Brownstone Boys: Choosing the Right General Contractor for Your Renovation

The backyard deck was something that our GC factored into the overall cost of project

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 40th installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

As we have gone through our renovation, and spoken to many other people who are in the process, it’s clear to us that one of the most important decisions you can make in your entire renovation is choosing the right general contractor. It can be a very frustrating situation if you make the wrong selection. It isn’t just about finding a great general contractor but finding the right general contractor for your project.

Different GCs have different strengths. There are contractors who are really good with gutting and modernizing a space and there are contractors who excel at restoring and bringing back the history in a place. Sure one can get the work done in the opposite scenario but it doesn’t make them the best for the job.

Is your renovation ultra modern with glass railings and concrete floors or are you restoring a 150-year-old banister and original parquet floors? You’ll want someone who will be able to offer you the most support and expertise for your job.

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Our GC team put back together an iron gate in the front of the brownstone. Their work has been incredible

Do you want a contractor who also has a lot of millwork skills? Not all of them do, they might subcontract it out. That’s not always a bad thing, but if your project has central features that involve millwork it could be an important consideration. Are you fixing an apartment that was flooded from your upstairs neighbor’s broken pipe? You will save yourself some stressful moments if you find the right person.

What about budget? If you have a more limited budget there are some contractors who will be better and more willing to work with it. It doesn’t always mean you need to accept lower quality work. No more than paying much more always means higher quality work. It just depends on where you put the money you have and potentially finding less expensive ways of doing things. There are several places in our renovation where we had the same work done by changing the plan a bit to find a cost savings, without sacrificing on the quality.

Finding the right person can be a challenge. Our advice is to take your time. Interview several contractors. Ask them questions about not only what type of work they have done, but what type of jobs they enjoy. A contractor who is passionate about restoring historic properties might be the person to team up with on your historic renovation.

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Beautifully crafted baseboards replicate the originals

Ask around for recommendations. If you know someone who had a similar project and had a great experience that is a good place to start, but be careful not to make it the most important consideration.

We’re big fans of forums like Brownstoner and have been introduced to several GCs and service providers that way. You might not always know someone personally who can give the right recommendation so it is a good way to connect with people who can. Designers, architects and other professionals in the industry you might be working with will also have great recommendations. Don’t take these lightly, but do your own homework and ask your own questions as well.

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Our plaster molding artist replicates the original moldings

You and your contractor are going to go through a lot together. Contractors kind of become your family throughout the process. There will be good moments and there will be some not so good moments. There is no question about it. Make sure it is someone you feel comfortable with. You need to know that they will be honest with you and you can be honest with them. Other than a matching skill set, great communication is high on our list for must-have traits. You’ll want to communicate often and effectively with your GC. If you don’t feel that way in the interview process it certainly isn’t going to get better once the project starts. Make sure they have the communication skills you are looking for.

Going through a renovation can be a stressful process. Make sure you have a partner in a GC that you’ll want to work with through the whole renovation.

[Photos via Brownstone Boys]

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