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All contracts you sign should begin with the parties to the agreement. Yours and the contractor’s names and addresses should be stated up front, along with the date the agreement was drawn and a brief statement describing the work to be done. The rest of the ingredients are these:
The stages. The stages in the process should be identified and the job described in some detail (more is better). If the job requires cutting into the existing structure (to install electrical or plumbing lines, for example), the contract should specify whose responsibility it is to patch and repaint.
The site. The area and the limits of the job should be specified here (new shingles on the house, not on the attached garage?). Who’s responsible for the trash removal? The term “broom clean” may be useful. You might want to insert the phrase, “The job shall not be deemed completed until the premises are broom clean and all trash and unused materials removed.”
The materials. Detail is important throughout the estimate, but nowhere more than here. The specifications should include brand names, dimensions, style, color, weight, and other identifying characteristics of all the materials to be used.
The warranty. Is there a warranty? If there is one for all the work or even a part of it, it should be spelled out here. Oral representations are more often forgotten than remembered.
The liability. A copy of the contractor’s insurance certificate should be attached to the agreement and mentioned here, along with words to the effect that the contractor will not hold the homeowner responsible in the event of any personal injury or property damage.
The schedule. When does the work begin and when is it to be finished? Put in specific dates.
The cost. The total cost and the schedule of payments belong here. As a rule, you should pay for work that’s completed, and paying less now and more later gives you maximum leverage.