Acting As Your Own General Contractor Is Risky

I have worked with the Matt and the Home Owners Club for many years and have seen their efforts in helping people build, remodel and maintain their homes. In this article Matt Maury explores the some of the roles, skills and responsibilities of a general contractor.

My thanks to Matt and the Home Owners Club for helping to clarify the roles of the general contractor and in doing so, helping home owners decide if they would like to undertake this task.



  • At the Home Owners Club (HOC), we help our members find qualified contractors for a wide variety of home-improvement projects. Typically, when our members call, they're in search of a single contractor - a plumber, an electrician, a roofer, etc. Occasionally, however, we get calls from members with large remodeling projects, and they want bids from a variety of specialty contractors.

    Usually this is done to save the money a general contractor would charge. However, most homeowners don't realize that doing this puts them in the role of general contractor, and they must assume all the accompanying risks and responsibilities.

    For example, a member of the Club recently accepted bids from a variety of HOC-authorized specialty contractors. He planned to manage the work and even tackle some tasks himself. But he never dreamed there would be so many things to coordinate, decide and do.

    The positioning of the electrical outlets? He just assumed there was a standard depth and never even thought to check with the painter and tile-setter until it was too late.

    The vent for his new range hood? He figured whoever installed the fan would run the ductwork for it, as well.

    Workspace conflicts? He thought the plumber and carpenter would be willing to work together in the same area.

    In the end, the money he saved by not hiring a general contractor was far surpassed by all the extra charges incurred by these and other oversights.

    Before attempting to manage your own remodeling project, you should really understand all that will be required. The following list is far from complete, but it does provide an overview of the general contractor's typical responsibilities.

  • Every general contractor has a network of trusted sub-contractors. That allows the "general" to gather accurate bids quickly. If you act as your own general contractor, accomplishing the same thing will require quite a bit more time and effort.

    Consider the following:

    • For every specialty (electrical, plumbing, etc.), you'll want to get multiple bids.
    • For each of those bids, you'll need to walk the specialty contractor through the project and answer their questions. If one contractor shows you a different way of doing something, you'll need to communicate that to all the other contractors and have them re-bid the job so that all the estimates are alike.
    • And finally, you'll need to compare and contrast the products and techniques used by each contractor to determine if all are of equal quality.

  • Coordinating things with the busy schedules of multiple contractors is a real juggling act. When a general contractor is on the job, specialty contractors are usually willing to commit to a tight schedule. If an inexperienced homeowner is handling things, however, those specialists will often request more time, which can add weeks to the completion date of your project. Plus, there could be cancellation penalty fees to pay if things get off track.

  • A good general contractor has the skills to handle the carpentry tasks required on a project - and they often end up performing much of the work. That's why projects managed by a professional rarely run behind schedule.

  • The general contractor has to be on-site regularly, inspecting the work as it's completed, providing answers and resolving issues. If not, a sub-contractor may have to wait - or guess at a solution - which often results in delays or mistakes that can affect the work of all the sub-contractors who follow.

  • No job is complete until the building inspector gives approval.

    The bottom line: If you're planning to act as your own general contractor, you should be confident you can provide all that's required.