Dear Angie: What should I do if a general contractor asks me to handle receiving bids and working with subcontractors, such as plumbers and electricians? — Gaurav P., North Bergen, N.J.
Answer: Top-rated general contractors our team interviewed say a good general contractor takes care of all workers and trades involved on a project. The contractor knows the ins and outs of the job in ways you can't and has a much clearer idea of what each trade must bring to the task. You're hiring the general contractor to oversee the entire project, and getting separate bids from plumbers and electricians adds moving parts to an already complicated scenario.
In addition, reliable and experienced general contractors will have established working relationships with subcontractor crews. A lack of such connections tells you that the contractor is either inexperienced or unable to maintain solid working relationships. Either way, it's a warning sign that you might want to consider a different general contractor.
If you do select one who wants you to deal with and pay subcontractors separately, be aware that you've taken on a host of new responsibilities. You'll have to stay current with subcontractor payments and be sure they're working well with the general contractor and other workers. A major renovation or building work site should run like a well-oiled machine, and a good general contractor will keep everyone on schedule, being sure they know what's happening and who can work on different spaces at the same time.
If you're responsible for subcontractors, you'll have to coordinate with the general contractor to keep the project on track. The contractor may have less leverage with the subcontractors, since they work for you. We're also told there's a good chance your project might cost more if you have to pay subcontractors separately.
That said, even if you're relying on a general contractor to handle all subcontractor details, remember the old rule: Trust, but verify. You're still ultimately responsible if something goes wrong, whether it's unpaid suppliers or work failing inspection, so confirm that subcontractors are licensed, bonded and insured in compliance with the rules of your state or municipality.
Make sure all pertinent project details are outlined in a written contract, including who is responsible for what, particularly should something go wrong.
Another important detail: Make sure you or the general contractor gets lien releases from suppliers and subcontractors after each stage of work, and keep copies. A lien release provides proof that service providers were paid. Without a release, if a supplier or subcontractor isn't paid, you could end up on the hook for payment or have a lien hanging over your house.
Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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