It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? You just hire all the subs yourself, and save the general contractor’s fee. Although some homeowners do this successfully, many more run into serious problems. I know this because as general contractors, we have all been called in to take over owner-built jobs that have gone terribly wrong.
Building a house is a complicated and time-consuming project. Even experienced builders with the professional knowledge needed to keep a project going fail each year. That’s how complicated it can be to run a project smoothly and efficiently.
Let me just give you a short list of what you’re paying for when you hire a general contractor:
- Building Process Knowledge – You’ve got to know what needs to be done, and when. It’s very easy to have costs go out of control because you miss things that require completed work to be removed for access to something that should have been done earlier.
- Building Trade Knowledge – Good contractors will supervise all of the subs, and are constantly checking the quality of every sub’s work.
- Knowledge of Building Codes – Will you be able to look at a sub’s work and know if it will pass inspection? A good GC will, and you won’t have to pay a re-inspection fee or put up with the resulting delays. GC’s will also know the specific ins and outs of local variations in codes and construction requirements.
- Knowledge of Construction Scheduling – Your GC is the one who stays on top of the schedule and makes sure everything gets done when it needs to be done. GC’s spend a lot of time on the phone making sure that they are still included on each sub’s schedule. Remember that you can easily have 30 to 40 different subs involved in the construction of even a basic house, every one of whom must show up on time to keep the others happy. If one sub misses his appointed schedule, a cascade effect can negatively impact the whole project.
- Builder’s Relationships – If you think that suppliers and subs are more responsive to GC’s they have worked with previously and with whom they hope to work in the future, you’re exactly right. Many of the best subs are very selective about which jobs they will consider. Subs take into account the level of construction knowledge of the person they’ll be working with, the chances that they’ll be able to complete their work without interruption, and the client’s (or the contractor’s) payment history.
- Capital – Any good general contractor will have enough cash on hand to keep your project moving even when subs threaten to pull off of your job unless they get paid, often up front for shop-produced items.
- Contracting Knowledge – What constitutes a valid change order? Will you know how to distinguish a bogus surcharge from a reasonable change in scope? GC’s work with contracts and contractors every day, and can usually tell you down to the finest detail exactly what is included in each sub’s contract.