Quick note on contracts

So far we’ve dealt with three contractors for a substantial amount of money. Out of those three, there’s only one that has delivered as promised: the one that built our fireplace. The other two were the windows guy we’ve talked about last week, and roof guy. Somehow I believed window guy when he claimed that he didn’t intend for it all to happen like it did. Right now, when writing this post, I’m not so sure anymore. Last week I told you about what still needs to be done to really finish the windows, and I’m still waiting to hear back from him…

Roof guy on the other hand is pure evil, he went out of business while working here without letting us know, then came back to finish the job but only if we’d pay him some more first. To top it all, he’s still out there, practicing the same trick over and over. If there’s ever one person I wouldn’t let one tear for if he’d drive his car against a tree and die a horribly slow death, it’s him. I pity the tree, but at the same time applaud it for making the world a better place.

Back to contracts. These experiences (coupled with a podcast I recently listened to on thumbandhammer.com with John from AZ DIY Guy as a guest) have led me to make a pact with myself. If, for whatever reason, I need a contractor in the future, I’ll make sure the contract states some specific things (besides the obvious).

  • estimated starting date and finish date
  • what happens if the end date isn’t met
  • payment terms:
    • any payment upfront: I try to avoid it as much as possible. The only exception I’m willing to make is if we order something specifically to measure that would otherwise be very hard to sell. Just think about it, if your contractor cannot or will not buy standard materials that are easily reusable on another wharf without you paying for it upfront, what does that tell you?
    • during the execution: especially for the bigger contracts you usually won’t be able to get around this, but again I try not to pay for something that hasn’t been delivered yet, be it goods or work.
    • afterwards: I try to get to keep part of the amount due open for at least a month. It’s hard to set a rule on this, just try to set the amount and duration high and long enough that it’s still an incentive for them to not make any errors or correct any in a timely manner, or at the very least you can hire someone else to fix it for that amount if all else fails.
  • any liability stuff: what happens if they break something? If they break a window by not paying attention when handling a ladder it’s a different situation than when they cut a cable running underground that nobody knew of, but read the fine print and think about it beforehand.

If anything, I’ve learned that the more questions you ask the better. Not sure about anything at all? Just ask! Hesitant about something? Get. It. In. Writing! The more specific you get, the more details you can clear up beforehand, the better. Just remember that as long as you haven’t signed or agreed to anything, you’re also not tied up to it. Once you sign, you’re bound.

This might sound harsh, but I’ve learned the hard way that from the contractors viewpoint, the contract only serves to protect the contractor. If you want the contract to also protect you, it’s up to you to make that happen. Hard, but true.

Did I miss anything on my list? Are there specific things you look out for in a contract before signing it? Please let us know!