If a householder requires work undertaking within their homes, a usual first port of call would be a telephone conversation with a building contractor, followed by a visit. During the visit the householder will outline what works they propose and the building contractor will give an initial assessment and invariably the conversation will come around to costs. Very rarely, particularly at this point will the issue of a written contract be considered and in fact it is likely that the vast majority of works carried out within UK households, are completed without any written contract at all. Even in the absence of a written contract, a householder can enter in to a legally binding verbal contact with a building contractor, however, as you would imagine, in the event of a dispute, it will be much more difficult for either party to prove that particular terms and conditions were discussed and agreed.
In the event that a dispute arises during or even after the works have been completed both parties can refer to the written contract to help them to resolve the dispute. All too often disputes occur and indeed escalate because there is a difference of opinion about ‘what was said’, or ‘what was agreed’. A simple written contract can therefore set out terms for costs, payment dates (and amounts), timeframes. More detailed contracts will stipulate procedures for variations, dispute resolution, insurance provisions, procedures for termination etc. Without a written contract both parties are exposing themselves to unnecessary risk and uncertainty should a dispute arise. This is something that householders often choose to ignore when undertaking building works in their homes, possibly as a result of lack of awareness, possibly ignorance, possibly not wanting to be viewed as ‘unfriendly’ by the building contractor and even possibly just plain acceptance that there just will not be a written contract. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it is usually only after a dispute has occurred that a householder will reflect on why they did not enter into a written contract in the first place. By this point however it is too late!
The lesson here therefore has to be that once a householder discusses work (and costs) with a building contractor, they should ensure that they also make the building contractor aware that they plan to ask them to sign a written contract prior to the works commencing. In order for this to happen the householder should be satisfied with the scope of work proposed, the timeframe suggested and of course the overall cost of the works, are what they expect and therefore what they are prepared to agree too. This may require a number of weeks (possibly longer) of negotiation between both parties in order for them to arrive at mutually agreeable terms. Once this happens both parties will understand what is expected of them and this will help to eliminate any uncertainty. This in turn will reduce the possibility of disputes occurring and in any event, will provide a way of dealing with disputes should they arise. If you are a householder planning an extension or a refurbishment or in fact any other building works to your home, in the immediate or near future it is worth taking the time to prepare and negotiate a written contract with your building contractor prior to works commencing for all of the reasons discussed above.
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