The written agreement between the contractor and subcontractor sets the ground rules for everything that will happen on the job, so it should be simple, concise, and organized. Unfortunately, a lot of the contracts I’ve seen don’t measure up, including the one my company originally used. It was a five-pager with lots of legal boilerplate that, despite its length, either lacked the specifics needed to minimize conflicts or buried them where they were unlikely to be read. The result? We seemed to have misunderstandings with subs on two out of five jobs. We eventually created a contract written in simple language that fits on two sides of a single sheet of paper. Though short, it includes the details needed to eliminate most job-site problems, and we’ve been using it for 15 years with great success. In fact, our subs say it’s one of the reasons they like working with us. And when owners or architects see the contract, it reinforces their perception of us as a professional, well-managed operation.

In the contract, I succinctly lay out what I expect subs to know and do, and I also identify nonstandard plan items — such as rounded drywall corners — that could be easily overlooked. (Including these items also reminds me to review them with the sub.) Because my subs know they will be responsible if their employees don’t follow the contract,...

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