So, instead of hiring a licensed general contractor, you’re thinking of taking on the job yourself? After all, building or remodeling your soon-to-be dream home is expensive enough as it is, so why not save some money and take on the contractor role yourself as an owner/builder — a situation in which the homeowner becomes the general contractor, assuming all the responsibilities (legal, financial, and otherwise) that go along with the role in the process. After all, it can’t be that hard to hire subcontractors, tradespeople, and construction workers and then supervise them, right?
Here are six good reasons why you shouldn’t be your own contractor.
- Contractors know what they are doing; odds are, you don’t. Overseeing construction projects is what they do, day in, day out. It’s not a side gig or something they do for fun. Before obtaining a license from the state, a contractor must pass business, trade, and law exams, provide financial statements, and show evidence of four years of work experience in a related field within the last ten years. They must be bonded, fingerprinted, undergo a background check by the FBI, and have workers’ compensation insurance. Becoming a licensed general contractor takes time, skill, and experience. They don’t come to your project as a one-off. Whether a new build or remodel, a construction project is stressful enough, so why not let a pro handle the day-to-day details for you?
- A licensed contractor has the expertise and connections to recommend and hire skilled and reliable subcontractors and other workers on your project. Since a licensed contractor must have worked in their field for at least four years within the last ten years, they’ll undoubtedly have a go-to list of the best subcontractors and vendors for your project or know who to ask for recommendations. They will assess your needs and the specific requirements of your project and then work with you and your architect to help realize your vision. Of course, hiring subcontractors and the rest of the construction crew is only half the battle. A licensed contractor will also be on the job site to supervise and coordinate them to ensure your project goes smoothly and according to plan.
- The work needs to be done in a specific order to achieve the desired result. A licensed contractor will know how to schedule subcontractors so that the work on your project is not only done well but also in the proper order. Consequently, inspections must be done at specific points before proceeding to the next stage of work. Schedule an inspection too early, and you waste everyone’s time. Schedule an inspection too late, and you risk costly mistakes if the work needing inspection has been covered up and then requires ripping out to show what’s been done.
- With the legal authority to pull permits, a licensed contractor offers protection from legal claims.Before proceeding with any construction work, you need a building permit. Per California Building Standards Code, no building or structure can be constructed, altered, or demolished without one. Aside from the property owner (or agent of the property owner), only a licensed contractor can pull a permit.
If you decide to forgo a licensed contractor and obtain a building permit application as an owner/builder, you must accept full responsibility for all phases of your project. Since you’ll be the one hiring all the subcontractors and workers, you’ll be viewed by the state as an employer and will be legally responsible for complying with all the rules, ordinances, and regulations that go along with that; this includes carrying workers’ compensation insurance, a must should any of your crew get injured on the job. If you hire a licensed contractor, they’ll be the one responsible for workers’ comp, not you. Which begs the question: Why take on this responsibility when you can hire someone to do it for you?
- Buying materials directly to avoid contractor markup isn’t the bargain you think it is. Homeowners believe if they buy building materials, plumbing fixtures, appliances, and other items themselves, they’ll save the cost of the contractor’s markup. But what many homeowners don’t realize is that as repeat customers, contractors often receive volume discounts. The cost of an item, including the contractor’s markup, is often the same as what the homeowner, a one-time buyer, would pay. Furthermore, if the contractor pays for the goods, they are responsible should anything go wrong; this includes being responsible for defective merchandise that causes damage to the work that’s already been completed (e.g., a dishwasher that overflows and damages the new wood floor). If the homeowner bought the defective item, they are the one on the hook for the repair costs, not the contractor.
- Being your own contractor almost always costs you more money in the long run. While it’s certainly tempting to take the owner/builder route to bring down your immediate costs, it rarely works out in your favor in the end. In addition to being licensed and bonded, a contractor comes to you with years of experience in their field and a solid list of reputable subcontractors, tradespeople, and vendors. They know who they can rely on for quality work and materials and who will show up and get the job done in a reasonable amount of time. Unless you have the necessary expertise, you’ll be at the mercy of the building trades and risk falling prey to unreliable, unprofessional, or downright unscrupulous subcontractors or specialists.
Your project will also have to pass codes and inspections, and if things aren’t done just right, and you fail the inspection because of it, it’s on you (and your bank account) to redo the work, which equals more time, more money, and more headaches.
So, there you have it. Six good reasons why you shouldn’t be your own contractor. Cutting corners rarely works out for the best. Overseeing and managing a construction project, whether a large-scale new home or a remodel of an existing one, requires a range of experience and a wealth of expertise. Without a skilled professional shepherding you through the difficult and often fraught construction process, you risk shoddy work, costly mistakes, and ultimately, your peace of mind.
For information: Richard Blumenberg. AIA, 15200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 201, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. Tel 310-459-0244, www.rlbarchitecture.com
By Richard Blumenberg.
RLB Architecture is a high-end architecture and design firm that provides custom design, planning, drafting, and construction administration services for projects in the Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Malibu, Santa Monica, and other Westside communities. Richard L. Blumenberg is the proprietor.
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