What Does a Contractor Do? 5 Things You Should Know

By: Cristen Conger  | 
Three contractors on a job site. 
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What does a contractor do? Imagine if Vincent van Gogh had dictated his vision of "Starry Night" to another artist to paint. Even if he had selected the color palette and demonstrated the appropriate strokes, that whimsical landscape would probably look a far sight different from van Gogh's original idea.

General contractors breath life in to the renovation projects of others. And, as amazing as that can be, it can also be a primary point of tension between invested parties. While the homeowner has dreams of a remodeled master bath with a marble sunken tub and a mile-wide vanity, the construction industry pro has the tools and resources to make it happen.


Because of the tricky nature of such partnerships, clients would be foolhardy to hire a general contractor or a construction manager without learning what's in store after they sign on the dotted line. Fortunately, homeowners can prepare themselves by learning from those who've gone through it in the past [source: Gray].

For a preview of what to expect and when from a contractor, check out the following five tips:

Tip 5: Things Will Get Stressful

Before they turn their home into a construction site, clients must accept that something will probably go wrong at some point. The schedule may be pushed back while waiting for building permits to arrive, weather could delay the start date, a window frame may not fit into its allotted space or some other minor catastrophe could occur.

Sadly, this is all a part of the construction process. Construction projects don't always go as smoothly as everyone would like. For this reason, it's crucial to hire a contractor who communicates well and keeps the client continually updated on the good, bad and ugly. As the stress level rises, it becomes even more important for clients to stay in contact with the contractor and any architects, designers and subcontractors involved.


Tip 4: Contractors Are Only As Good As Their Subcontractors

Depending on the size of the project, general contractors may hire subcontractors to complete the construction work [source: Carlton]. For example, if a client is remodeling a bathroom, the prime contractor may seek out one subcontractor to handle the plumbing, another to install wiring and a third for laying the countertops.

And with so many cooks in the kitchen, the final dish will only be as good as the individual contributions. Bearing that in mind, clients should talk with their prime contractors and review what aspects of the project will be tackled by subcontractors.


From there, clients should check up on the subcontractors slated for the work and verify their certification, expertise and quality of service. If red flags go up during the process, they can discuss it with their contractors.

Tip 3: Contractors Need Specifics

Contractors expect clients to know exactly what they want. It's then the contractor's job to turn that idea into a reality — not to fill in the blanks. To make that happen, clients must be prepared to deliver specific, detailed requests; otherwise, the final product won't match up to the original concept.

In doing so, savvy clients will educate themselves about the general flow of similar construction or remodeling projects, be able to read blueprints, and know how to clearly communicate their needs to the contractor, project manager and subcontractors. Contractors don't expect a property owner to be able to understand the intricacies of every job site, but taking the time to understand the project can boost communication.


Tip 2: Be Prepared to Meet Regularly

Communication is paramount to having a positive experience with a contractor. If clients want to be able to get in touch with their contractors at a moment's notice, they should also be just as available.

To establish an open line of communication, it's a good idea for clients to set up regular face-to-face meeting times at the outset of projects. That way, they'll have an opportunity to inspect progress and catch any possible mistakes early in the construction phase.


Clients should keep in mind, however, that routine meetings shouldn't spiral into micromanagement sessions. Contractors are hired for their expertise, and they should be allowed to exercise it, while staying in close contact with their customers.

Tip 1: Contractors Can't Do Everything

A remodeling or construction job is a shared project between the client and the contractor. Just like contractors need employees and subcontractors to help lay tile, pour cement, sand down crown molding and so on, they also rely on clients to do their part. It's up to them to estasblish a construction budget, research local ordinances that may impede construction or require special building permits to break ground [source: Ramsey].

The job site should also be prepped for the crew, whether that means cleaning out the contents of a soon-to-be-remodeled kitchen or clearing the space for an in-ground swimming pool. Depending on the intensity of the job, the customer-contractor relationship can last for months at a time. That's why clients must lay a solid foundation of planning and organization for a contractor to build from.