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Tips from the Architect: Choosing a General Contractor

Some clients begin their project with a contractor already in mind, but many come to us looking for a recommendation or advice on how to choose the best contractor for their needs. We have created the guide below to assist our clients in understanding more about the role of a general contractor and how to approach the search process.

What is a General Contractor?

A General Contractor is a company or individual that manages the construction of a project. When you are working with a company, its office will assign one member of the team to be the Superintendent (or Project Manager); this person is onsite everyday to oversee construction and operations.

Responsibilities of the General Contractor

The General Contractor is also responsible for selecting Subcontractors (framing company, painting crew, millworkers, plumbers, etc.). The General Contractor ensures that the Subcontractors perform work as described in the Construction Documents the Architect has prepared.

The General Contractor also coordinate schedules and deliveries, answer questions onsite, review shop drawings, and alert the Architect when more information is needed.  At Catalano Architects, we regularly visit the job site to check in with the General Contractor, and we work together to ensure construction runs smoothly.  An experienced General Contractor and Superintendent are vital to the success of a project.

What is Included in a General Contractor’s Bid?

The bid the General Contractor submits for your project will reflect the price for all of the subcontractors to do their work, plus the cost of materials, the Superintendent’s fee, maintaining clean and safe site conditions, and general overhead costs for managing the job and keeping the General Contractor’s company running.

What is the Process for Choosing a General Contractor?

Catalano Architects has worked with numerous contractors over the years. We can work with you to offer suggestions of contractors we feel would be appropriate for your project. You can also reach out to friends and family members who have used a general contractor for recommendations.

Step 1: Research

Once you have a list of potential general contractors, you should do some research.

  • Speak with previous clients and ask them about their experience.
  • Interview your top choices: What does their project schedule looks like – do they have time to give your project the attention it needs?
  • Have they completed projects comparable to yours? Ask to see examples and, if possible, visit a few finished project sites with the contractor.
  • What does their project schedule look like – do they have time to give your project the attention it needs?

Meeting the president of the company is important, but meeting your assigned Superintendent is just as important since he or she is your main point of contact throughout the duration of the project. Keep in mind that you will be dealing with this contractor for months or even years, depending on project length.  It is important to find someone that you trust and with whom you have a good rapport.

Step 2: Bidding

In addition to the above considerations, cost is certainly a factor in choosing a contractor. Once you have established a short list of typically 3-4 contractors, the Architect will submit project drawings to the contractors for a bid.

  • Early Pricing Estimate: If the project is in the early design stage and you have budget concerns, Catalano can send preliminary drawing sets out for early pricing estimates. An early pricing estimate can inform the direction the design takes.
  • Official Bid: If the construction documents are complete, Catalano will send the drawing set out to the contractors for an official bid.

You should carefully review the submittals from the contractor. Your architect can help you review these forms to evaluate whether the lowest number is an accurate assessment of the entire project. Though cost is important factor in making a final decision, it is not the only criteria to consider.

  • Were all of the bids comparable? Did each of the contractors account for everything they should have?
  • Which contractor’s proposed timeline is closest to your own?
  • If two bids come back close in price and you felt you have established a better working relationship with a contractor with a higher bid, this should be taken into consideration.

For some clients, having another round of meetings with the contractors to discuss their bids is an important part of the decision making process. As part of the selection process, your architect can discuss value engineering with the Superintendent to see if there are additional savings to be made on the construction end.

The cost, schedule, and working relationship are all important factors in selecting the general contractor that is best for your project. Your architect wants to help you assemble a team that will deliver a project you love within a price-point that makes you comfortable. Catalano Architects prides itself on being available to its clients throughout the entire process. 

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Photo Gallery: The images in the gallery above depict the process of working from construction documents to finished project.

Once Catalano Architects completes the Construction Documents for a project, the General Contractor is in charge of coordinating everything presented in the documents, from the framing of the room (including the arched ceiling) to the placement of the recessed lights. In this way, the room is completed with the finished look intended by Catalano and its client. The millwork shop comes onsite to take measurements of the space and, working with Catalano’s Construction Documents, designs detailed shop drawings it will use to produce the built-ins and millwork. Catalano receives those shop drawings from the General Contractor for review. We mark up any changes or concerns we have before returning them. The Contractor ensures that the construction methods outlined in the shop drawings can be achieved in field before work moves forward.


3 thoughts on “Tips from the Architect: Choosing a General Contractor

  1. Speaking with previous clients about their experience with a general contractor is a great way to see the quality of their work like you mentioned. I want to hire a general contractor to build an addition to my home. I think hiring a local contractor will allow you to see anyone in your area who hired the contractor so you know what your finished project might look like.

  2. My wife and I are getting ready to remodel our kitchen, but we are having a hard time finding a good contractor. I like that you suggest starting price estimates early so you can make a more informed decision. We’ll be sure to take a few weeks to screen some different contractors and compare their quotes. Thanks for sharing!

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