Do I need a general contractor?
Updated: Jul 31
You may wonder why general contractors are necessary when subcontractors are going to do the heavy lifting. After all, can’t you hire the subcontractors like plumbers, electricians, carpenters and fenestration companies directly? You can but it has some drawbacks depending on the scope of your project.
Rule of thumb: If you have a highly specialized project that only needs more than one trade you will save more money and time hiring a general contractor to coordinate projects and use their connections.
For small projects like a leaking faucet, changing a garbage disposal, adding an outlet, or new shower glass you don’t want to hire a general contractor. Even if you called one, they would probably put you in touch with their preferred tradesperson or company.
Most of our work in Orange County, CA has been full kitchen remodels, new tile showers/ bathroom remodels and structural changes like removing walls or adding bedrooms and bathrooms. It is not recommended to hire subcontractors and manage the work yourself for several reasons:
Trades do not coordinate with each other
Subcontractors need guidance on larger jobs
Plumbers, electricians, drywallers and all trades prioritize their general contractor contacts since that’s where business keeps flowing
Subcontractors don’t have the same level of contracts, bookkeeping and customer service on large jobs
Our company has been to jobs time and time again when homeowners tried to manage subcontractors themselves, which only resulted in redoes, technical challenges and in the end, more cost.
A general contractor is not pigeon holed into only seeing one part of the project and sees how each person’s job is going to fit together. For example, the plumber will be instructed to run water lines or drains a certain way so that they do not conflict with ventilation ducts. The electrician will be walked through the job to make sure that outlets are not going to be covered by cabinets because the general contractor has spent years working with cabinet carpenters and knows how things will be laid out. It may seem obvious but the devil is in the details and tradespeople will try to do the job as fast as possible. When something goes wrong, you will be charged again for the redo.
We have contracts in place with our subcontractors and communicate plans and scope to them clearly. If something is done wrong or doesn’t line up properly for the finish look, they will redo it because we have a long-term relationship with contracts.
When it comes to inspections and permits, having one contractor pull all of them makes the inspections go smoothly as well. Cities and inspectors are going to request someone that knows the job be available at each inspection. If that’s you (the homeowner), you better be able to explain why certain decisions were made or risk delays and re-inspections. If you are doing an addition or building a guest house (ADU), a lot of cities will require a licensed general contractor to pull permits.
When starting out as a general contractor in Orange County and Southern California, we wondered if most contractors are middlemen taking a cut without doing much. After a short while we realized a management layer paired with deep technical knowledge and good financial management is required even at the home remodeling level or when doing a backyard remodel.
In summary, unless you are dealing with refilling your HVAC gas, changing a faucet or basic handyman services, you should probably use a contractor. If anything, call one and get a free consultation. Most contractors don’t want to take small jobs and will let you know if you are better off hiring a handyman, air conditioning company or painter directly.
If you are in Southern California especially or anywhere and need advice, free consultation or to brainstorm, feel free to call us.
We work in Orange County (Aliso Viejo. Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park Costa Mesa, Cypress, Dana Point, Fountain Valley ,Fullerton ,Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, La Palma ,Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita ,San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, Yorba Linda) and parts of Los Angeles County.