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General Contractors

Many home improvement jobs require the coordination of different skilled tradesmen. Bathroom remodeling, for example, could require a plumber, a sheetrock and plasterer, a tiler, someone for the electrical work, and some unskilled laborers. If you are considering paying to have the work done, you should also consider working through a general contractor.

As the name implies, a general contractor is the party through which you contract to get the job done. A general contractor is the manager who, in turn, subcontracts the work to various specialists. There is a cost, of course, of inserting a middleman between you and the tradesmen, but there are advantages as well:

  • an experienced contractor is familiar with the work of his subcontractors and so knows who and when to assign them to your project.
  • if there are problems with a subcontractor's work, it is usually the responsibility of the general contractor to resolve them
  • because of the volume of business that the general contractor does with subcontractors and suppliers, it is possible in many cases for him to get a "wholesale" price

Picking a good general contractor is not always easy. As with any situation in which you are contracting for work, you should:

  • hire only a licensed and bonded general contractor
  • obtain and check references on the quality of their work, their experience with similar projects, and their ability to "handle the project" without unnecessary involvement by you
  • enter into a contract (which your lawyer has approved) for the job
  • have specific, written agreement on the final cost, the scope of the project, the materials and fixtures to be used, and the expected appearance and functionality
  • ensure that there are stated time limits for when the work is to be completed, penalties for significant tardiness, and a payment schedule tied to completion of significant milestones -- one of the most frequent complaints is that the work seems to drag on.

Projects often encounter "unforeseen" problems. A good contractor with experience in similar projects will be able to minimize the number and magnitude of such problems -- that's the value of the experience you pay for. But, nonetheless, do not be surprised if, in unusual circumstances, they still happen.

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