Taking on a home construction project is an exciting endeavor, but also one that can be stressful and overwhelming. A key decision you’ll need to make early on is who to hire as your general contractor. The general contractor will oversee your entire project, from working with architects and engineers, to getting permits, scheduling subcontractors, ordering materials and managing the day-to-day building. Hiring the right general contractor for your job can ensure your project stays on time and on budget. Follow this guide on what to look for and how to choose the best general contractor for your home build or renovation.
Define Your Project Scope and Needs
Before you begin searching for contractor candidates, you need to clearly define the parameters of your project. Consider aspects such as:
- Project type – Are you building a new home or renovating? What is the square footage? Which areas of the home will be updated?
- Style and design – What architectural style do you envision for the home? Do you have detailed plans or renders from an architect already?
- Purpose and vision – How do you intend to use the space? How long do you plan to live there? What feeling do you want the home to evoke?
- Functionality needs – How many bedrooms/bathrooms do you require? What special spaces or features are important (e.g. multiple stories, open floor plan, backyard oasis)?
- Budget – What level of finishes and quality of materials can you afford? What is your overall budget including land/construction costs?
Having a clear scope and vision for your ideal home will help narrow down the list of qualified general contractors. Share these details upfront so contractors understand exactly what you want to create.
Search for General Contractor Candidates
Once your project parameters are defined, begin researching potential general contractors in your local area. There are several ways to find reputable candidates:
One of the best methods is getting recommendations from friends, neighbors or colleagues who have undertaken similar projects. Ask how their experience was working with certain general contractors.
Websites like Yelp and Angie’s List feature customer reviews for home renovation contractors in your city or town. Pay attention to how responsive and communicative contractors are according to past clients.
Many contractors maintain active Facebook pages, Instagram accounts or websites showcasing their past projects. Browse their portfolios to get a feel for their previous work.
Organizations like the National Association for Home Builders (NAHB) allow you search member databases for contractors in your state. Association members typically adhere to certain codes of conduct and quality assurance standards.
As you compile your list of contractor candidates, look for essential qualifications like proper licensing, bonding and insurance for all workers. This protects you from liability issues onsite.
Interview and Vet Potential Contractors
Once you have identified around five promising general contractor candidates, reach out to schedule in-person consultations. Be prepared with your set of questions to help vet each one properly.
Some key questions to ask include:
- How long have you been working in home building and construction? Look for 5+ years of dedicated experience managing projects similar to yours from start to finish.
- How many other projects do you currently have underway? Make sure they can devote proper focus and supervision to your job.
- Which architects, interior designers or subcontractors do you typically collaborate with? Ask for referrals from past team members.
- Can you share 2-3 past projects with comparable scopes and budgets to mine? Ask to see their previous work firsthand through photos/videos and even visit completed sites if possible.
- What challenges do you anticipate for this project and how would you address them? Look for thoughtful problem solving abilities.
- Will you be onsite directing the work yourself or delegating to a project manager? Make sure there is adequate supervision each day.
- What lines of communication can I expect throughout the project? Agree to regular status updates through phone, email, shared software tools, etc.
Going through the interview process thoroughly allows you to vet technical qualifications, but also gain a feel for compatibility factors – Is their communication style a fit? Were they transparent and responsive to all your questions? Did you click on a personal level? Choosing a general contractor means establishing a partnership over many months, so select someone you trust.
Request a Formal Bid with Multiple Quotes
Once you’ve settled on 2-3 preferred general contractors after the interview round, request formal bids from each one. Be very specific that you want a comprehensive quote including:
- Total project cost – This may be presented as lump sum or broken down by phase/milestone
- Line item costs – Materials, labor, fees for subcontractors across lighting, HVAC, plumbing, etc.
- Completion date estimate with proposed schedule
- Payment structure – Typically tied to completion percentages: 20% down payment upfront, incremental payments as sections are finished, final 10% payment upon satisfactory completion & inspection
To select the best value option, compare binding quotes side-by-side rather than ballpark verbal estimates. Reputable contractors should have no issues providing a detailed breakdown of all costs and project phases. Beware very low bids that seem “too good to be true” – this signals cutting corners. Highest bid also does not always mean highest quality. Look for reasonable middle-range pricing with favorable terms.
Go Beyond Digital Portfolios
While images of stunning hallway built-ins, spa-like baths and gourmet chef’s kitchens provide initial inspiration, look past the portfolio alone when evaluating fit. Ask to meet available founders, project managers or partner architects who may interface with you if selected.
- Does their vibe mesh well with my temperament and priorities?
- Do they convey competence answering my technical inquiries?
- Are they actively present and focused during meetings or distracted?
Avoid firms claiming expertise across too many unrelated specialty projects or led primarily by sales versus production personnel. Search for bespoke teams handcrafted for clients akin to you who will personally champion excellence through daily oversight.
Research References and Relevant Experience
Before making a final selection, dig deeper into 2-3 frontrunner contractors under consideration through further reference checks:
- Ask each contractor for 3-5 past client references for similar projects
- Contact the references provided directly via phone call or email
- Ask references to rate their satisfaction working with the contractor on factors like: communication, budget/ timeline adherence, oversight quality, issue resolution, etc.
- Seek clarification on any lingering concerns; what (if anything) could the contractor improve?
- If possible, drive by other local projects the contractor has completed and observe firsthand
Positive client references who would hire the same contractor again is a prime indicator of proven skills and professionalism. Pay special attention to vendors with extensive experience matching projects akin to the scope, style and complexity of your plans. Related expertise gives them credibility to foresee common hiccups and demonstrate work samples in the same vein as your vision. Consider not just total years contracting, but number of projects mirroring what you want to accomplish.
Compare Proposals & Finalize Your Selection
With quotes in hand from several trustworthy contractors paired with input from former clients, compare all materials side-by-side. Some points to assess across the bids:
Quality & Detail
The best proposals provide thorough timelines across hundreds of sub-tasks, offer specifically chosen brands/grade building materials rather than vague “standard” labels, have few inconsistencies
Clean Contract Terms
Beware ambiguous language that provides the contractor with excessive leeway to increase costs down the line or opaque payment installment structures
What unique value does each contractor bring over the others? Maybe one has an innovative virtual 3D walkthrough scope planning tool. Or another has unparalleled experience on geographically challenging sloped properties reminiscent of yours.
Having toured several potential work sites showcasing their talents, which contractor inspired the greatest confidence level through temperament and transparency? Which communication style and vision seems to best mesh with your own?
Compile ranking grades in key areas if needed to differentiate close calls between your top 2-3 contractors. Ultimately, move forward with the proposal demonstrating consistent attention to detail and diligence tailored specifically to your project while staying within your budget.
Formalize Your Agreement
Before allowing any groundbreaking or physical work to commence, codify contractor agreements firmly in writing through an enforceable contract. Your attorney can help craft binding construction contracts that offer protections should issues emerge down the line.
Details to define clearly in a written contract with your private home general contractor include:
- Contractor contact information & credentials
- Client contact information – List all adults who own the home
- Project address
- Comprehensive project scope detailing exact works entailed
- Itemized schedule broken down by weeks or months
- Payment terms & installment amounts
- Material brands & product details
- Insurance certificates from contractor
- Performance clauses & breach terms
- Liabilities exclusions & limitations
- Mediation procedures
- Laws, codes & permit compliance
Once both parties review and consent to the exhaustive contract terms, sign with your agreed-upon contractor in anticipation of a successful project!
Attend Parade of Homes Events
Parade of Homes events hosted by local home building associations provide unmatched access for viewing talent in action. These public showcases allow you to freely tour newly constructed model homes or dramatically transformed residences in your community. Chat with owners onsite while observing design detailing, material quality and overall execution.
Ask fellow visitors which homes inspire them most and jot down the builders behind those favorites. Follow up post-event by further investigating potential partners who brought showstopping spaces to life that resonated with your own aesthetics. Sign up for their design blog alerts or peruse social media for more examples before reaching out.
Seek Referrals from Design Influencers
Interior designers, architects and other residential design authorities connect daily with contractors across remodeling, new builds, additions and other home projects in your region.
Tap their context to request referrals for construction talent matching your specific needs like:
- Metropolitan modern aesthetics and smart home tech integration
- Mountainside build with weather resilience specialization
- Historic preservation strike and restoration skills
Poll 3-5 designer peers favored by past clients on their go-to construction firms for seamless collaborations. Ask for examples of previous joint projects with details on execution. Follow designer suggestions who repeatedly spotlight the same handful of reputable builders tailored to your unique requests.
Scan Industry Award Directories
Industry competitions highlighting standout design provide a curated talent pool from which to start your search. Accolades set superior players apart based on project innovation, sustainability gains, customer satisfaction and beauty manifested.
Home building awards to explore from your region include:
- The Nationals – Charette award honoring best single-family custom home design in the US and Canada based on architecture, interiors, landscaping and ecology stewardship
- OBIE Awards – Annual competition recognizing outstanding home renovation firms across the Ohio Valley as judged by industry experts
- Best in American LivingTM (BIA) – Top custom builders and remodelers named locally and nationally across categories like outdoor living spaces, sustainability, smart homes and more
- HBAs and remodeler association distinctions – Your city or state’s custom home building association nominates and selects deserving members based on community contributions and build quality year over year
Peruse award directories for insights on which firms consistently excel. Reach out to recipient teams as prime candidates already endorsed by industry arbiters.
Oversee and Communicate Throughout the Project
During the multi-month project span, an engaged presence and proactive communication from the client goes a long way. Ways you can stay involved without disrupting crews include:
- Plan visits – Discuss with your contractor how often you wish to stop by in order observe progress but without interfering
- Ask questions – Never hesitate to request clarification on timelines or decisions that feel unclear
- Provide timely approvals – Be responsive to signoffs needed on purchases or subcontractor bids to avoid delays
- Document issues – Log any noticeable errors like cracked tiles or uneven wall paint for speedy fixes
- Exchange candid feedback – If certain teams seem lacking in oversight or falling behind schedule, address respectfully with your contractor
- Remain patient but firm – Understand adjustments arise, but hold all crews accountable to the contracts signed
Through consistent dialogue with crews onsite supplemented with email trails, you can head off oversights early while developing constructive solutions in tandem. But take care not to micromanage crews against your contractor’s guidance; they are the experts in navigating efficacious workflows.
Selecting the right general contractor sets a quality home build in motion. Moving too quickly without thorough vetting jeopardizes budgets, timelines and even structural stability if cheaper materials are used. But asking detailed questions then verifying through references checks helps uncover the most qualified candidates worth your investment. Partners keep you apprised of next steps, invite open dialogue, take pride in their work and dedicate themselves fully to manifesting your residential vision. With some careful searching paired with patience getting to know potential team’s capabilities, you can have confidence in the general contractor secured for your upcoming build.