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General Contractor vs Home Builder - Which Do You Need?

Builder and General Contractor

Deciding to build a new home can be a costly endeavor. Before you start down that road, it is important to know what your options are and how you can most effectively get what you are looking for. For new homes being built, there are really two major players that should be considered: the home builder and the general contractor. Contrary to what some people think, there are major differences between the two, and understanding these differences is very important to making building decisions.

Understanding the General Contractor's Role

Think of a general contractor like a head coach of a hockey team, or a general manager of a baseball team. He scouts for talent, or maybe already has his own team of talent, and calls the shots to make sure that the home is built to specifications. A good general contractor will not only facilitate all of the key players showing up when they are needed, but will also ensure that any permits are obtained that are necessary for construction.

The way this type of person is typically organized is that he will subcontract all of the individual work areas to qualified professionals who can handle the jobs. When the foundation needs to be laid, the general contractor hires the company to lay the foundation. When the walls need to be built, he hires that professional. When the floors need to be installed, he hires that person, and so on until everything is completed. In essence, a general contractor takes the stress away from the person who wants the home built and is responsible for getting the job done.

The best general contractors are those who can see the big picture and work to keep his team on schedule to complete construction. Though they are not inherently necessary to a new home project, they can be an invaluable resource. In some cases, a general contractor could also act as a home builder.

Understanding the Home Builder's Role

Unlike the general contractor, a home builder does not subcontract with anyone, nor does he help with the planning or execution of the big picture. On the other hand, a home builder will completely build a house from start to finish, which is much more desirable for some people. Whether a home builder works for a large company or just has a small crew, he and his team will work to build every aspect of the home "in house.";

This can simplify the construction process, and cut out the need for some additional costs that could arise from a general contractor. On the other hand, not all home builders are going to hold your hand and ensure that you have obtained all the necessary permits. They will not do the work until the permits are obtained, but unlike a contractor they will not be the ones getting them.

Additionally, there are some home builders who will focus on only one aspect of a job, so always consider this when comparing home builders. Though a home builder may not offer the same service as a general contractor, he will still occasionally offer input or advice on the construction, and a good home builder will always have his head in the game. Ultimately, anyone who wants to hire a home builder without a general contractor will look for the one who will build every aspect of the home.

Which One Is Best?

In many cases, this is actually the wrong question to be asking. The reality is, because their roles are different, people who are having a home built will often hire both a general contractor and a builder. More commonly though, the contractor will actually hire the necessary building personnel or use some of their own people and act as both builder and contract.

If you are feeling more adventurous, you could actually act as your own contractor, but keep in mind that you probably do not have the experience or connections that a real contractor will have. Finding and hiring the right people for the right job when there are so many different areas of the home to work on can be tough, so don't assume that you have what you need to just be your own contractor. Still, the option does exist, and if you find the right home builder you can certainly manage.

One major piece of caution: always remember that if you do choose to act as your own contractor you will need to know and stay on top of any permits that you need to obtain. Usually, a contractor would help make sure this is done, but if you take the role yourself, you will be taking that responsibility as well.

Some Other Considerations

Just as you don't necessarily need a general contractor, you also do not necessarily need a home builder. As indicated above, a contractor will sometimes act in a dual capacity and have a team of his or her own. More commonly though, the contractor will simply hire individuals based on what is needed to get the job done. Either way, it is definitely advisable to have one or the other.

When you are looking to build a new home, always keep the differences between general contractors and home builders in mind, and never try to undertake or manage a task yourself when you could get the help of experts. On the other side of the coin, don't feel obligated to hire a general contractor or a home builder, and before making any decision compare the options that are available. If you can find an affordable general contractor that will provide everything you need, maybe it is best to leave out the home builder.

Finally, if you find that your home builder can manage everything but the water and electricity and you know what permits you need, go ahead and forget the general contractor. The last thing you need while working to get a house built is to stress over what is the normal. Instead, find the service professional that will fit your needs, and hire or him or her to do what needs to be done.

Posted by: Ahmed Muztaba
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Great renovations start with a great contractor.

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