Being Your Own General Contractor: Pros and Cons

by Rowan Guthrie
Male handyman with tool belt against stucco wall.

Embarking on a building project can be exciting. However, it can also be expensive, so you might look for ways to save money. This poses the question: Should you be your own general contractor?

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It’s one way of reducing your costs, and there’s the added benefit of knowing the project is your own. However, for every upside, there’s a countering downside.

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What Does It Mean to Be Your Own General Contractor?

Being your own general contractor involves overseeing and coordinating all aspects of a construction project. It means taking on responsibilities you'd normally defer to a hired professional. As the person in charge, you'll be orchestrating the various trades, managing schedules and ensuring the project adheres to building codes and regulations.

Essentially, you become the central point of contact, overseeing every detail from start to finish. That’s a lot of responsibility for one person, so you need to know what you’re doing to ensure a successful outcome.

Pros of Being Your Own General Contractor

Anyone asking if they should be their own general contractor should consider these five advantages.

Save Money

By cutting out the middleman — the hired general contractor — you eliminate their fees, which can often account for a significant portion of the project budget. This direct involvement in project management allows you to allocate funds more efficiently and make informed decisions about where to invest.

Full Control

You’ll have complete control over every aspect of the project. From selecting subcontractors to choosing materials and making design adjustments on the fly, you can tailor the project to your vision without needing approval from a third party. This level of autonomy can be empowering and lead to a more personalized and satisfying result.

Hands-On Learning Experience

You can learn new skills, such as project management, if you become your own general contractor. While the learning curve may be steep, the knowledge gained can be invaluable. This experience enhances your understanding of the construction process and can be a stepping stone for future endeavors.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Unforeseen challenges may arise in a dynamic construction environment, so the ability to adapt quickly is crucial. As the decision-maker, you can pivot in response to unexpected issues, make on-the-spot decisions and ensure the project stays on track without waiting for external approvals.

Personalized Relationships With Subcontractors

You’ll be able to establish direct relationships with subcontractors. This personalized connection fosters clear communication, a deeper understanding of the project's nuances and the potential for more collaborative problem-solving. Building these relationships can lead to a smoother construction process, enhanced teamwork and a sense of camaraderie among everyone involved.

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Cons of Being Your Own General Contractor

You should consider the cons before determining if you can be your own general contractor.

Steep Learning Curve

The construction industry has its own set of complexities, regulations and jargon. Being your own general contractor requires a steep learning curve as you navigate through building codes, zoning laws and project management intricacies. Mistakes in these areas can lead to delays, added costs or even legal issues. You’ll be working with experienced subcontractors who'll expect you to know what you’re talking about.

Additional Costs

While the potential for cost savings is a pro, it's essential to acknowledge the risk of additional costs. Without the expertise of a seasoned general contractor, you may encounter unforeseen issues, delays or mistakes that could incur expenses. The balance between saving money and avoiding costly errors requires careful consideration and a realistic assessment of your abilities.

Time and Energy Demands

Coordinating schedules, communicating with subcontractors and troubleshooting problems demand significant time and energy. If you already have a full-time job or other commitments, the added responsibilities can quickly become overwhelming.

Increased Responsibility and Stress

While autonomy is a significant advantage, it comes with an increased level of responsibility and stress. Managing multiple moving parts, dealing with unexpected setbacks and being the point of contact for all project-related matters can be challenging. The weight of these responsibilities can affect your stress levels and overall well-being.

Limited Industry Network

Unlike seasoned general contractors who often have a vast network of industry connections, being your own general contractor may limit your access to a wide range of subcontractors and suppliers. This restriction can result in a narrower pool of options when selecting professionals for various project tasks, potentially affecting the overall quality and efficiency of the construction process.

When Should You Consider Being Your Own General Contractor?

The role of general contractor is best suited to individuals who possess a hands-on approach, strong organizational skills and a willingness to learn. Small to medium-sized projects, such as home renovations, are ideal for those starting. Projects that require specialized expertise, have stringent timelines or involve intricate building codes may be better left to licensed general contractors.

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