When I finally decided it was time to do some serious home repairs, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted accomplished and how much it might cost. But, when it came time to sign on the dotted line with my chosen contractor I learned you need to be vigilant about what to include in the contract before you sign it.
I started out by interviewing several contractors to get some idea of the costs and how they would approach the project (including their take on materials to be used, the length of time it would take, the complexity of the work, etc.). This is pretty basic stuff for any construction project.
Don’t Assume Everything Will Be Done
But, as I narrowed down my choices and took a look at the contractors’ estimates I came across some fairly large gaps in the language used in their written contract for service. Some of the contractors balked at some of the language I wanted included that I thought was fair and basic – one contractor who looked at my additions immediately said he wanted nothing to do with me. Others were skeptical and tried to convince me that the items I wanted included were unnecessary.
What did I want included in my contract? It’s surprisingly simple, as you’ll see. What’s more I didn’t come up with these items because I’m overly knowledgeable about construction – I’m not. These were just basic and logical and I needed no more than a few minutes of web research to figure that they were important enough that I wanted them included in my contract. They might also be important for you to include them in any construction contract you are asked to sign.
1. Debris removal and clean up – do you think your contractor will automatically clean away construction debris and leave your home in good condition? Not necessarily. Renting a garbage bin and having workers clean up the job site costs money and unless you insist they do so this could be an area where they’ll say, “it isn’t in the contract.” What you want in your contract are the words “broom clean condition.”
2. Have your contractor agree that he will secure all his materials (e.g. equipment tools) and that any left on the premises after work ends for the day or week is his responsibility. Any neighborhood is subject to thieves who will take advantage of a work site. While you are away and/or when your contractor is not on site (like weekends), thieves can help themselves to tools and equipment. Make sure you are not asked to pay for replacements should thieves strike.
3. Safety is always job number one on a construction site. But safety is primarily the concern of the contractor and his workers. Don’t rely on your home insurance to cover accidents. Insist that you contractor, his workers, sub-contractors and others will make all efforts to insure the safety of the work site.
4. In most states, contractors are required to be licensed. Put in writing in your contract that your contractor is licensed and that his license is current and in good standing. In most states you can even look up the contractor’s license online to see if there are any outstanding complaints against him or actions pending.
5. Insurance is critical to construction work. Make sure in writing that your contractor warrants that he has any required insurance including workers' compensation insurance, to cover his employees and sub-contractors.
6. Contractors use sub-contractors for much of their work. Specialists like plumbers or electricians are brought to the job site to do specific work as directed by the contractor. They are not usually employees of the contractor. Accordingly put language in your contract that clearly states the contractor is responsible for the payment of any sub-contractors and shall obtain lien releases from sub-contractors as may be necessary. You should also include a statement like the contractor “agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the owners from any claims or liability arising out of the work performed by the contractor under the agreements with said sub-contractors.” You don’t need a lawyer to draw up that language, it’s very basic wordage that is standard in contracts, but you should make sure it definitely is in your contract.
7. In my project, and in most construction work, there will be materials to purchase. In most contracts the specific material should be detailed. If you are to buy the materials yourself you’ll know what you are paying. However, if you want to have your contractor take care of buying all the specific materials for your job (and he quotes a cost for the materials in the contract) you should first check the price with your local lumber yard or hardware store and second, insist in the contract that you get copies of the invoices for the materials so you can check that the price you agreed upon is indeed the price of the material that was purchased.
I finally found a contractor who had no problems including my additions in the contract. Remember, if it isn’t in writing it doesn’t exist. Don’t feel or be made to feel “silly” for including what might seem obvious. When it comes to construction projects it’s better to feel “silly” than “sorry.”