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Construction Contracts: How to Understand What You Are Buying

It’s always important to know what you’re buying. When you buy something at a store, you get the hands-on experience of seeing its size and how it looks, feels and works. You leave the store knowing exactly what you’ve bought.

When you agree to pay for construction work, though, it’s up to you, your architect and your contractor to agree on what will be built. This can be difficult, because the “product” you’re talking about is something that’s never been built and doesn’t even exist yet except in everyone’s minds — and in documents.

And it’s the latter that will make all the difference in understanding what you’re paying for. Typically, when you contract for residential construction work, the documents for plans, scope of work and specifications can help define the work to be done so that you can be sure what the finished project will look like and include. Understanding these documents will help you feel confident that you know what you’re buying.
Frequently, even as the construction set of plans approaches completion, small changes get made to either design or materials. Rather than reissuing plans with each change, architects and contractors will often use the scope of work to document these changes and any other deviations from the construction set of plans.

Essentially, the plans provide a baseline for understanding the scope of the project, and the scope of work and specifications clarify anything not specifically called out on the plans or that has changed. Making sure you have these documents included in your construction contract and reading them before signing the contract are the most effective way to ensure that you will get what you think you are paying for.

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