Benefits of a General Contractor vs. Small Independent

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Quite often, my clients ask me would I recommend a General Contractor (or larger Renovation company) vs. a small independent contractor. There are pros and cons to both. The biggest difference is a larger pool of talented employees to pull from to get a job done well and on time. There is also a lot to be said for peace of mind knowing your contractor is fully insured for all contingencies. The biggest con – is that a small independent guy will usually (but not always) cost less.

Even the best handyman or independent contractor has skills he is really good at and skills that he can do but not to the same quality or standard. For example, he may be an excellent painter but maybe not so good at tiling or installing flooring. If you hire him to do the complete job, you may have parts of the job that are much better than others. However, it does effect the overall quality of the job as a whole. Let’s be honest, very few guys are exceptional in a full cross section of skills that are required for a typical renovation. They may be familiar with plumbing or electrical, but are they qualified to do the work? If they are not fully qualified and do not carry the proper insurance for plumbing or electrical work and a fire were to occur because of faulty workmanship, the responsibility would fall back on the home owner for allowing someone who was not qualified to do the work. Another downside is if he works alone, and he gets sick or has an emergency – suddenly your job comes to an abrupt halt until he is again available. This can be very frustrating for the average home owner.

Insurance is a huge factor I warn my clients about. Ultimately it is always the home owner who is responsible. However, if the Contractor has business insurance and liability insurance then your home insurance company would go after the Contractor’s insurance, and as the error was his, he should be held responsible. Now, if you go with a small independent who does not have business/liability insurance then you are out of luck! You will be left responsible and potentially footing a large repair bill. Another insurance factor not many people consider is Worker’s Compensation. You should always ensure your Contractor is covered by Worker’s Compensation – regardless of the size of the company, even if he is a sole proprietor! If anyone were ever to be seriously injured while working in/on your home, your home insurance would again have to cover the situation. There are rare cases where a contractor has fallen and become paralyzed as a result of the fall in your home. If you have a small independent with no insurance again – the responsibility falls on the homeowner. Most General Contractors have business insurance, with anywhere from $2,000,000 – $5,000,000 liability coverage. In addition, they have coverage through The Worker’s Compensation Board. They follow safe work practices. Finally, many of the larger companies also have additional health benefit plans that cover employees for additional disability (and a full range of health plan) coverages. Essentially, the General Contractor makes sure their employees will be taken care of in any scenario! This is how my husband and I operate Kat Reno, we ensure our employees are well insured and looked after and our clients do not have to worry when they deal with us! It is just simply not the Home Owners job!

When it comes to jobs requiring multiple talents, most General Contractors have a highly skilled pool of employees to choose from to get your job done to a high standard of quality workmanship and ensure employees are available to complete the job, even if someone is sick! They may send one guy in to do the painting, because that is his area of expertise and it will give you the best quality of job! A different guy may do the tiling because that is his specialty. A third may do the finishing carpentry as that is his specialty! The beauty is that larger companies have multiple guys skilled in each area of renovations! Does this mean that they can’t all tile or paint, no – it just means that you will get the contractor with the best skills to complete that part of the job for you! This means a much better quality finished job overall! It also means there are more guys available to cover for sick time or other “emergencies”. So your job progresses faster than with a single or smaller contractor.

Last month we had one customer who chose to “save” by going with a small independent contractor. He was skilled in some areas but tiling the bathroom was not his thing. The client had spent money on good tiles and the tile job was simply not acceptable. After a number of weeks of frustrations and delays, the client let him go and called us back in to fix the job. This ended up being more costly than doing it the first time because many of the materials could not be salvaged and needed to be re-ordered. In addition, the cost for the labour for the first contractor now added to the original job made it much more costly. The client really regretted trying to “save” learning it cost him much more in time, money and additional frustration! However, he was thrilled with the job when completed and has already referred us to friends! 

Best advice is to ensure you have referrals and recommendations from friends and family who have used them to do the same work you need done!  If they can build a fence or deck – it doesn’t mean they can build and renovate a bathroom!! Always ask for recommendations from clients and ask if you can go see the contractors work! Many of our clients have had prospective clients come to see the renovations we have completed for them and ensured the experience with us was positive before they hire us. Happy clients are always happy to show off our work and refer us to new clients! So ask for referrals and go see the contractors work! Referrals over the phone are never reliable – you just don’t know who they are, client or friend of the contractor?! Due diligence in who you hire will make or break your renovation experience, so take the time to ensure your experience will be a good one!