How to Find The Right General Contractors For Any Project

Everyone knows it’s daunting to begin planning for a home improvement or renovation project. People know the costs will be substantial, there is likely to be a disruption to their life during construction, and a bunch of research is necessary to find and pick the best general contractor or best remodeling contractor.

Since selecting the right contractor can make the difference between having a terrific remodeling experience and living through a ‘renovation nightmare’, this piece of the puzzle is exceedingly important and this article is meant to provide some guidance.

Finding a good general contractor in Los Angeles might seem simple, as there are plenty of online resources listing tons of ‘highly-rated’ Los Angeles general contractors. However, I want to share with you two statistics that might convince you otherwise. First, there are over 20,000 licensed General Contractors in Los Angeles County alone, and that doesn’t include plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc.

With that many options, it may no longer feel so simple to find the best ones. Second, in a recent survey, over 50% of homeowners who renovated reported having a negative experience with their contractor or remodel. This shocking number confirms the importance of finding the right contractor!  

Here at GreatBuildz, we speak with clients every day who are looking for the best remodeling contractor for their home improvement or construction project. GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, pre-screened general contractors in Los Angeles and Southern California, then provides ongoing project support to ensure a stress-free experience.

 

Give us a call at 818.317.3567 or visit our website at www.GreatBuildz.com to learn more and discuss your project.   

2023 Guide to the Best Los Angeles General Contractors

Most people don’t think about one important but overlooked aspect of hiring a remodeling contractor: the inherent inequity in the contractor/client relationship. I call this the ‘knowledge imbalance’. The contractor knows a ton about construction while the client usually does not. This disparity can easily allow a dishonest contractor to mislead a client about costs, quality, materials, etc. and the client has no way of knowing it.

Also, there is no simple way for a client to determine several important factors about the contractor before hiring them: Are his workers qualified and detailed? Is he/she responsible & responsive? Does he take pride in his work? Is he/she overbooked with projects right now? The contractor will certainly only tell you about his/her good qualities and not their negatives.

Sadly, most homeowners find out way too late about their contractor’s shortcomings (as evidenced above by the 50% statistic). Once the project is in process, homeowners have no good options for recourse if a general contractor does poor work, overcharges them, doesn’t finish the job, or just acts unethically.

Firing a contractor in the middle of a job creates a ton of headaches for the client, including the need to find a new contractor willing to finish the job. Filing a complaint with a bond or a licensing agency is one option, but it’s time-consuming, frustrating, and doesn’t guarantee a positive result. Often, the only real recourse is a lawsuit, which is tremendously costly and stressful.

What is a General Contractor?

What is a general contractor and how are they different than all other contractors? A general contractor has a specific license from the CSLB – this is known as a B-license. Unlike other trade licenses, like a plumber or electrician, etc, the B-license allows the general contractor to perform a variety of trades on the same project.

As you can imagine, a plumbing contractor can do nothing but plumbing. So, if you have a project like a bathroom remodel, you’ll need a general contractor because the job entails the following trades: tile, plumbing, electrical, framing, paint, etc. On the other hand, if you’re only replacing the tile in your bathroom, a general contractor is not necessary and a tile specialist would be the right choice.

How To Find a Contractor

The best way to find a great general contractor for your remodels is to ask friends, neighbors, or trusted colleagues if they’ve hired a contractor whom they liked.  Make sure to ask for Los Angeles general contractors that do the same kind of work you need.

A recommendation to a plumbing contractor isn’t helpful if you need a general contractor to build an ADU or addition. Also, if you ask for recommendations on Facebook or any other online platform, you should only trust suggestions from ‘real-life’ friends.  Other contacts you don’t know personally are often biased (their cousin is a contractor, etc). 

If you don’t get any quality suggestions from people you personally know and you need to look elsewhere, start with services that do the most intensive contractor screening and offer personalized introductions to reputable contractors (www.GreatBuildz.com or similar).

The worst option is just going online and sifting through national contractor listing/review sites. Because there are so many Los Angeles general contractors (over 20,000) and most of them seem to have a great 4-5 star rating, there is really no way to tell the truly good ones from the ones that just seem good because of pretty pictures and potentially fake reviews.

Who Are the Best General Contractors Near Me?

Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few remodeling contractors, how can you tell which one is best? Again, this isn’t as simple as one may think.  Unfortunately, many people make a hiring decision based on only two factors: the lowest bid and their ‘gut feeling’ of the contractor after one meeting.  These are a start, but grossly insufficient to tell the good guys from the bad.  When you meet a remodeling contractor, they are trying to sell you, so they are on their best behavior. 

The price estimate they give you is obviously important but tells you nothing about whether they are reputable and honest.  Because these two parameters are insufficient to truly determine which contractors are best, a homeowner should take as many vetting steps as possible to protect themselves from having a renovation nightmare. This is shown in the ‘how it works’ section of our website.  

At GreatBuildz, we’ve developed a 10-point vetting process to screen for the best general contractors in Los Angeles. I suggest every homeowner perform as many of these steps as possible to protect themselves from having a stressful renovation nightmare, but at least the following five:

  1. Check their reviews online.  Read any negative reviews and determine how bad their behavior seems to you, and feel free to ask the contractor to explain their bad reviews.  A significant number of bad reviews (especially in the last 2 years) clearly indicate a pattern and you should think twice about hiring this company.
  2. Do a contractor license lookup online. In California, you should navigate to https://www.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/CheckLicense.aspx.  Here, you can confirm the company you’re considering has an active license, check company owner names, see if they have any infractions on their license, and determine how long the company has been licensed.
  3. Get a copy of their insurance certificate and call their insurance broker. Ask whether they have had any insurance claims in the recent past.
  4. Call at least 3 references and take a look at pictures of their prior work. If you have the chance to visit one of his past jobs and see the renovation in person, even better!
  5. Interview the owner (or at least the Project Manager who will be your day-to-day contact during the project). Especially common with larger Los Angeles general contractors, the person at your first meeting is often just a salesperson, probably one of several on their staff.

When you call the contractor’s references, make sure you ask specific questions about their experience with the contractor & project.

For example:

  • If there was one thing you think the contractor could have done better, what would that be?
  • Can you give me any advice on how best to work with this contractor?
  • What should I watch out for during the construction process?

Since no project goes perfectly (even with a good general contractor), these references can give you some specific struggles they faced during the job. You can be ready for these challenges and also address this concern upfront with your potential contractor, etc.

Los Angeles General Contractors

How Do I Vet a Contractor?

While performing this vetting, you’ll be on the lookout for any red flags that give you cause for concern about a remodeling contractor. The more vetting items you perform, the more likely you’ll find a ‘red flag’ that concerns you…and if you find no red flags, you can feel confident you’ve found a quality professional. Some possible red flags to be aware of:

  1. A contractor who asks for a large deposit to ‘hold’ your job on their schedule.
  2. A contractor that takes longer than a week to meet with you or respond with an estimate; that contractor is either too busy, disorganized, or poor with follow-up.
  3. A contractor who is pushy, boastful, doesn’t seem to respect your budget & scope, or ‘bad-mouths’ other contractors.  This is a really bad sign; if he/she cant listen and respect your wishes now, it will only get worse during the project.
  4. A contractor with a relatively new license. This person is either inexperienced or had to get a new license because of issues with their previous license.
  5. If you find a contractor that spends a lot on his/her marketing like glossy full-page mailers, fully-wrapped trucks, expensive ads on social media, etc… these will often be the most expensive pros, so make sure you get multiple bids.

There are many other potential red flags and you’ll know them when you see them (ie. too many bad reviews).

Checking your Contractor’s License Information

As I mentioned above, its incredibly important that you confirm that your potential contractor is licensed with the State of California License Board (CSLB). At this website, you can confirm that a contractor does indeed have an active license and the exact type of license. For Example an A or B license is held by a general contractor, while other specialists have other license designations (ex: C-10 for electrician, etc). You can also find the official license number and address of the contractor at this site, as well as the year they were first licensed.

You’ll want to confirm that the license says “active” and not suspended, revoked, cancelled or expired. You should also make sure there is no complaints disclosures that apply to their license. The site will also tell you all the ownership and salespeople associated with the contractor, so you can have this for your records. Finally, the contractor’s page will tell you whether they have workers compensation insurance and provide the name of their insurance company and bonding company.

General Contractor Insurance

Ideally, the contractor you consider hiring with have three forms of coverage: A contractors bond, General Liability Insurance and Worker’s Compensation Insurance. They must have a bond in order to maintain their license, so that shouldn’t be an issue. With regard the General Liability, its actually NOT a legal requirement for contractors to have it but it is HIGHLY recommended…and you only want to work with contractors who have this coverage. Its really a policy that protects them in case of site accidents and damage. But if a contractor doesn’t have the coverage, they may not have the resources to repair any damages that could occur at your home.

Worker’s Compensation insurance covers the contractor in the case that any of their employees get injured on your job. It is legally required if they have any employees, but some contractors neglect to carry this coverage, siting its high cost. Regardless, you should only work with contractors with Workers Comp insurance so that you don’t end up somehow responsible for worker injuries on the job. The only exception is when a contractor truly has no employed staff and only uses licensed/insured sub-contractors to perform the entire project.

Meeting with Local General Contractors

When you’re getting ready to meet any general contractors in Los Angeles, the more preparation you do in advance, the smoother the bidding and hiring process will be.  There are a few important things all homeowners should do to prepare before they meet with remodeling contractors.  First, you want to have some idea of a budget for your project.  This really means understanding what your ‘neighbors’ are paying for a similar project.  You can start by researching online but be careful that you’re only getting budgets for local and recent projects. Ideally, ask friends, neighbors, etc. what people have paid recently in your area. 

Another important thing to do in advance is to create a scope of the items you want to be included in your project and hand it to every contractor who comes to bid on the job.  This will ensure that each contractor has the same understanding of your project and you’ll be more likely to get bids that include the same items.  Finally, it’s ideal if you have some ideas for the materials you want to use.  This will help each general contractor estimate your job more accurately.  

It should probably be obvious that you should meet with multiple contractors and not just hire the first one that comes to your door. You want to meet with at least three contractors so you can get a feel for the various options available and what different contractors have to offer, not to mention you want to get several cost estimates. One important thing to be aware of is who you’re actually meeting with from the company. Are you meeting with the owner of the company or just one of their salespeople. Its always ideal to meet with the owner, the actual contractor, who will invariably have the final responsibility for the success of your project even if they aren’t actively involved. A salesperson, on the other hand, is really just trying to get you to buy their service and is unlikely to be involved in your project. 

What Questions Should I Ask a General Contractor?

Los Angeles General Contractors

During your meeting, make sure you are prepared with a list of questions and have each remodeling contractor thoroughly answer these to your satisfaction.  Some example questions are below:

  • What do you estimate would be the duration of the project?
  • Will you obtain all permits and ensure compliance with all regulatory requirements?
  • What are your guarantees and warranties on labor and materials?
  • Do you prefer to work with clients who already know what they want or are you open to providing ideas and advice?
  • Would you assist with the selection of materials such as appliances, paint, flooring, countertops, tile, and other materials?  Do you shop with your clients?  Do you purchase on their behalf?
  • What work hours would your personnel be on-site? How often will the owner be on-site?
  • Will there be a foreman or project supervisor on-site at all other times?
  • How often would the GC and homeowner meet in person or telephonically, to keep us abreast of project progress and issues as they arise?
  • How will changes in project scope work? Written change orders? Verbal approvals?
  • When can I expect a proposal? Will it include labor and materials? What won’t it include?

How Do I Compare Contractor Bids?

Now assuming you’ve vetted and found the best general contractors, your decision might come down to their price.  You’ll have to compare their bids carefully and not just assume the prices are based on the same scope of work and materials. Estimates for the same job can often range wildly, so I wrote a complete blog on why contractor bids can vary, but here are a few general reasons why this occurs.

  • A contractor’s desire to win the job. If a contractor is having a slow period, they want more jobs to keep their crews busy.
  • A contractor with high overhead & costs will drive an increased price to you.
  • Contractor’s perception of the project. Although you know what you want to be remodeled and try to convey that clearly to each prospective contractor, they each have their own ‘understanding’ of what the project will require.
  • Some general contractors have their own construction crew on staff while others only hire more expensive sub-contractors to complete each project. The more you know about your remodel scope and budget when you meet a contractor, the more likely you’ll get the most accurate and comparable estimate back.

You’ll also need to review these contractor estimates carefully because it’s common for different bids to have quite a bit of variety in terms of what’s included and what’s not.  One estimate might be lower, but if it’s missing a bunch of items that should be included, that’s hardly a bargain.

Also, some estimates might include allowances for finish materials, while others assume that the homeowner will be purchasing all these same materials.

If you have any difficulty reviewing or understanding bids, ask the contractor for clarity, speak with our GreatBuildz team, or check out this blog about comparing estimates

 

When it comes to finding the best remodeling contractor for your project – GreatBuildz is simplifying the contractor search. GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened Los Angeles general contractors and provides project support from start to finish. GreatBuildz serves Los Angeles, Ventura, & Orange Counties. 

 

Call now (818.317.3567) to chat with a real person about your next renovation project or visit our website for more information: www.greatbuildz.com

Hi, we're Paul and Jon - Co-Founders of GreatBuildz. We believe everyone deserves to find a great contractor, have a stress-free renovation, and enjoy their beautiful new space. There are so many contractors out there and it's often hard to tell the good from the bad... until it's too late. We started our company to help simplify your contractor search and help you have a stress-free renovation experience. We're always available to help, no matter where you are in the process. Click here to learn more about our story.

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