3 Types of Contractors, Plus How to Choose the Right One for Your Project

Save time, money, and frustration by choosing the right contractor at the start of your project.

a man sawing wood

Rachel Marek

Contractors are skilled workers who handle the construction process of a building from start to finish. Every home improvement project starts and ends with these specialized experts, whether architects, builders, or carpenters. But when it comes to repairs, it can be hard to find the right person on short notice. Figuring out what needs to be done and the right person to do the work is often more complicated than it seems. Spoiler alert: often, you need multiple people!

Every homeowner needs a veritable Rolodex of contractors on speed dial to help resolve leaking sinks, banging pipes, broken appliances, and more. Here’s how to find the right person to help with your home improvement project or repair.

Types of Contractors

1. General Contractor

General contractors do not specialize in just one area. On major projects, they lead groups of contractors across various areas of construction, both residential and commercial. As the name suggests, general contractors have extensive building skills that enable them to oversee a wide range of tasks. 

“If you’re planning a major home renovation or addition, a general contractor can be a great asset, helping to ensure that everything is done properly and on schedule,” says home renovation expert Richard Kelly.

Because they know how home systems must work together across a wide range of construction specialties, general contractors are project managers who usually help you hire the right subcontractors.

Some states require that general contractors hold a special license, while others do not require a license for minor or inexpensive repairs. Each state has different specifications

2. Design-Build Contractors

Design-build contractors design your space to suit your needs. If you’re planning on buying a plot of land or doing a gut renovation, a design-build contractor will help you create architectural plans and execute those plans up to move-in. Working under one contractor, the entire team of specialists involved in a project coordinates their efforts and works together to ensure that each part is compatible with the other specialties. 

It makes sense that your plumber would be in touch with your electrician for a repair of a laundry room, right? When homeowners take a DIY route, often these specialists don’t work together, which can cause delays and frustration.

Instead, design-build contractors offer a comprehensive service that is ideal for people who want a streamlined experience and who want the job done in one swoop. Saving time can equate to saving a lot of money and stress. However, these contracts tend to be sizable, so it’s important to have the cash on hand to get the job finished in a timely manner. 

3. Specialist Contractors

A specialist contractor focuses on one field to make sure that your home meets standards for that singular area of focus. Some of the most common specialists are the ones you call when something breaks. Nick Castello of real estate investment firm New Heights House Buyers shares some of the most common contractors: 

Plumber: Some plumbers do smaller jobs, like unclogging pipes and fixing leaks, while others do bigger, more specialized jobs, like re-piping or sewer repair.

Electrician: Some electricians do smaller jobs like installing light fixtures or adding outlets, while others do bigger jobs, like service panel upgrades or complete rewiring.

Painter: Many people under-appreciate how important an experienced painter can be. The best painters spend most of their time prepping to paint to ensure they get an even finish without overspray. While it's certainly possible to paint your own home, in many cases, the job will get done faster and better with a professional painter. 

Tile Installer: Tile installation requires specialized skills and attention to detail to get a high-quality finish.

Depending on where you live, you might also need other contractors, such as landscapers, pest exterminators, roof installers, window installers, HVAC technicians, bricklayers, masons, and more. Each of these specialties is critical to the upkeep of your house, so finding the right contractor for your needs could be the difference between your dream home and a money pit.

How to Pick the Right Contractor 

“When choosing a contractor, take steps to ensure you're hiring someone skilled and reliable. If possible, it's helpful to start with referrals from friends, neighbors, and colleagues,” says Castello. Conduct interviews with the vendors and their past clients. Don’t assume that online reviews are all there is to know; make phone calls and check complaint sites like the Better Business Bureau.

Verify the contractor’s licenses with the boards they claim to be from. Each state has a portal to check professional regulations, so don’t skip this important step. Make sure the contractor is insured and bonded, which protects you from being held responsible for any of their mishaps. 

Before you sign on the dotted line, Castello reminds you to make sure that you’re really in sync with the person you’ve chosen. "Consider whether you feel comfortable with each contractor's communication style. You will be communicating often with your contractor, so it is essential that they are responsive and easy to work with,” says Castello. If there are long response gaps or frustrated undertones early on, you might want to take your chances with a better-suited company or individual.

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