Hiring a general contractor: What to know before starting a renovation

General Contractor
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A Renovation Journey.

Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960s builder’s-box bungalow into the 21st century. ready-set-reno.ca

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By Jenny Kennedy

The prospect of starting a new renovation project is both exciting and intimidating for homeowners not well-versed in the construction industry. However, in a world of do-it-yourself (DIY) videos and HGTV decorating shows, one might think, “Hey, we should be able to do this ourselves.”

While you may be able to tackle certain elements with reasonable results, you are far more likely to have costly errors and worse — complete do-overs. Plus, there is the additional headache of finding quality tradespeople to perform electrical, plumbing and drywalling.

For the best home renovation investment, hire a reputable general contractor (GC). When speaking with Tim Sellers of Tim Sellers Custom Homes, we learned what every homeowner should know about hiring a general contractor for their renovation project.

What is a general contractor?

A general contractor is the renovation and site manager for the entire project from start to finish. They have the skills and experience to properly organize and execute the reno according to design specifications and building codes. In addition, their professional services ensure the finished outcome is of quality and safe for the homeowner.

They coordinate the following for you:

➔ Permits

➔ Trades

➔ Materials

➔ Hiring

➔ Purchasing

➔ Delivery

➔ Demolition

➔ Installation

➔ Clean-up

➔ Problem resolution

In addition to their broad skill set, the general contractor works with your interior designer to make the vision a reality and redirect when something isn’t possible or may cause unnecessary challenges.

The benefits of hiring a general contractor

There are many benefits to hiring the right general contractor. Aside from obviously not having to do all that work yourself, there are some significant bonuses you may not have thought about.

Tim had some fascinating points about why hiring a general contractor is important.

  1. A GC has a team of trades available to handle any situation and knows the quality of work.
  2. Trades prioritize a GC over a homeowner because the general contractor gives them steady work every year. “I’ve seen homeowners wait months for a trade that keeps saying they’ll be there next week,” says Tim.
  3. GCs know what things should cost and can prevent the trades from taking advantage and overcharging for services and materials.
  4. GCs know all the relevant building codes and can ensure things are done right. And when things aren’t right, they can make the sub-trade correct the issue.

It certainly takes multi-tasking chops to organize each stage of a renovation where trades aren’t tripping over each other or held up because of poor scheduling. But, unfortunately, it is also likely that one trade backing out means you’ll live in a construction zone for much longer than you initially planned.

What to look for and what to avoid

Anytime you hire a professional or trade, you risk employing someone underqualified, ill-equipped, or down-right underhanded. Unfortunately, it happens all too often.

So, how do you hire an excellent general contractor (or any trade, for that matter)?

This is what Tim had to say: “Look for honesty and an easy-to-work-with attitude. Someone you feel you can trust.”

Trusting your gut instinct is undoubtedly one good measure, but people often make poor choices out of desperation or budget constraints that can lead to huge problems and even fraud.

Tim recommends, “Always go with a referral or someone with a reputation to uphold. Shady contractors change names, move around, and ask for a lot of money upfront. Watch for lack of knowledge by questioning how things are done.”

Referrals and reviews are excellent sources of information to indicate the GC’s integrity and quality of work. Asking for qualifications and experience is par for the course, so don’t hesitate to ask.

TIP: Don’t just take the lowest bid when getting quotes. Contractors desperate for work, or an easy mark, will undercut materials, so you believe you are getting what was quoted, yet you will get much lower quality or nothing at all. Instead, get specific quotes and ask detailed questions about the GC’s trades and the materials they use.

For example, shady flooring installers will quote you a higher-grade carpet underlay, then install something lower in quality and cost to pocket the cost difference. But, of course, no one looks at the underlay, right?

When is the right time to hire?

Now you know how valuable a general contractor is, how do you know when to bring a GC on board?

Tim says the best time to source your GC is when you are initially considering whether or not to do a reno. They may have insights into project costs and the timing of the project, which may influence your design decisions.

Before meeting with the GC, find inspirational photos representing your vision and sketch your plan in as much detail as possible. This is the time to hire an interior designer if you need help coordinating the design. Optimally, they can provide professional drawings and elevations in addition to selecting all interior finishes and paint colours.

Then, your general contractor can quote you when you have everything in order: The more detailed the plans, the more precise the quote. Once you’ve hired your GC, they will work directly with you and the designer to oversee the project.

Working with your general contractor

“If you have the right general contractor and design team, you should be hands-off during the project. Hands-on will lead to problems. Your GC should know better when building your project. You need to trust them, though looking and asking questions is fine,” says Tim.

Good communication is the key, and your general contractor should keep you in the loop on progress and any unexpected issues. Together, your home renovation will be a cooperative effort that results in beautiful craftsmanship and the exquisite design you envisioned.

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Watch the renovation journey unfold at ready-set-reno.ca

In today’s pandemic-era environment, world-wide supply chain issues and construction delays are a reality, so plan your renovation well and be prepared. As things get underway, we’ll be sharing exciting before, during and after content including a video series featuring top experts, and you’ll be able to virtually tour the project at various stages of completion.

Photo by Annie Gray on Unsplash

Tim Sellers has over 25 years of experience in the home improvement industry and has acted as the general contractor for HGTV shows “Income Property” and “Farmhouse Facelift.”

Jenny Kennedy of Kennedy Literary Agency is the author of “Launch Into Interior Design” and provides written marketing for the design-build industry.

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Ready Set Reno
A Renovation Journey. Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960's builder's-box bungalow into the 21st century.