Most residential construction disputes happen because the contractor and the homeowner have different expectations about how a job will be handled. I estimate that 90 percent of the disputes I've seen in my legal practice could have been avoided if the contractor had furnished the owner with a well-drafted construction agreement. A good contract spells out job costs, payment schedules, scope of work, exclusions, timetables, and warranty information, and includes clear language on how disputes will be handled.

Of all these issues, I've found that exclusions are most likely to be given short shrift. Many builders overlook them altogether — especially when rushing bid preparations for small jobs. But exclusions are just as important as the scope of work. Unless you specifically exclude the areas of work that you are not going to perform, the owner might...

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