By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Before you fall asleep or turn the page, let us assure you that ignoring it will only make it worse. When it comes to remodeling, the fun parts are dreaming of the possibilities, getting the architectural drawings, choosing the colors, and buying furniture. The fun parts are not reading and signing the contracts.
But reading and signing the contracts are among the most important steps in your remodel. It protects you and it protects the professionals involved, and it binds both parties to agreed upon terms. It can be a lifesaver if ever a problem arises.
We often refer to the concept of assembling a design team for your remodeling project. Each member of the team should have a clear definition of his or her responsibilities, and each relationship should be spelled out in writing with a signed contract before any work begins.
Common business practice would suggest that each professional has a standard contract they offer clients. For example, after meeting with an architect and coming to a general understanding of the scope of work, he or she should offer a proposal for their services along with a standard agreement or contract outlining the conditions under which they will perform the work. The same should happen with everyone on your project team. Your responsibility as the owner is to read and understand the terms of the contract and to negotiate any portion you think should be changed. A good contract is not one-sided; it should provide clear direction and protection for both parties.
Unfortunately, many good designers or builders are not great business people. And many homeowners are excited to get going on a project. Therefore, many a project has been entered into with no more than a conversation or two. If all goes well, one could argue that no harm has been done. However, if you consider the complexity of a remodeling project, only a dreamer would anticipate a completely uneventful process.
So as a homeowner you should require a contract, and any business-savvy professional will require it, too. If the professionals on your team do not provide you with contracts, you can provide contracts for them. You can have an attorney write one for you, or you can obtain a standard contract for the type of work being done and modify it to meet your needs. Standard contracts are available through professional organizations, office supply stores, or the Internet.
There is one final advantage to executing contracts for your remodeling project: It can protect you against liens on your property. If your contractor fails to pay a supplier or subcontractor, the supplier or subcontractor can file a lien against your property, which will have to be paid before you can sell your home. Utah has a law to protect homeowners from this situation. However, this law is enforced only if there is a written, signed contract between the homeowner and the contractor, and the contractor has been paid in full. (See www.commerce.state.ut.us for more information.)
Your home is likely the biggest investment you will ever make, and the money spent on a remodeling project is usually substantial. Taking the time to implement a fair and equitable contract with each member of your design team will pay dividends both in terms of project execution and peace of mind. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.