Exactly What to Look for in Your Remodeling Contract
By Natasha Burton
When you embark on a home remodel, you’ll want to sign a contract to protect your project, and yourself, from minor headaches and major financial issues. Having a clear picture of the scope, costs and procedures before demolition begins helps make the project run more smoothly and alleviates unnecessary stress along the way. Knowing that you and your contractor are on the same page in terms of expectations and vision helps keep your working relationship positive. And it allows you to feel comfortable with the process, no matter how hectic (and dusty!) it gets.
Having recently gone through a major home renovation myself, I can attest to the importance of spelling everything out from the get-go. So, before you sign on the proverbial dotted line, be sure that your remodeling contract includes the following four critical components.
Scope of Work
The biggest component of your remodeling contract is, naturally, what exactly will be done over the course of the project. This includes all of the moving parts of the renovation, from demo to finish carpentry, roofing to flooring, insulation to plumbing. By ensuring that you’re clear on the scope of what you want done — and the types of materials and finishes you want the contractor to use — you’ll be able to approve a comprehensive agreement, reducing the chances for error or surprises later on.
The proposed plans for the renovation should be included in the scope of work. This can be drawn up more officially by an outside party such as an architect, or sketched out by your contractor, if the situation allows. This part of the contract may also include the subcontractors your contractor has hired for each part of the job, ensuring that all of the components are spoken for, so to speak, by professionals who are ready to get your renovation done.
Start and Completion Dates
When it comes to home renovation, people often joke that you’d better double the number of months you think the project will take. That’s because many unexpected and out-of-your-control complications can come up during a renovation. However, your contractor should be able to define a realistic timeline of when work begins and how long it will take to complete, barring any changes or additions that may crop up along the way. If they aren’t able to commit to when the project will start — or provide a proposed date of when work will wrap up — this could be a red flag. Be sure that all parties are clear on the renovation timetable before signing a contract.
Change Order Policy
Typically, within your contract’s scope of work, your contractor will estimate how much the project will cost. Usually, this will include firm time and materials estimates for fixed costs as well as allowances for costs that may vary in scope, depending on finishes chosen and other factors. But as you might know if you’ve renovated before, unexpected hurdles can come up in the middle of the project, or you may choose to make a change in the project along the way. In these cases, your contract should clearly define how change orders will be handled. It should include a clearly defined process spelling out how these changes will be discussed and tackled before work begins, and it should include language on how these costs will be estimated and paid for.
Expected Payment Schedule
A contract should lay out clearly the terms of how the project will be paid for. This includes an upfront deposit (typically a percentage of the total estimate, usually no more than 10 percent) and how often the contractor and crew expect to be paid. In some cases, a contractor will bill you every other week, or once a month. In other cases, they may ask for payment after big components of the renovation are complete. A final bill shouldn’t be expected until you’ve done a walkthrough of the completed project with your contract to address any outstanding issues that may need to be fixed. The contract should also state the acceptable forms of payment — whether your contractor accepts checks or credit cards for payments.
A Final Note
Like any other official document, your renovation contract should spell out the terms of your project in language that you and your contractor both agree to and understand. Try to leave nothing to chance —or interpretation. If anything in the contract gives you pause or doesn’t sit right with you, ask for clarification, or for an amendment. Your home — and your bottom line — are just too important.
Natasha Burton has written for Women’s Health, Livestrong, MSN.com, Cosmopolitan.com and WomansDay.com, among other print and online publications. She’s also the author of five books, including “101 Quizzes for Couples” and “The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags.”