How to Hire and Work with a General Contractor

Hiring a contractor is potentially the most important decision you’ll make in the renovation process.


Starting your home renovation can be a daunting task and your general contractor can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Finding the right fit will make your renovation much easier, so it is potentially the most important decision you will make with your renovation.

Communication is key

When interviewing contractors — you should interview at least three — it is best to lay out your expectations. How often you expect to see your contractor on the job, estimated completion date, budget and frequency of communication are all great things to cover. If you share your expectations in a clear manner there can be no misunderstanding later on.

You should always check all references the contractor provides you, as well as his license and insurance. Call prior clients and ask how frequently he visited the job site, whether he stayed within the budget, and if he finished the job in a timely manner. Also, ask if he was quick to return calls and/or emails.

Cheaper is not better

Hiring the cheapest contractor is not always the best idea, as most likely he is underbidding to get the job and will still spend what the others quoted. Do not make price your hiring criteria. You should hire based on his references, his experience, and how you interact together — is he someone you can get along with?

Create a timeline

Once you’ve made your decision, but before you sign the contract, put in writing a projected timeline. Find out what your contractor will need from you to follow that timeline. He may need that tile picked out immediately, but may not need paint colors for some time. Add these tasks to the timeline so you are providing him the information he needs to complete your project in a timely manner.

Be as organized and upfront as possible — making sure you know exactly what you want before the project gets going. Search Zillow Digs for inspiration for the project, and save images to show the contractor exactly what you want.

If you have already picked out paint colors and other finishes, put these in writing on your timeline and share it with him. It is also a wise to create and share a calendar.

Encourage openness

Allow the contractor you choose to be open and informative. Many people are so forceful with their budget and time expectations that their contractor is afraid to give them “bad news.” If you want to change something from the original contract, it’s called a “change order,” and no matter what it is, it will cost extra.

Don’t be upset with your contractor when a change adds time to the project; every change or delay that you cause creates a ripple effect and can end up increasing the scope of your project. Your contractor has a finely balanced schedule, and when you throw a twist in, you must realize it will affect everything.

When you’re considering changing something from the original plans, ask your contractor how much it will add to the budget and how much time it will add — and encourage him to be as honest as possible.

Don’t ask for worst case scenarios when preparing for a project. Always ask for the best from your contractor and he will attempt to meet your expectations, but be realistic and be prepared for delays and problems as nothing in this world is perfect.


Realtor with Greg Garrett Realty, actively licensed in the state of Virginia

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