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The Contractor Agreement: 7 Steps to an Iron-Clad Contract

Follow these seven tips to make sure your contractor agreement works in your favor—not your builder’s.

Step 1: Hire a lawyer

Contractors use their own forms, which are drafted for their benefit, not yours. You’ll benefit from hiring an attorney to review your contractor agreement or draft one that’s you-friendly. Even though this may cost around $250 to $500, it can save thousands of dollars later if there’s a dispute.

Step 2: Take the home court advantage

Add a “choice of law” or “forum selection” provision, which says that disputes will be litigated on your turf. This provides protection against out-of-town contractors or suppliers—you don’t want to have to drag yourself across multiple state lines for a lawsuit.

Step 3: Create an incentive to finish

Define when the contactor will deliver on his promises, and when he’ll get his money. Within the contractor agreement, create a payment schedule in your favor by holding money back until the work is fully completed and you’ve verified the final payments to subcontractors. Maintain control by holding the purse strings.

Step 4: Reeling in a runaway contractor

The most common problem you’ll encounter is a general contractor who gets paid, but doesn’t pay his subcontractors and suppliers—possibly leaving you on the hook, according to Craig Robelen, a home builder in Boca Raton, Fla.

Robelen advises protecting yourself upfront by requesting the names of all professionals your builder will work with. Verify that your contractor has paid his subcontractors by requesting conditional partial lien releases during the construction term, and a final lien release at completion. (Have the general contractor collect them and present them to you.) These are essentially formal acknowledgments from subcontractors that they are being paid for work done. Also, see if your contractor has a “payment bond” that guarantees subcontractors will be paid.