The cost of a remodeling project can often be the third most expensive financial decision you make next to purchasing a home and car. And too often, that cost has a way of getting out of hand unless the remodeling contract is well crafted. Here are a few helpful guidelines.

1. Bids are not contracts. Signing a bid or estimate is not enough. Make sure you sign the actual contract that explains the terms and conditions of your remodeling deal.

2. Spell out materials. A list of the materials to be used such as the appropriate textures, brands, colors, sizes and models.

3. Know the total. The total dollar amount of the contract, the schedule for payments and the per-hour cost for any approved extras should be shown. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with your state’s laws regarding advance payments. Some states limit the amount of money you can be required to pay up front.

4. Explanation of promises. Any promises made by the salesperson or contractor should be put in writing.

5. List who is responsible. Identify who is to acquire and pay for the necessary building permits and inspections.

6. Include the start and completion dates. It is also wise to establish several milestone dates along the way.

7. Detail warranties or guarantees This is for workmanship or products. Include a holdback clause that allows you to withhold final payment until sometime after the job’s completion in order to inspect the job. Such clauses are beneficial to the homeowner because the contractor has an incentive to fix any problems immediately.

8. Specify who is responsible for cleanup. Include the disposal of old material, extra lumber, paint, etc. Disposal information is very important, especially when hazardous materials such as solvents, compounds or paint are involved.

9. Consider adding a release-of-lien clause. This will protect you if the contractor is using any subcontractors. It will protect you from liens in the event that your contractor refuses to pay other contractors who worked on your project. If a release-of-lien clause is not present, you may opt to receive an affidavit that affirms that all subcontractors and material suppliers have been paid before making the final payment.

10. Get a second opinion. Reviewing a contract takes knowledge, time and attention to detail. If you do not feel comfortable doing it yourself, contact your attorney or other knowledgeable expert. There are Internet services that review contracts, such as the one located at .The company charges about $40 and can help homeowners avoid the common pitfalls of a home improvement contract.

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