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What is the Main Difference Between a Builder and a General Contractor?

Many people think terms like “custom home builder’ and “general contractor” are the same, and for good reason. The duties of these professions very often overlap with each other, and many times, general contractors will work in unison with custom home builders to help build a customer’s idyllic residential property. Indeed, there’s little doubt that the very best custom homes are often the result of close collaboration between both parties, regardless of which one you go to first to initiate the project.

However, the truth is, these two terms do have some nuanced differences.


Generally speaking, a general contractor is someone who manages a team of subcontractors to help do various types of construction projects in your home. A custom home builder, however, is specialized in building custom homes and is able to complete this specific type of project start to finish on their own.

A home builder will usually have a team of people in-house to pull in throughout the project, such as a project manager, to greatly streamline the overall process. Unlike general contractors, custom home builders typically only subcontract the jobs that require special licenses, like electricians or plumbers.

To help you gain a better understanding of the many subtle-yet-significant nuances between them and learn a bit more about what custom home builders and general contractors do (or, in some cases, don’t do), we’ll explore these various differences and similarities in more detail below. Let’s get to it!


As opposed to general contractors – who generally don’t come into the picture until the construction of the home is ready to begin – hiring a custom home builder for a home or condo means you get in-person service from the very beginning. In this case, “very beginning” means all the way from the initial sketches and blueprints to the day-to-day excavation and construction. In other words, everything involved with the home-building process from point A to point Z will be handled by your custom home builder, right up until your new custom home is finally finished, fully furnished, and ready for the keys to be handed over.

For example, our custom builders were able to remodel every single room of this Back Bay condo, including a complete overhaul of the condo’s materials, colors, and ornaments adorning each and every room. Similarly, this luxurious Beacon Street condo, this legacy-style Osterville home, and countless other residential spaces have received a complete start-to-finish overhaul from our team. You can see exactly what our builders were able to do for a wide variety of other projects by viewing the examples in our portfolio – it’s a great reference for seeing just how granular every component of the custom home-building process can get!

Now, as far as the actual day-to-day construction work is concerned, a general contractor might sometimes have their own employees ready to assist with the myriad components of building a new custom home. However, a custom home builder will be much more apt to have a team of individuals on-call or in-office, ready to assist with whatever tasks are necessary at any given time. And, if it turns out they do need to reach out to other specialists such as architects, then a reputable custom home builder will have pre-established relationships ready to accommodate any number of needs.


Simply put, a general contractor is someone who will work with you to construct your project. Of course, that definition is pretty liberal, and as a result, it’s not too different from what a custom home builder does – but there are some notable differences.

A general contractor’s focus is executing the construction of project plans, which are often created by outside specialists (i.e. architects). A general contractor handles many types of projects, but they don’t typically specialize in building custom homes. As a result, it’s not uncommon for homeowners to have to hire outside architects and other specialists to help draw up the plans for the general contractor to get things started, whereas the custom home builder would typically handle this part of the engagement personally.

After the planning phase, the general contractor will work to make sure your home is built to your desired specifications. This is when they hire, schedule, and pay all the necessary subcontractors to reach your goal.


While the roles of custom home builders and general contractors are different, they’re also very similar. When starting a project, you have to evaluate your specific needs to know which option makes sense for you. If you hire a general contractor, you may need to hire other specialists (like architects and designers) and do some of the day-to-day project management on your own.

For a very large home building project, such as the construction of a brand new home, it may be more advantageous to hire a custom home builder. This type of project is their bread and butter, and they will have the in-house capability to manage and execute the entire project start to finish.

If you’d like to know more about the differences (or similarities) between custom home builders and general contractors, or if you’re now thinking about hiring a custom home builder for your project, contact us today!