How important is a general contractor for bathroom remodel?

dibgarDecember 13, 2011

We served as our own general contractor for our kitchen remodel 4 years ago. My husband pulled the permits for electrical and for opening up one small wall, and we did our own demolition. We used Angie's List to find our granite fabricator and our hardwood floor man; and we used references from friends for cabinets, drywall and electrical. We did not move sink or drains, so we did not hire a plumber for that project.

That project went smoothly with only one potential delay which we were able to resolve satisfactorily. We felt that we had a good working relationship with each person/company involved.

Now we are ready to tackle all three bathrooms and don't know whether or not to use hire a general contractor this time.

Aside from painting, we are not planning to do the actual work ourselves, so we will need good specialists in each area. We are working an interior designer who will supply a set of working drawings and materials lists that we can provide to either a general contractor and/or to individual specialists.

My husband would like to get bids from each specialist separately--from the plumber, from the tile installer, from the electrician, from the framer/drywall person, etc. Because we had success in finding good people previously, he thinks that we can save money if we go that way again.

We will seek bids from a couple of general contractors and also from separate specialists in each area. Once we have those numbers, what things other than price should we consider in deciding whether or not to go with a general contractor?

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The primary factor in my mind is whether you trust someone else to oversee the entire project.

Other possible factors
If the design is already done, would he follow the instructions to the letter? If there are gaps in the design or an unexpected change what would his response be?

Would he bring in his own tradesmen? Or would he be willing to work with those you selected.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 7:41PM
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Maybe you can bridge the gap and hire a genreal who does the major stuff himself (usually tile) and subs out the minor pieces? We did that and he let us use his contractors number to get everything at cost...he said he hated shopping! haha

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 7:59PM
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You're doing 3 bathrooms at one time? Wow - I admire you. I don't think I'd have the stamina to do that!

Since you've done the kitchen you have an idea of the work & scheduling. If acting as your own GC adds 3-4 weeks to the project are you okay with that? I think the biggest risk with being your own GC is that subs are probably more likely to bail out a friend/previous employer than a customer who probably won't hire them again. That could lead to some delays.

But if you can live with that, you probably will save some money.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 8:24PM
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In our preliminary contact with one contractor, he said he did not want to give a bid until we had selected all materials with the designer (tile, fixtures, cabinet style, etc.) If we choose him, he insists on using his own subs. We can do some of our own demolition and final painting, but we won't be able to use the same granite fabricator or flooring man that we liked in the past.

While he wants us to select all of the materials in advance, he said that his subs will insists on making the actual purchases. Our designer, on the other hand, says we might get better deals if we purchase items on our own using her designer discounts.

What is typical? Are some elements OK to buy on our own or is it better to let the plumber or tile installer make those purchases? What about lighting fixtures? Would that be the same if we use a general contractor or hire separate specialists on our own?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 8:34PM
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Three bathrooms at once is a bit overwhelming, but we would like to get all of the design work and planning done at one time. There also is a domino effect with each change impinging on another space. The actual remodel will probably be done in two phases. We are adding an accessible shower to our main floor powder room; and while we have walls and ceiling open for that, it makes sense to do the hall bathroom directly above it. The hall bathroom also has to be done before we can start the master bathroom since we are stealing part of the hall bathroom in order to make room for an expanded shower in the master. At a minimum, we have to move the vanity and a wall in the hall bathroom. Then, at another minimum, we have to replace the old fiberglass stall in the master bathroom because it is leaking into the laundry room below. Then, as long as we are working on the master shower, we hope to go ahead with a new toilet, vanity and reconfigured closet.

I know it will take longer to juggle all of this on our own, and I have heard many arguments in favor of general contractors. I am wondering how plumbers, electricians and tile installers prefer to work. Do most prefer to work through a general contractor or would they prefer to be called in separately to bid the job on their own?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 9:00PM
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"We are adding an accessible shower to our main floor powder room"

This is SUCH a smart idea.

Reading further ... I know some contractors like to buy the fixtures so they get the mark up but I've never felt comfortable with that. At best, I would be willing to say, "What are my allowances for toilets, tile, sinks, faucets, etc? Will the price I pay through you match the price I can pay on my own?" If they can't match your pricing then I wouldn't buy it from them.

I realize trades may work differently in all parts of the country/world, but I've never had a problem with this model. The last time we did a bathroom redo I bought everything at Expo (Home Depot company, they've since left the area) and had it on site & ready to go before the contractors started work.

If the contractor you use has deals that let him buy things at a discount & he wants to pocket the difference then I'm okay with that. As long as his discount isn't off of an inflated price, KWIM?

I think most electricians and plumbers prefer to work with guys they have worked with in the past, followed closely by home owners who know what they're doing (which sounds like you), and then way down the line is clueless home owners who want to be GC without knowing what end of a hammer to hold.

You have good reasons to tackle all 3 at once (or in quick succession). I have a tough time making a LOT of decisions in a short time, and I think that part would drive me around the bend but that's just me. You'll probably get better deals if you say, "Hey - I need to buy 3 toilets today, what kind of deal can you give me on ..."

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 7:27AM
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