Contractor and Scope of Work
•The contractor's name, license number, phone and fax numbers, and addresses (including e-mail).
•Project start and completion dates, with provisions for dealing with undue delays.
• Detailed blueprints, including floor plans and elevations that are technical enough to show precisely what the contractor will do. The homeowner should understand what the plans are describing. The contract should also contain a clause that says all work performed will comply with state and local building codes.

Cost Estimate and Payment Schedule
•The overall cost of the project, backed up by an itemized list that specifies for each phase of the job all the materials that will be used — including the manufacturer, model, size, brand name, and color.
•A payment schedule, with each installment contingent on completion of a clearly defined amount of work approved by the homeowner. Up-front payments should be no more than 10 percent of the cost of the project. Although this limit is part of the consumer laws in many states, contractors nonetheless frequently ask for a down payment of as much as one-third, saying that they have to cover the price of materials. Don't write that check, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva. "It shouldn't take one-third to bind the contract," he says. "If the contractor doesn't have credit, that's a red flag." Tom advises against making any payments until work has begun, but if the parties can't agree, experts suggest putting up to 75 percent of the project cost in an escrow account. Money from the account can be disbursed and the account replenished when certain steps are finished satisfactorily or materials purchases are made, backed by receipts. As for the final payment, "projects that go smoothly should end up with the homeowner owing about 5 to 10 percent, which should only be paid after he's examined the job thoroughly and is happy with it," says Mark Brick, who runs B&E General Contractors, in Glendale, Wisconsin, and is president-elect of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Insurance Documents
Proof that the contractor is carrying current personal liability, workers' compensation, and property-damage insurance. Ask the contractor to attach copies of coverage certificates to the contract. This section of the contract should also provide a waiver that frees the homeowner from responsibility for any litigation or judgments against the contractor arising from the project. Suits resulting from on-the-job injuries and so-called mechanic's liens, which may be awarded to subcontractors or suppliers who weren't paid for their work or materials, should be specifically cited as the contractor's obligation.
Ask TOH users about Home & Real Estate

Contribute to This Story Below