The Essential Elements of a Home Improvement Contract

What you should know before signing on the dotted line.

By: Sherri Dalphonse

Susan C. Jones, with Fairfax County’s Department of Cable and Consumer Services, says a home-improvement contract should always include the following:

• The business’s name, address, and telephone number.

• The contractor’s license number.

• A clear description of the work to be performed and detailed descriptions of all materials to be used.

• A project’s start and finish date.

• A payment schedule and total price.

• A buyer’s right to cancel—usually within three days—if the contract was signed in the home as well as any cancellation penalty.

• The policy on cleanup and debris removal.

Steven Smitson, executive director of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, recommends that a contract also lay out the work’s progress: “If I’m doing a major addition, I want to know when the framing will be done, when the plumbing will be done, when the inspections will be called for.”

He says to be wary of signing any contract with an arbitration clause. There can be benefits to arbitration—it can be cheaper and quicker than litigation if problems arise. But, he says, “consumers typically do not do well in arbitration.”

This feature first appeared in the March 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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