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Hiring a General Contractor

This post has taken the longest time for me to sit down and compose. The experience I had with my General Contractor was so bad and traumatic that I didn’t know how or where to begin.

The General Contractor is the most important piece of your project. Ethics, competency and honesty are all traits you want to make sure they possess. I, unfortunately, missed the mark on all three. That being said, there were some crucial decisions I made, mostly by accident, that saved me.

There are several ways to vet your General Contractor. One is to see if he/she has ever been sued. You should be able to pull up court records in your county to determine that. Do some research and find out. It’s worth it to know if someone else has had an issue and had to go so far as to sue. The most important, however, is to interview people who have hired your G.C. to build a house. This is where I dropped the ball. My G.C. drove me by his previous projects and I even met people in the trade who knew him and vouched for him but I never met and spoke to one of his clients.

These are some important questions to consider asking people who have hired the G.C. you’re considering hiring: Was he able to build the house within the budget and if not, by how much over budget did he go? Did he build the house on time and if not, by how far passed the deadline did he go? Did he provide invoices and receipts for his work? How did he handle changes to the house? Did he treat you with respect or did he ignore your concerns and wishes; in other words, did he recognize that you were the client?

The actions I took that saved me and allowed me to take over the build of my house are the following:

  • I owned the lot. Since I owned the lot, I owned everything on the lot. This only prevented him from being able to sell the house out from under me to someone else which I strongly believe he would have done if he could have gotten away with it.

  • I used my own bank. We had discussed my using his bank for the loan but I decided on Whitney Bank. I believe that if I had used his bank where he had a strong relationship, it would have impacted my ability to get the lender behind me. WB was amazing. When they saw just how badly things were going, they went into gear and we found a way to proceed with out him. The important thing to note here is that I kept up constant communication with my bank and went full steam ahead with the finishing of the house.

  • We stipulated in the contract how often we would meet and put in writing that I was to receive invoices and receipts for work done. My G.C. was NOT providing that information to me. When things went south and my bank got involved, he did finally provide me with them. He was claiming the project went over budget and was refusing to provide any proof. He did not honor the meeting schedule we established which left him in a position where he was breaching the contract.

  • We added into the contract that I could communicate and interact with the subcontractors if needed. That is not common and most G.C.’s will not allow that. That is a way for a G.C. to lose control of a project very quickly. But that made it possible for me to hire my own subcontractors without having to fire my G.C. Firing my G.C. would have created a 90 day delay to my house which was already well passed its timeline. The longer it took to build my house the more expensive it was becoming for me. My G.C. was trying to squeeze me by stopping the project.

  • I paid for my own city permit. This was actually by accident. My G.C. was supposed to purchase it and get reimbursed by my lender as part of the construction costs but he made me purchase it. When it came time for me to take over my project, I went to the city to request the permit be put in my name. They told me I would need a letter from the G.C. giving them permission to do that. The only exception would be if I paid for the permit. Since I could provide proof that I paid for it, I was able to have the permit put into my name. This was important because sometimes city inspectors will deal only with the person whose name is on the permit.

  • I had a lawyer who understood contract law. My attorney was able to successfully argue deceptive trade practices, fraud and breach of contract; I was able to provide data to support the argument. This resulted in my G.C. forfeiting money back to me and staying out of my way as I finished my house on my own.

I will continue to consider the events that led to the fallout I had with my G.C. to determine if there is more I can share. Again, it was a horrible experience and something I don’t necessarily enjoy thinking about. However, if my experience can help someone who might be in a similar situation, reliving it and sharing would be worth it.

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