Whats the Difference Between a Handyman, a Licensed General Contractor, and a Contracting Company?

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I have friends who are very handy with projects and could save me a lot of money, but are not licensed; can you explain the benefits or importance of hiring a licensed general contractor?”

All projects have an ideal fit for both client and provider. For nailing loose fenceboards, your neighbor’s handy daughter or son might be best. For constructing the space elevator, use meta-nationals like Bechtel. Where does your project lie between those two extremes?

Most horror stories in residential remodeling result from a poor fit; usually hiring an individual to do the job of a licensed general contractor or construction company. And it’s an easy mistake to make, especially since the individual (licensed or not), will certainly claim they can (a) deliver your addition, and (b) for less money than the more established general contracting company.

It’s a compelling temptation, but we have cleaned up many a mess that was caused by a poor fit, usually costing more than we would have charged in the first place.

Obtaining my license took 2 days cramming and 3 hours taking a test that taught me NOTHING about running a construction business – scheduling workflow, resource allocation, accounting, estimating, etc. There are 76 (!) trades listed on our estimating template; a general contractor’s license only deals with 2 (basic carpentry, concrete).

Having a license means only that someone is theoretically able to insure the renovation (Very Important For Obvious Reasons) and that you can complain to an agency with limited enforcement resources.

However, it also means they have aspirations to compete in a larger market (and it’s greater technical complexities) than they otherwise could have.

Generally speaking, only these companies have the experience necessary (because of the larger market they have access to) to execute correct waterproofing details, create good design details, and deliver successful projects.

Here’s the math: Since it takes an average of 4 years to become expert at any given trade, how expert can one

person be in the 17+ trades involved in a typical kitchen extension? And… If you do all your own work for 3 projects a year, how can you possibly know as much as a company who does 15?

So again: Where on the spectrum does your project lie? And: How lucky do you feel today?

Got a question about your home? Here’s your chance to ask the “Design-Build Advisor!” Give us a call at 415-459-3349 or send your question to john@theperfectbuilder and we’ll answer either in this blog or by e-mail.

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One Comment
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