How to Hire a Residential General Contractor

By HomeAdvisor

Updated March 8, 2021

general contractors planning project

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Hiring a general contractor (GC) involves interviewing contractors, comparing quotes and verifying their permits, licenses and insurance plans. Residential contractors organize and execute larger remodeling projects, so it’s vital to find the right one. Use this article as a guide for helping you vet and hire the right professional for your home project.

On This Page:

  1. How to Hire a General Contractor
    1. Qualifications
    2. Interviewing Tips & Questions to Ask
    3. Costs
    4. Contracts
  2. Services General Contractors Offer
    1. Is It Worth Hiring a General Contractor?
  3. How to Use HomeAdvisor to Hire a General Contractor

How to Hire a General Contractor

Always take your time and do your research when hiring a contractor. To get started, find screened general contractors in your area.

Learn more about HomeAdvisor’s robust screening process.

  1. Research Shortlisted Candidates. Before interviewing any candidates, check out each contractor’s online ratings and reviews to gauge their reputation and build a shortlist of candidates.
  2. Research your shortlist to ensure each pro meets state-level qualifications.
  3. Interview each candidate over the phone, asking pertinent questions regarding your project and their expertise. Make sure you get a good feel for the contractor – you will be working with this person for many weeks to come.
  4. Check references. Follow up on the references provided during the interview.
  5. Compare bids and quotes. Compare itemized estimates to choose the best mix of quality and value.
  6. Check the contract. Once you’ve selected a contractor, get a contract from them and review and sign before work can begin. Always read the agreement carefully before signing to ensure it contains all needed details.
  7. Beware of scams. Avoid contractors that want their entire payment upfront or those that don’t provide detailed and project-specific proposals.

Contractor Qualifications

Once you’ve collected a shortlist of potential contractors to hire, make sure you check each the following:

  • General contractor license: Must hold a valid license provided by the state.
    • Dual license: If needed, check that the contractor is permitted to work on residential and commercial projects.
  • Registration paperwork: Confirm that the pro has a state registration certificate.
  • Certification: They must hold all state-required certifications.
  • Insurance: Should have adequate, valid insurance coverage.

To learn more, advise our state-by-state local regulations guide.

Interviewing Tips & Questions to Ask General Contractors

Interviewing different contractors is vital to feeling confident your hired pro completes the project on time and budget. It allows you to learn more about their experience, performance and history.

Before you start interviewing the candidates, take the time to write out a project brief with all project-specific details.

A project brief

  • Gets the scope of the project clear for both you and the contractor.
  • Lets your contractor know you’re serious and engaged with the project.
  • Gives them enough detail so when you ask questions, they can give you accurate, specific answers.

Review our list of essential questions to ask your contractor and write down the specific ones you intend to ask all general contractors on your shortlist.

General Contractor Costs

General contractors charge about 10% to 20% of the project cost. They might charge up to 25% for larger projects. They don’t generally charge an hourly rate. Expect a range anywhere from $250 and $58,000. The pricing takes into account different factors, including:

  • Project permits
  • General liability and other insurances
  • Overhead for office, staff and operations
  • Taxes
  • Profit
  • Location
  • Labor and workers’ compensation
  • Equipment rental

For a large addition or remodel project, you might need to hire a construction manager. Hiring a construction manager costs $3,200 to $54,000, on average. Their fee is usually 5% to 15% of the project total.

General contractors should give you an itemized estimate for the entire project. You can review the written estimates and negotiate if you feel the estimates are too costly.

General Contractor Contracts

Every contractor or agreement should include:

  1. Project brief with a clearly defined scope and limitations
  2. Total project cost, itemized
  3. Responsibilities of both the homeowner and contractor
  4. Agreed completion date and milestones, and any rewards or penalties for early or late project completion
  5. Under what circumstances the contractor can stop work
  6. Under what circumstances the homeowner can withhold payment
  7. Rights and remedies for breach of contract by either party
  8. Change orders
  9. Warranty details
  10. Damages and liability limitations
  11. Exceptional circumstances and force majeure clause
  12. Dated signature of both parties
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Services General Contractors Offer

General residential contractors offer a variety of services, including:

  • New home construction and home additions
  • Home restoration, remodeling and renovation
  • Plumbing, HVAC and electrical work
  • Decks, patios and porches
  • Painting and flooring
  • Concrete work
  • Window and door installation/replacement

Some may specialize in new builds, while others work exclusively on interior remodels.

When planning several home projects or large-scale projects, working with a general contractor makes sense. The contractor provides material, labor, equipment and essential services. They can also subcontract some projects when they don’t have the right permits or experience to execute them.

Essentially, on large or complicated projects, a general contractor acts as a construction manager and coordinates the whole process.

Hiring a general contractor is different from hiring a handyman. Handymen are only qualified for general repair and maintenance needs.

Is It Worth Hiring a General Contractor?

It’s worth hiring a general contractor for large projects that require more than a week, several pros or multiple permits to complete. For example, a kitchen remodel takes about 5 to 6 weeks. A general contractor ensures smooth management and execution of the project.

How to Use HomeAdvisor to Hire a General Contractor

contractors planning project on a computer

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HomeAdvisor makes it easy to find professional residential general contractors and their reviews and ratings in our general contractor directory.

Whether you’re at the planning stage or you’re ready to hire, just hit the orange button and enter your zip code. We’ll ask you a few questions about your project and use your answers to find the best contractors for the job. From there, we’ll send them your responses so they can bid on the job.

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  1. Sandy Pinnell, October 6:

    We want to have vinyl siding on our house but there is some dry rot on a window sill and porch pillar. Who should we call?

  2. Ms Kelly, May 13:

    I hired a res. General Contractor and I would never hire one again. I was working with a 50k budget. I had a new roof, ac, hurr. Shutters, kitchen cabinets countertops, sink, all doors replaced, outside painted, my bathroom gutted and a walk in shower to replace a tub, ceilings repairs and painted, wooden fence repaired. At first I was going to have hi do everything until I figured out he was charging 3k over the costs of the roof, ac,and the shutters – I got seperate estimates and saved over 6k alone by getting a roofer, ac guy and shutter guy – I should have done that withthe entire job with a handyman hired full time for 2 -3 weeks. He did not hire professionals resulting in things having to be done 2-3 times his loss on money my major inconvience with time it has been almost 3 months and it’s still not finished – the kitchen and bathroom cabinets were not installed properly and he is trying to say that they are right and they are a mess they are not even the correct lengt – everything we discussed I should have tape recorded or put in writing he is going back on what wa included – for instance a shower door – he’s not including one – the toilet paper holder was put on the wall crooked – he’s charging me 2300 for replacing two exterior doors – he bought them at Home Depot and they were 115 each. I have been totally ripped off I have no more money he took every penny I lost my job for taking too much time off having to be home for 3 months vs estimated 3 weeks. I have been ruined by hiring a contractor and trying to fix up my home – at this rate I’m probally going to lose everything. I need help I dont know what to do – I am beyond lost for words. I’m sure there are honest men out there I just have very bad luck. He took every penny I had and there’s no recourse I’ve tried everything. I need a miracle and an angel

  3. Craige Legette, June 22:

    How much does it cost build a DVD case measurement 4ft height and 30 inches and 8 shelf of wood

  4. Becky, February 12:

    All I know is that for the past 4 years we’ve had the money saved to finish our basement and we never did anything. Then I learned a neighbor was a general contractor, asked him to come take a look. The next week he had an estimate, the week after they started, and he expects to be done in 3-4 weeks (our basement area is relatively small, but a bathroom is being added). Best choice ever for people who find the process daunting and are uninterested in coordinating things themselves. We are also considering an interior designer to work our main floor since we don’t know how to decorate. Some of us just do not have the interest or skill to complete these tasks on our own, and the extra cost is more than worth it (because our personal time is also worth something ;-)).

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