A home improvement contract is a written agreement defining exactly what work will be performed, the materials used, the start and completion dates, the total cost of the project, and a payment schedule. A well-written, detailed contract will provide clear expectations for you and the contractor, and help avoid many of the problems experienced by consumers.

Get It in Writing

By state law, every contract between a home improvement contractor and an owner to perform residential contracting services costing over $1,000 must be in writing. Remember: If a provision is not written in the contract, you'll have a hard time proving it was part of the deal.

Never enter into any home improvement agreement that is not in writing and does not include at least the following provisions and notices required by law:

The Identification of the Contractor and Subcontractors, including their full names, street addresses, and contractors' registration and tax I.D. numbers, the names of the salesperson who solicited or negotiated your contact, the signatures of all parties, and the date the contract was signed.

The Complete Agreement between you and the contractor, with a detailed description of the work to be done, according to your specifications and plans, and the materials you have chosen for the project.

The Total Price, including materials, labor, and any additional charges you have agreed to in the contract.

The Payment Schedule. By law, a contractor cannot collect more than one-third of the total charge for the project in advance, except for the costs of any special-order materials. The contractor cannot demand a final payment for the work until the contract is fully performed to your satisfaction.

The Starting and Completion dates for the project, as agreed to in the contract.

A Registration Notice that certain contractors and subcontractors must be registered with the state before they can perform residential home improvement contracting.

A 3-Day Cancellation Notice informing you of your right to cancel your contract if you signed the agreement in your home, or at a place other than at the contractor's office or business, including Home Shows.

Permit Notice of any construction-related permits you need for your project, and a warning that the contractor should obtain the permits for you as your agent. If you secure your own permit or deal with unregistered contractors, you will not be eligible for the Guaranty Fund protections otherwise available under the Home Improvement Contractor Law.

Other terms and conditions including any guarantees or warranties for labor or materials, and any arbitration agreements to resolve disputes between you and the contractor.

A Blank Space Notice warning you not to sign a contract or any form that is incomplete, or where any required provisions are missing. Just as you would not sign a blank check, do not sign a contract with any blank spaces.