The perils of home renovation and building are legend. Every job estimate seems to double in the end for both cost and time; endless delays and surprise, money-sucking mistakes prove that. Then there are the surly contractors, the mixed-up lumber order, the mistaken measurements -- in short, anything that can go wrong probably will.
So it can be tempting to have the final say in a project. To be the one who hires the right people, inspects the materials personally, checks and double-checks figures and costs, and -- perhaps most importantly -- both makes the rules of the project and enforces them. If that appeals to you, than you might be considering acting as your own general contractor. But should you?
First off, let's establish what the responsibilities of a general contractor on a construction job are by first explaining what a GC doesn't do. He isn't the one hammering the nails in or installing the plumbing. In general, a general contractor doesn't actually work on the house; she coordinates the work of all the other subcontractors needed to finish the project. (In Britain they're referred to as main contractors; you also might see prime contractor, which refers to government hires.) Carpenters, roofing professionals, plumbers and so on are all subcontractors, hired to complete one specific part of a project.
The GC is a go-between, in many ways. Generally, this person helps facilitate the relationship and communicate the vision among an architect, a client and the contractors. That includes a variety of duties: hiring subcontractors, ordering materials and supplies, pulling the correct permits, scheduling each part of the process and even bookkeeping.
If you're pondering acting as your own GC on a project, first consider scope. Are we talking building a new home or just a mid-sized bathroom remodel? Remember that the more moving parts you have in a job, the more you'll have to keep track of.
Next, are you taking out a loan for the project? Some banks might be leery of granting large-scale credit if they know that no professional GC is going to be watching over the process.
Most importantly, be honest about your own experience. While you might have a keen interest in construction or remodeling, that doesn't a professional make. Part of being a GC involves having some pretty specific knowledge of several trades; knowing a lot about carpentry doesn't help much when you're overseeing roofing or negotiating a contract for an electrician.
In the next few pages, we'll weigh the pros and cons of promoting yourself to general contractor.