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Home improvement contracts: What to include to protect yourself

Posted at 5:26 AM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 09:54:41-04

While homes across the Valley are selling in just days, there has also been a boom in home improvement needs as some people consider listing their homes or make upgrades to stay there longer.

The downside, however, the demand for such services is leading to delays and potential legal issues.

"It's a triple whammy," said Gary Smith, a construction law attorney.

He says import tariffs are increasing costs. There are also fewer licensed contractors after COVID shutdowns and a shortage of supplies all happening at the same time.

"If all that weren't bad enough, the pandemic forced a lot of people to stay home and also caused a dramatic spike in home buying," said Smith.

He says, as a result, many people are seeing project delays or even projects unable to be completed at all. When that happens and people are stuck trying to get their money back, he says they realize the contract they signed didn't protect them as well as they thought.

"Rule number one, you want a well-worded, detailed written contract signed by your contractor," said Smith.

Some contractors like to give a window for completion or say a percentage of the work will be done at a certain time. He says to push to get specific dates for when your project will be finished.

"You certainly have the right to ask and if they refuse, to let that inform your decision on whether to move forward," said Smith.

The same goes for pricing. If material costs go up in the middle of a project, the contractor may try to pass that on to you unexpectedly, so make sure your contract outlines exactly what is included in the fixed price.

You can also consider a clause that requires the contractor to check that all supplies are available before the project starts. If there's a long wait, the contract is voided.

If you care about the materials being used - like a brand of drywall - that can be specified in writing as well.

No matter the case, Smith says when it comes to the contract, "don't you sign it until you've gone through it from top to bottom and made certain exactly matches your expectations."

He says licensed contractors should be more than willing to work with you on wording, but when in doubt, Smith advises having an attorney look over the agreement. While that may be an added cost, he says it will run you less than going through a lawsuit in court.

To check if a contractor is licensed you can search the Arizona Registrar of Contractors site here.

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