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Home Remodel Contracts – First Things First

Construction & Contractor Disputes

In my previous blog article I discussed Fixed Price contracts and Cost Plus contracts. I intend to post a series of blog articles outlining the ways you can protect yourself before home remodel problems arise.

Many of us have done some amount of remodeling in our home and most of us have had a good experience, but unfortunately that is not always the case.  The best way to ensure that your remodeling experience will be a good one is to get some basic knowledge about your contractor and the construction process, and then start with a written contract that protects you in case something goes wrong.

California law provides some amount of consumer protection for homeowners who want to remodel.  The primary protections are set out in California Business & Professions Code § 7159 which applies to most home remodeling projects.  In addition, contractors are regulated by the Contractors State Licensing Board, which is another good resource if you run into problems.

Step One
The most important thing to do is to make sure your contractor is licensed.  In California it is illegal to do any form of construction work where the cost exceeds $500 without having a contractor’s license.  That should be the first thing you ask about.  Asking for references and checking them is also a good idea.  If you are thinking about a large project, have the contractor take you to see some of the other work that the contractor has done so you can see the quality of the work and maybe talk to the homeowner about the experience.

Step Two
I also strongly recommend that you do not do anything that requires a permit without getting a permit.  Certain types of construction work, such as structural work, electrical work, and plumbing require permits and if the contractor does not get a permit you have no guaranty that the work is being done to current codes and you are putting yourself and your family at risk of damage and injury.  The permit process does have cost, but its benefits are that you know that your job was done to current building and safety codes and you and your family are as safe as possible.  It is also much easier when you want to sell when your remodel was permitted.

Now Let’s Review
Now let’s turn to the construction contract.  California law requires that all home remodel contracts be in writing.  That doesn’t mean that if you do not have a written contract that you can stiff the contractor.  A California Court of Appeal case from last year held that an oral home improvement can still be enforced against the homeowner, and in that case awarded the contractor several hundred thousand dollars of damages, interest and attorneys’ fees!  A written contract will protect you and set out everyone’s expectations before the project starts.

I have been involved in construction related contracting and litigation for 25 years and have seen many great projects and some as well as problematic projects.  The discussion above is not intended to provide legal advice to any particular individual but simply to give the readers some things to think about.

If you have any further questions don’t hesitate to give us a call at 650.327.2900, or visit our website at

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