A “do-it-yourself” approach to building or remodelling is assumed to be a way to save a significant amount of money. For those with the skills and know how, it can also be quite rewarding to enjoy the results of your own labor. Thanks to the accessibility of information on the web and the availability of new building materials that are friendlier to DIYers, homeowners today can successfully take on projects formerly reserved for contractors and specialists. However, before going too far down this path, it’s important to take a hard look at what is required and then decide if it’s really worth it.
There are success stories of people choosing to complete aspects of their homebuilding or remodelling project on their own and hiring the help of contractors only when it’s absolutely necessary, however, there are also many disaster stories of people choosing to be their own general contractors (GCs). The do-it-yourself approach might not extend to serving as your own GC on more complex home remodeling tasks. Managing a large remodeling or homebuilding project can involve interviewing, negotiating contracts, and supervising the work of many subcontractors, so it helps to know all aspects of the job before you plunge ahead with this task.
The prospect of saving some money on home remodeling is more than likely the chief motivator behind most DIY activity. When you take on specific do-it-yourself tasks, you can sometimes save a significant amount of money, although in most cases the savings are more modest. For example, if you choose to install your own flooring, the savings can add up to hundreds of dollars, while if you sand down your own floors rather than hiring a crew, the savings will be less depending on the size of your floors.
Sometimes, hiring a professional in the industry who is able to negotiate effectively with subs and suppliers and manage the work efficiently can help avoid extra costs. Therefore, the amount of money you can save by acting as your own GC is limited.
No matter how much the GC intends or promises to execute your wishes, you will always lose some degree of control when you hire someone else to project manage. Even in the best-contractor-client relationships, some communication is always lost in translation. While acting as your own contractor provides you total control over every aspect of the project, from start to finish, you must ask yourself, will that provide you with the best outcome.
By acting as your own GC, you will be building up a contact list of names and contact information of companies and individuals who can help you with future projects. And having established relationships with a group of subcontractors can lead you to additional references when you need to search for other professionals. Your drywall contractor, for example, may well know a good housepainter.
Professional contractors have a wealth of experience that is often hard-won. A GC who has an extensive contact list of masonry pros, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, landscapers, and housepainters is worth more than you can imagine. And professional relationships being what they are, you may find it much harder (and sometimes more expensive) to hire the same subcontractors who readily work for established GCs.
A professional GC may also have sources for economical building materials and appliances that aren’t available to you. Disposal of demolition materials is also typically handled by the GC, which you will need to arrange yourself if you tackle the general contractor role yourself.
Many experts caution that homeowners should avoid serving as their own GC on larger jobs. Examples of a larger jobs would be major room additions that will require excavation, foundation work, framing, siding and roofing, wiring and plumbing, and carpentry, not to mention the even larger task of building an entire house. Few homeowners are really up to the task of managing projects of this size. By contrast, remodeling a bathroom is a much better project for homeowners to learn the ropes of GCing.
With experience comes professional connections. Seasoned contractors operate in a social and professional network from which you are excluded. An experienced, well-regarded GC can often speed processes that can stymie ordinary homeowners.
For example, if you go to the City for a building permit as a homeowner, you may run into delays because there is no one immediately available to serve you, or your plans may be scrutinized intently. An established contractor may not run into these same setbacks. With a history of goodwill, a GC may enjoy concessions and perks from the City’s Building Permit and Inspections Office that homeowners won’t receive. Building officials and contractors speak the same language, they might see each other several times a month, and many have established very friendly relationships.
Good subcontractors also tend to give preference to GCs with whom they have established relationships. You may find that the electricians or plumbers willing to bid on your self-managed job are second-tier pros who aren’t trusted by the established GCs.
Building a home or taking on a large home improvement project is an arduous task as it is, and these projects can place an enormous strain on family and relationships. One benefit of paying the commission to the GC is that you are sheltered from some of the most unpleasant aspects of home remodeling. Families and couples tend to be happier when they can gain some separation from protracted jobs, such as building a room addition.
Another source of added stress is the challenge of managing all the individual subcontractors yourself. It is no easy feat to confront a building-trade professional with quality concerns or scheduling arguments, and one advantage of working with a GC is that they will handle any necessary confrontations with all the subcontractors.
Any project, no matter how large or small, can become nerve-wracking the minute you impose a time constraint on it. It is not uncommon for a major project that can be completed by a good GC in only a few weeks to extend into many months when a homeowner tries to manage the project.
It is in your best interest to tightly schedule your build or remodel so that it takes as little time as possible, but a GC is even more motivated to get the job done quickly. The more time spent on your job means less time spent on other money-making projects. Contractors need to keep their job queue moving not only to make money for themselves but also to pay their subcontractors.
Serving as your own general contractor for a major building or remodeling project can potentially save you money. But this savings comes with a notable cost in terms of stress, time management, and perhaps even the quality of the work. Don’t undertake this role unless you are confident in your abilities and have carefully weighed the pros and cons.