Thirty-plus years of construction experience, combined with lessons learned from involvement as an expert witness in construction litigation, has taught me that in any remodeling project, clear, factual, and detailed paperwork is worth its weight in gold, and a thorough construction contract promotes professionalism, protects your profits, and boosts your efficiency because it minimizes or eliminates confusion and the need for explanation.
1] Document it: Any and all paperwork, documentation (photos, video, even sound recordings), and “signed” changes are paramount in a legal defense. Everything else is secondary, if allowed at all. Also, in a lawsuit, the professionals are deemed to be exactly that: professional. The clients (homeowners) are assumed to be innocent and in the right until proven otherwise.
Anything signed is valid—even a change order written on the back of a torn, dirty, envelope, as long as it’s signed and dated by both parties. So make sure that any selections made are accompanied by the client’s signature. Any contractor trying to win a battle with a homeowner, say about the color and texture of their newly installed driveway, which the client is now claiming is incorrect, will have an uphill battle without documentation.
Tip: Keep signed, approved sample selections in a labeled file box. For example, a paint color chip, laminate selection, 4-inch profile of the living room crown molding … with an accompanying note (in the case of the driveway color) that “Owner approved driveway concrete color and texture—example as seen Oct. 10, 2015, at 5978 Pine Cone Lane, Flagstaff, as produced by ABC Concrete.”
2] Keep it simple: Legalese in construction contracts can be confusing. It’s best to use understandable, simple English so both you and your customers can read and understand the parameters and procedures of the project as defined in the contract. Note: Some states require certain codicils in construction contracts, such as force majeure or an estoppel clause. Check with your attorney about what is and isn’t required for your locale.
3] Define it: The contract should define and explain project conditions, leaving little, if anything, to interpretation. Contractual paperwork should spell out policies, procedures, facts, figures, options, billing methods, payments, and ways to resolve conflict or misunderstanding.