your own general contractor might be a realistic way to cut expenses.


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