What to Know About Hiring a General Contractor to Build Your House

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated November 2, 2021
A couple celebrating in front of newly built house
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A general contractor handles all of the nuts and bolts of building a house, so you don't have to

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Building a home can be stressful. There are countless things to consider, from the HVAC system to the roofing, cabinetry, and everything in between. A general contractor can handle all of the nuts and bolts of building a house, including hiring subcontractors for individual jobs, pulling permits, and overseeing code inspections.

Before Hiring a General Contractor

Considering that general contractors charge 10% to 20% of your overall contract cost, which is typically between $29,000 and $58,000, you want to make sure you have the right person for the job. Before reaching out to contractors, you should prepare as many details as you can.

Rely on Word of Mouth

A good jumping-off point for finding a general contractor is to ask around. Chances are you have a family member or a friend who has someone they’ve worked with in the past and liked, so you already have one reference for their work. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) website is also a good resource.

Get on the Phone

Once you’ve got a list, you can get on the phone and get some of your questions answered before taking the time out of your day to meet them in person. This is a good time to ask for financial references, if they’re willing to give client referrals, and confirm if they take on projects of your size and scope.

Schedule a Meeting

Based on your phone interviews, narrow down to a list of at least three general contractors you’d like to meet with and get quotes from. Building a house is not like a simple remodeling project—this is a person you’re going to have to deal with for at least six months, so this is a good opportunity to make sure you communicate well.

Questions to Ask Your Contractor

The face-to-face meeting is an ideal time to get all your questions out on the table and get a rough timeline for your project. Some good questions to ask are:

  • How long have you been in business?

  • How many houses do you build a year?

  • Are you insured and licensed?

  • What is the project timeline?

  • What are each day’s work start and end times?

  • How can I get in touch with you and how long does it take for you to respond?

  • How will you protect the building site?

Verify Qualifications and References

Start with the Better Business Bureau or your state’s consumer protection agency and see if your contractor has any complaints against them. Then you can start calling their clients to get a feel for how their projects went. If you can, visit a current project site and see how things are going.

Hiring Your Contractor

Workers constructing the roof beam of a house
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Now that you’ve narrowed your list and made sure everything checks out, it’s time to get bids for your project. If you have designed a blueprint with an architect beforehand, you’ll want to provide that to your contractor. Make sure to communicate everything you want in the house, including fixtures, materials, windows, flooring, and so on. Each contractor should break down the cost of:

  • Labor

  • Materials

  • Profit margins

  • Other potential expenses

Be prepared to pay a fee for bid packets, since this is detailed work that requires research on the contractor’s part. Fees for large projects usually start at $150 to upwards of $1,000.

Check Out Subs

When general contractors build homes, they hire subcontractors for different project stages. These include subcontractors who deal with:

  • Foundation/concrete

  • Framing

  • Masonry

  • Doors, windows, and siding

  • HVAC

  • Plumbing

  • Electrical

  • Roofing

  • Flooring

  • Grading

  • Cabinetry

  • Countertops and tile 

  • Finish carpentry

  • Landscaping

  • ...and more, depending on the unique circumstances of your build.

Confirm Their Insurance Coverage

All general contractors should be insured, and if they’re going to hire subcontractors, they should carry coverage for anyone who’s going to be working for them. Call your local building authority and verify that your contractor’s license is current.

Get a Contract and Arrange Payments

It’s important to get everything in writing before your contractor begins the build. Working out a payment schedule ahead of the start of construction will save you headaches later. For big projects, a schedule usually starts with 10% up front, three payments of 25% at agreed-upon intervals, and 15% once all the work is completed. If the contractor asks for a large amount up front, like half, then it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate the relationship.

Keep Records of Your Project

It’s a good idea to keep track of the work as it progresses, no matter how wonderful your contractor may be. If you run into any snags, having clear written communications and records can help clear up misunderstandings and get the project back on track. As best you can, make notes of:

  • When work begins and ends each day

  • How the project is progressing in relation to the timeline

  • If the crew is keeping the site clean and safe

After Your Contractor Finishes Your Build

When you’re satisfied that all the I’s have been dotted and T’s have been crossed, it’s time to issue the final payment. Be sure to address any problems before you make your final payment. If you’re happy with the contractor’s work, they’ll appreciate you leaving them a good review and offering to be a reference.

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