Being Your Own Contractor

Before you decide to become your own contractor, carefully consider your situation so that you can make an informed choice. Working on your own home can be a fun and satisfying experience or can quickly become a huge mistake, costing you time, money and even impacting your personal relationships. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page.

Key to Being Your Own Contractor

Preparation - We cannot stress enough that planning is critical to success.

Do Your Homework – Learn everything you need to know before you begin.

Patience – Take time to do the job right.

BENEFITS

1. Saving Money

Typically, a contractor will expect to make a profit of between 10-25% of the total project price. By becoming your own contractor, you will eliminate this fee. However, you should be aware that if you make costly mistakes or complete inadequate work, this savings may no longer apply. It is also a known fact that projects take much longer to complete.

2. Project Control

As the contractor, you will ultimately be responsible for the project and will have the right to make changes as you go.

3. Personal Achievement

There is a great sense of accomplishment that accompanies a completed project, big or small. You will also be entirely familiar with all systems and components within your home.

CHALLENGES

1. Prior Experience Required

Being your own contractor means taking on major responsibilities that require a good solid background and knowledge of the intricacies of home construction and renovations. Due to the intricacies of individual homes, this can prove to be very complicated. (For more information read “What Do I Know About My House”)

2. Extensive Planning Takes Time

The longer you spend on planning, managing and ultimately being on the construction site, the more money you are likely to save. During the planning stage, this is when the amount of time you spend is most valuable. Very time-consuming activities will include spending hours on the phone speaking to suppliers, getting quotes, tracking down contractors, sub-contractors, obtaining building permits etc. Before you take on the task of being your own contractor, you need to be aware of contracts and insurance liabilities, so make sure to speak with your lawyer and insurance broker and have them explain the legalities and pit falls.

3. Personal Stress

Managing a myriad of details, and a variety of personalities, places a lot of stress on you as the contractor. You will be required to know what to expect from people you hire and most importantly, what they will expect of you. This also includes scheduling sub-contractors.

4. Financial Responsibility

You will also be responsible for the financing of the project and ensuring that suppliers and trades are paid in a timely manner. Be very aware of changes to the project as they will greatly impact the budget. (Typically a change will cost 3 times as much as the original budget.) Some minor changes are unavoidable and a good contractor will have a built-in contingency fund to deal with these issues.

5. Work Quality

Controlling the quality of the work requires knowledge of building standards and workmanship. That is why it is important to be on site at least once a day to ensure that the project is proceeding as it should. Part of your function as a general contractor is to make yourself available for decision making and to be visible on site and show that you are in control. There is less likelihood of sub-trades trying to cut corners or use inferior materials that are not specified. You will also have to coordinate mandatory building inspections.

6. Common Pitfalls Of Being Your Own Contractor

  • Amount of time it requires

  • Dealing with City Hall and the permit process

  • Having to deal with sub-contractors

  • Insurance and liability issues

  • The stress it will put on your relationship with family members

As you can see, being your own contractor is a very demanding undertaking but it does have its rewards as previously mentioned.

If you feel you are not up to the task of running the whole project, you do have options, as outlined below:

  • Hire a general contractor to build the shell. You could look after hiring the sub-trades to finish the interior.

  • Hire a site manager to take care of the day to day details of the construction side of things while you focus on all the other aspects like planning, finances, phone calling, etc.

  • Do the finishing work yourself. However, it will likely increase timelines and costs.

You need to carefully weigh all your options before proceeding.