You’ve found the right contractor for your next project, you’ve asked the right questions, drawn up your budget and are ready to begin work. But wait, should you have a contract before starting the job?

What is a contract?

A contract is a legal agreement between two or more parties. This written agreement, signed by everyone involved, protects both the homeowner and the professional. Very often miscommunication occurs; a written contract is a great way to keep track of everything and have a solid paper trail.

When should you sign a contract?

In some states, home improvement projects over a certain dollar amount require a contract. Your licensed professional should know when there is an obligation for a contract. Exceptions to having a contract would be small, one-time improvements such as changing locks on the door, changing electrical outlets, or simple home fixes. When in doubt, insist on drawing up a contract.

Steps in obtaining a contract

Before a written contract is drawn and signed, your pro should provide you with a written estimate or quotation for the project. Once this is approved a contract will be submitted for your signature. You can use an e-signature tool like Jotform Sign in order to speed up the process.

A contract can be obtained in one of four ways:

  1. You can speak with an attorney to construct the contract
  2. Purchase a pre-fabricated option from an office supply store
  3. Use the contractor’s available contract
  4. Use a pre-fabricated contract that is available online

In any instance, make sure that you include as much detail as possible, within the local statutes of the law. You must maintain fair labor practices and all of the work must be completed safely, within code standards, and within the timeline given. You should always have a contract when a home improvement project is taking place in your home.

What is included in a contract?

  • The contractor’s full business name, address, phone number, license number and employee contact
  • The complete scope of project detailing what work will be performed and by whom
  • A written description of the project in detail including color, materials, model numbers, sizes, etc. (for example, “bathroom countertop installation, manufactured by ABC, model #12345, color XYZ”)
  • A written payment schedule and expectation of deposit amounts or percentages
  • A note regarding who will obtain any necessary permits
  • Complex projects should have a set of architectural drawings, to scale, attached to the contract
  • Detailed instructions regarding cleanup, removal of debris, what will be done with leftover materials and other details
  • Pricing and details regarding equipment rentals and payment of rentals
  • Necessary warranty information

Clauses and additional information

It’s not uncommon to add clauses or other details to the contract to account for things that may occur during the course of the project.

Additional inclusions may include:

  • Maintain building code standards
  • Correct unstable surfaces
  • Release of duties for improper or incomplete work without pay
  • Return funds paid when released from a job
  • Repair any damages during project progression
  • Correct mistakes that do not pass inspection without pay
  • Docking labor wage for tardiness or excessive delays

When changes need to be made to the contract

Any changes, no matter how big or small, should generate a “Change Order” form. The client and contractor will sign this new form and agree upon the changes. When you need to make changes to a contract like adding on to the scope of the project or changing materials, a change work order should be issued and signed and the contract may need to be amended. Have the changes notarized and attached to the original contract.

Canceling a contract

After signing you may need cause for canceling the contract. Read the fine print: you may be allowed to cancel after several days of signing. Be sure you read over your contract before signing and ask questions about what happens if you need to cancel due to scheduling issues, financial problems or change of mind.