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Hiring a good general contractor

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If you’re planning to starting renovating or building your home, chances are a new relationship with a general contractor is on the horizon. If you’re new to this and really have no idea, you may be wondering exactly what this relationship will entail.

Fundamentally, your general contractor is responsible for getting your construction or renovation completed efficiently and on budget. They are there to manage all the material, labour, equipment and services necessary for the project and to hire subcontractors such as plumbers or electricians to do other work.

General contractors are useful to have around during the design phase, to help assess the design and the likelihood of running into unexpected problems. For example, if your general contractor is experienced and you are renovating an older home, they should know the history of construction in your city and the chances of running into problems like asbestos. On top of that, general contractors can provide productive input during the design phase which could help you save money or do things more efficiently.

After all your plans are solidified, general contractors use them to generate pricing and to figure out what permits you need. After everything is approved and everyone agrees, it is their responsibility to coordinate materials and subcontractors and do their best to ensure everything is going according to plan. General contractors are also responsible for securing your home, managing the people there, disposing of waste, monitoring schedules and cash flows, and importantly - maintaining accurate records.

Tips for choosing a general contractor

Since home renovation projects can be stressful, having a good general contractor is key.

“Home renovations can be dirty, nasty and invasive, so it’s a good idea to find a general contractor who you trust and are compatible with on a personal level,” says Don James, owner of Jameswood Homes in Calgary.

To begin, ask your friends and families who have done construction or renovations for recommendations. In the process you may hear enthusiastic recommendations or horror stories, which highlight the need to have someone you trust. Beyond that, read online reviews and do your research about who to contact.

He recommends that you interview no more than three general contractors. After the interviews the contractors will give you an estimated cost for the project. Don says the quotes shouldn’t vary a great deal, usually a maximum difference of between 10 to 15 per cent.

Of course you will be tempted to go for the lowest offer but trust, experience and personal compatibility are very important too. If you don’t have a good manager for your project, you could run into a lot more problems than if you do.

One of the most important things you can do, says Don, is make your objectives clear from the beginning. If you start changing your mind about aspects of the renovation half-way through the process, it usually ends up taking more time, causing unnecessary stress and costing more money than if everything was decided upon from the get go. 

Don says the HGTV home renovation show Real Renos hosted by Jim Caruk, shows what a home renovation is like from the general contractor’s point of view and could help prepare homeowners for the realities of a renovation.

By Alyssa McMurtry 

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