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The “When” of Fine Print for Contractors
Anyone who owns a home knows that when he or she needs the expertise of a contractor to remodel a home or replace major systems in the house, the contractor is likely, at some point, to present a page full of fine print that will probably never be read. If you are a contractor and do not use anything other than a handshake and a smile to seal a deal, you may be opening yourself up to problems. Having a standard document that spells out to customers the details of any warranties, the scope of the work, and the need for additional costs in the event of unforeseen problems are all examples of contract provisions that can ensure that the homeowner knows what they’re getting and the contractor gets paid.
However, that fine print will not do the contractor any good if it is not provided to the customer at the right time. The general, basic rule of contract creation is called mutual assent or “a meeting of the minds.” The contract only includes the terms that both parties intend and mutually agree to. Unless the parties mutually agree to change the terms of the contract, a single party cannot change or add terms to the contract. So if a contractor does not provide the fine print before or during a customer’s acceptance of the contractor’s bid, the fine print may not be enforceable.
However, I have seen many contractors make the mistake of providing the fine print after the work is done, for example on the back of an invoice. I have seen attorneys unsuccessfully attempt to introduce evidence of fine print that was added after the work was done. The best practice for contractors is to include all the intended terms on a bid or estimate, given to the customer to review and sign before the contractor begins work. The customer will appreciate knowing what the terms of the contract are, and the contractor will be better protected from problems arising from misunderstanding or disagreement over the contract’s terms.
If you need help crafting, updating, or interpreting a standard contract, please contact me for a free consultation.