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Read the fine print in that contractor contract

Hiring a contractor to make repairs or remodel your home is often a leap of faith. You may rely on the recommendations of friends and neighbors or search for positive reviews online, but ultimately, you have to decide on someone who offers high quality, fair pricing and a reasonable time frame. All these specifics should be in the contract you sign.

That contract contains much more information, however, and you would be wise to read it carefully, even take a few days to study it or present it to an attorney for review. In addition to the details about materials, labor and payment, there may be fine print containing clauses and contingencies that could make matters difficult for you.

The devil in the details

The term "fine print" often refers to those incidental matters that the contractor may have printed in a smaller font on the contract. Some do this so they can emphasize more important matters in larger font, and others may attempt to hide information they do not want you to know. If the information is in the contract, no matter how small the print, you are bound to it if you sign it. Some of the most common details added in fine print include these:

  • The option for cancelling the contract within three days of signing it
  • The obligation to use alternative dispute resolution instead of taking any conflicts to trial
  • Information about any warranties the contractor offers
  • Details about who will be responsible for removing the debris from your property, how and when
  • Release of liability for any damage the workers may do to your lawn or patio if they need to use heavy equipment
  • Whether you will allow workers to use your phone or bathroom during the project
  • Your contractor's intention to place a mechanic's lien on your property until you have paid in full

A mechanic's lien is a critical issue, and your contractor has the right to use this option to ensure payment. If you fail to pay, the lien allows the contractor to petition the court to auction your home for payment. However, when you pay the contractor, it is important to make sure he or she releases you from the lien. If you do not ask any subcontractors to sign a waiver, they may also place a lien on your property if the contractor fails to pay them.

A construction contract can have many important details hidden in fine print. It is essential that you have a thorough understanding of those details before you sign.

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