Not All General Contractors Are the Same: Here’s What You Need to Know (and Look for)

Preparation helps your home renovation story have a happy ending

Finding the lowest price for consumer package goods is a good idea. They’re commodities, after all. Even if it’s a different brand, what you’re buying is probably uniform and interchangeable. Price drives the purchase.

However, general contractors are not a commodity. You can’t – or shouldn’t – use the lowest price as a determination. In fact, in some circumstances, a low-priced estimate from a contractor should be a warning to move on. Here’s what you need to know about how general contractors operate, how they determine an estimate, and the best way to choose one.

What’s the most difficult part of a renovation project?

People who’ve already gone through the process may tell you that the hardest part of a renovation project isn’t the event itself, but what leads up to it. A recent survey revealed that 12 percent of respondents found the process stressful enough to relationships that they considered divorce.

The best way to cut down on the amount of stress involved in a renovation is to select the right general contractor. They’re going to be the ones who vet and hire the specific tradespeople – who are likely to be contractors, as well – to work on specific pieces of your renovation project. It means you’ll work with just one person instead of a group of people. It’ll be easier to select and work with a general contractor if you have a clear idea about what you want to accomplish with the renovation.

The power of three

There’s no grocery store for general contractors. It’s up to you to identify and seek out bids. Where should you look? Consumer Reports has a list of five user review websites. Checking for online reviews is a good place to start, better yet turn to friends, neighbors, or family members for referrals.

It is recommended to get three bids before deciding on a general contractor. Taking the time to solicit at least three bids allows you to understand an overall price range. Once you’re comfortable that you understand the general cost involved in your renovation, you can move on to what’s more important in your selection: factors such as creativity, flexibility – and above all – communication.

We’re already aware that the stress of renovations can lead to thoughts of divorce, and experts tell us that good marriages thrive on the open exchange of communication. You want that same open exchange with the general contractor who’ll be responsible for your renovation. The National Association of Realtors® suggests you deepen your level of comfort with a general contractor by asking them these five essential questions:

  1. Would you please itemize your bid?
  2. Is your bid an estimate or a fixed price?
  3. How long have you been doing business in this town?
  4. Who are your main suppliers?
  5. I’d like to meet the job foreman. Can you take me to a project he’s running?

How do general contractors set their prices?

Often, we deal directly with specialists – either at work or even for home repairs. You’ll call a plumber if something’s wrong with your kitchen faucet. Home renovations require many different specialists working in tandem, and that shouldn’t be for you to coordinate.

This is why a general contractor is the right person for this job. You don’t have to deal with all these specialists, who will each have specific needs and schedules. In exchange for orchestrating the entire operation involved in your renovation, a general contractor takes a percentage of the overall cost of the completed project.

Therefore, it’s important to be clear about what you want. A general contractor will take the responsibility of gathering the cost and requirements for each tradesperson who’ll be involved in the renovation. A minimum of three bids allows you to get a general idea of the costs involved – and to see the impact of the additional markup of a general contractor.

Highs and lows

This brings you back to the outliers. A much higher bid could be a sign that the contractor believes his or her expertise carries a premium. Before you dismiss the bid, consider asking them why it isn’t in line with the others you’ve solicited.

You may also find that a general contractor delivers a bid which is significantly lower than others you’ve solicited. Often, this is a red flag. This contractor is shaving off costs from somewhere, and it’s safe to assume it is not from their own bottom line. It’s for this reason that most experts recommend you not go with the lowest bid from a general contractor – especially if it’s considerably less than the others.

One of the five questions the National Board of Realtors® recommends one of the requests you make of a general contractor is to itemize the bid. It’s not unreasonable, and it rewards you with the ability to understand how the costs of material and labor contribute to your renovation project.

A matter of trust

Long before any work is initiated on your renovation, you should feel that you have successfully completed the creation of a comfortable level of trust with your general contractor. The burden of proof should be relieved. You should have no question or suspicions about prices.

Most contractors are honest people who want you to be happy with the work. At Tandem Contracting, we believe in paying our own employees a fair wage, we also believe in fairly compensating our sub-contractors who will do specific work for your renovation. We also handle every aspect of the project to ensure our customers don’t have to worry about anything.
Interested in adding some upgrades to your home? Get in touch with the pros at Tandem Contracting. Call us at 973-864-3100 or send us a message through our online contact form.

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