You’ve received the keys, dreamed up the design, secured the funds, scouted around and appointed your contractor or interior designer, and can’t wait to start building your home. But hold your horses – before you sign the renovation contract, take the time to study it. Homeowners have been caught by discrepancies between the promised and final renovation works, with little recourse but to accept the shoddy delivery because of the vague contract, which sometimes isn’t even a contract but a quotation they signed.

To protect yourself against ugly contract disputes, spell out the detailed clauses in your renovation contract right from the start. Have everything explicitly in black and white, down to the fine print. And never rely on a verbal agreement – commit all spoken promises into the written contract.

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Image: Design Consortium

Here are five renovation problems to anticipate, and what you can do with the right paperwork. 

Problem 1: Delayed handover
Solution: In your contract, state the liquidated damages that have to be paid out by the contractor in the event of delay. Liquidated damages are an estimate based on the potential losses the homeowners will incur due to the contractor’s failure to complete the work on time. The amount can cover losses such as rent or travel expenses, and is typically $50 a day past the stipulated completion date. When time is counted in dollars, your contractor will be more watchful of delivery timelines as he will have to pay up for delays. 

Problem 2: Poor project management
Solution: Decide critical milestones of the renovation and set realistic targets in the contract. Make progressive payments only after each major target has been achieved; include the percentage amount for each stage, too. This will help you keep track of progress and push for punctuality of its completion. Ask your contractor/interior designer to state how many workers will be working on the job and for how many hours, and put that in the contract as well. 

Problem 3: Onsite worker behaviour
Solution: Are there house rules or boundaries you wish to set? For instance, no smoking in the house, workers to only use the common toilet, worksite to be left clean, and construction trash to be taken down to the dumpster, at the end of each working day. Include these in the contract, too. 

Problem 4: Unsatisfactory workmanship
Solution: List every task to the last detail. Under the costing of wet works, specify: to hack existing tiles, provide approved waterproofing screed, and supply and lay homogenous floor tiles. For carpentry and fabrication work, include design, materials and dimensions. Material specifications should include the type, model, number, colour and size. Ask to see a sample board of what you’ve selected and initial against it. Keep another copy of the board for reference. Also, clearly define what is considered “satisfactory” workmanship. Stipulate that the final percentage of payment will be made only when faults are rectified and the final handover is necessary. 

Problem 5: Hidden cost
Solution: The contract should declare an itemised billing of products and services. Yet, sometimes it is inevitable that budgets might overrun. Surprises can be avoided if you’re aware of the type of hidden costs that might crop up. For example, the contractor may drill into a wall, only to discover something behind him that he didn’t anticipate. In the contract, describe the project and clarify what is excluded from the price to give you room to prepare your finances. Keep track of what you’ve paid and always ask for receipts.