DIY-GC How to be Your Own General Contractor

by Mar 4, 2018Blog0 comments

by Tod Snodgrass

“Measure twice, cut once”

Even if you have no construction experience or knowledge you can get GC-level work done affordably, and with high quality. In the process, you can save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars by learning to do what a general contractor does, which is to: plan/schedule, communicate well, shop aggressively for both supplies and labor, execute. Of course, you must be willing to research and learn that which you do not know. And if you DO have practical experience with any aspects of construction, that’s going to put you ahead of the game even more.

Here is How you can DIY-GC Your Next Rehab Job

A. Plan…a lot. Planning includes drawing up what the rehab/addition is going to look like when completed; this allows you to know weeks in advance what you need to buy for the job in terms of supplies, appliances, fixtures, etc. That way you can take a little time to shop for the best prices you can get on all the essentials you will need.

B. Sharpen your communication skills. Proper communicating can play a very big part in being your own GC. From making phone calls, to writing emails, and finally talking to people in person about the specific labor you need done, supplies, etc. you will need to buy. There are LOTS of good people out there who really want to help you, as long as you are willing to talk to them.

C. Shop aggressively for everything. Almost without exception, every price you see is negotiable. Of course, you have to know how to ask for the best deal. For example, if you were buying from a supplier, inform them you only budgeted a certain amount of money for their product. Will they do it for that amount? Some will say yes, others no. Never hurts to ask.

Money saving tip: Most home supply and big box stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) have clearance sections somewhere in the store…probably in the back. Employees are usually instructed to move the clearance stuff out quickly by accepting any reasonable offer…read deeply discounted.

D. Consider buying supplies separate from the labor. Sometimes it is cheaper to get a vendor (say the electrician you hire) to provide all supplies needed for the job + his labor = total “turn key” price. Alternately, think about “debundling” supplies from labor: request labor only costs + get a list from the electrician of all the supplies he will need for the job. Shop his list yourself to see what you can come up with. It MAY be less expensive to buy the supplies yourself vs. the electrician providing them for this reason: The electrician may be adding a markup to his cost of goods—sometimes a big one—thereby inflating the total bid price to you. In other words, buy your supplies separate from your labor only if it makes economic sense to do so for plumbing, roof, electrical, landscaping, etc.

In addition to shopping for supplies from local brick and mortar stores, also include in your mix the internet and all the 1000s of sellers there. Because many of them are virtual companies, they really have no overhead; some just act effectively as brokers who drop ship the product to you from a central warehouse. Their lower cost of doing business can have a beneficial impact on your bottom line as well. Just have them deliver the name brand goods directly to the job site via common carrier.

E. Hire the right people. One of the best ways to secure the highest quality subs is make friends with people who know the right workers. For example, do you have a good friend who makes their living in the building trades? Have any relatives who know people in the business? Personal referrals can be golden when it comes to finding the best subs. And the good news is that good subs in one trade (plumbing), usually know good subs in other trades you will need, such an electrician or landscaper or roofer or carpenter.

Plan B is to drive different neighborhoods and find rehab or new construction job sites. Make friends with the workers there and ask for referrals. Plan C. is get on the phone and make lots of calls and talk to as many tradesmen as you can. Write down in advance exactly what you looking for; carefully check their references and hire the best people you can.

F. Execute. Once you have all the pieces of the puzzle in place (property purchased, financing lined up, planning/scheduling finished, supplies secured, labor lined up), it is time to put the pedal to the metal. Don’t fall into the “analysis paralysis” trap, where you study the deal to death and never actually get going on the job. Once you have all the ducks lined up in a row, it is time to hit the “GO!” button.

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Contact info: Tod Snodgrass,, 310-408-7015