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Remodeling 101 - Owner-Builder vs. General Contractor

We are in the phase of home remodeling where permits are about to be granted. We have been utilizing this time to source cost estimates from various contractors and decide on a very key aspect of the construction phase: whether to be an owner-builder or to hire a general contractor. Some quick definitions...


Owner-Builder (OB)

Essentially, this means that you, the Owner, will be the general contractor on this project. The State of California allows owners to be unlicensed GC's for their own personal residences.


General Contractor (GC)

This person is a licensed professional able to undertake construction projects.


Being an Owner-Builder requires you to carry liability insurance and select your own subcontractors (plumbers, framers, electricians, etc.) The advantage of being an Owner-Builder is that it may save you from costly contractor fees and also give you pricing visibility in various trades.



What we discovered was that being Owner-Builder is a good option if you have a lot of time to spend and can follow up on multiple bids for various projects at once. With a little bit of effort, we identified various subcontractors to get pricing bids — and we realized that our total costs were coming in higher than the bids we got from a GC!


There's a simple explanation for this: Subcontractors generally give better price points to GCs because they have a good idea of their costs and they work with GCs on a regular basis. This leads to another disadvantage of being an Owner-Builder: headaches that arise from coordinating various subcontractors.


At the end of the day, once we took all the factors into consideration, we settled on pursuing a GC for this specific project. Hopefully in the future, when we have attained more experience and have a little more time on our hands, we will be able to try the Owner-Builder route!

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