Becoming a general contractor

13 Replies

So I was the typical middle class kid funneled into college to get a white collar office job. 

How does one career change to be a GC? I mean there's a test you can take, but I've read that covers the business fundamentals and not the actual work.

I've never really tried being "handy" so I think I'll start taking classes at home depot and take it from there?
What skillset is required?

I too was funneled. Talk to your local community college. They often have a general vocational skills program that's a great place to start.

@Alex Silang I am wondering this too. Only difference is I’ve been doing construction for 15 years, built several 2k sq ft structures, and several houses for myself and family, and it’s still a daunting idea. 

I can tell you if you stay in college your. Best bet  is to get a job doing construction.

If you do do GC YOU WILL NEED CONTACTS for all the sub trades, as well as a knowledge of most of them. 

Find construction people in your circles and talk to them over lunch. Then ask them if they know a GC You can take to lunch and ask them will be your best option 

Get a laborers job. I would start with a smaller outfit with just a few guys who know what they are doing. I say small because you will likely be taught more and not be stuck just lugging materials and cleaning up. If you work hard and show interest many guys will be happy to show you the trade. Smaller guys are also likely to be doing renovation and additions and such so you get to tear things down, see how they were built and understand how to tie new work into old. You will see all the problems that you would see on a typical flip and what to do about them. A good book that deals with everything from excavation through finish work is Carpentry and Construction by Mark Miller, also get the IRC and IBC code books. Trade schools are good but getting your hands dirty and making mistakes will get you farther and you'll make a little money not to mention you may decide that the blue collar world isn't for you after all and you won't be paying for that knowledge with your white collar job. It is fun and can be financially rewarding but between the physical pain and dealing with some of the characters in the trade you'll either love it or hate it. If you don't live it, it isn't worth it. Good luck!

I agree with not joining an apprenticeship if you're aiming to become a gc.  I love apprenticeships for people who don't know what they want to do,  but it takes years to start getting traction and it's a specialized skill set.

You need something that will expose you to more than 1 trade and a lot of different situations.  Nowadays most the new commercial gcs I see have a college degree specific to construction management.  

If you're looking to be a residential gc I would call around to home remodeling companies or flippers and see if they could use any help.   It's certainly easier if you are able to volunteer your time because you can pick and choose the tasks you want to learn easier.  If they are paying you they will want efficiency which only comes from years of repetition which you don't really need.  

You don't need to be good at doing any of it but you must be able to look at it and make sure it was done correctly.  The gc does get stuck strapping on tools in a pinch though so it's nice to be able to do it if need be.

@Alex Silang If you know where to look for subcontractors and can manage a crew, you're one step closer to being one. Though, you'll have to hire good people and possibly get liability insurance which can be pricey. Unfortunately, if the job goes wrong you'll be on the hook for your client and need to make things right. Like any business, reputation is everything. Start small and work from there. Good luck! 

if one has 0 experience and tries to run a job for someone else good luck getting a 2nd job. How can one know how to handle subs if they don't know when to schedule what. It's fairly easy to get a license but that piece of paper means nothing if you don't know what's up. Money gets eaten up quickly as is evidenced by the countless threads on BP of people either hiring GC that doesn't have a clue or by investors running their own jobs. It's all good as far as I'm concerned, do what you want but if it were easy as taking a test and going out and wasting money then everyone would do it. This forum cracks me up with all the experts spouting off how easy it is to retire by 30 by low balling everyone under the sun and crying about the hack GC who came in with a quote 20k under everyone else and blame them for all their woes. takes money to make money and you get what you pay for. It isn't rocket science, no, but from what I've seen in hack work over the years sometimes I wonder

I have been thinking about becoming a GC as well.  I have always worked in blue collar type jobs welding, fabricating, engine building, etc. but have never done anything extensive as far as contracting outside of helping my dad remodel kitchen/bathroom as a kid and helping him with various plumbing jobs.  The shortage of Contractors in the industry however has me intrigued on the business.  How old are you Alex?

Just wanted to throw in my two cents. I'm from Virginia and became a GC about 5 years ago. I was a typical college educated, upper middle class kid with a decent job. I got into it through flipping houses to be honest. I'm a pretty handy guy and had completed most of the work on my flips myself. I subbed out licensed work such as plumbing and electrical. When I became a GC, I got all of the books, took the test, did all of the formal licensing/insurance stuff, etc. I hit the ground running doing some small jobs that I knew how to complete and subbed out a LOT of work. Five years later, I have a full schedule and have done several complete SFH remodels for clients and tons of kitchens and bathrooms. Honestly, I love it. I have a good job but being a GC has given me tremendous benefits. My advice would be to go ahead and get your license. Use your contacts that you've made through real estate to find some GOOD subs. You'll go through plenty before you find the ones that will stick with you. Be honest, pay yourself, and don't screw your clients or subs. Word travels fast. Good luck!

Alex,  If you start out on a couple of your own projects, you'll learn quickly.  Something about your own money on the line accelerates the learning curve.  I'm working with my oldest son on his first deal.  It's a new spec home in one of the better neighborhoods in town which is about 2 weeks from completion.  He's been drinking from a firehose for the last six months.  

You've received a lot of excellent and varied advice already.  Here's more.  

Get your masters degree.  Go out and find a mentor for your first home.  Pay him a percentage of your profit for guiding you in the process.  There's a lot of contractors (homebuilders) out there.  You should find one that would be willing to "partner" with you.  [clever idea: find somebody that's semi-retired / still with current contacts and spare time]  Leverage his connections and experience.  Focus on learning construction sequencing and practice your negotiating skills (every phone call you make and discussion is a mini negotiation... you'll see).  Both are critical for success.  Don't worry about not knowing how.  Worry about learning what's right and what's wrong and take buckets of pictures along the way.  It's the sub's job to do the work.  Make sure to use contracts (your form not the subs) and get necessary paperwork (certificates of insurance, etc...).  

Good Luck and Go, Go, Go!