Disclaimer: Nothing in this blog should be interpreted as a substitute for professional advice from an attorney practicing in your community. Only local counsel can appreciate the business and legal environment under which a construction contract is drafted, negotiated and executed. Gary W. Moselle represents Craftsman Book Company, publisher of Construction Contract Writer.
Craftsman Book Company
I’ve heard that contractors should do business as an LLC so they can’t be sued. Is that true?
A conversation I had earlier this month answers the question.
But first, let’s define some terms. Members of an LLC (limited liability company) get the advantage of limited liability (like a corporation) but have the option of paying tax as either a partnership or a corporation. The IRS considers a single-member LLC to be the same as the owner for tax purposes but a separate company for employment purposes. The cost of setting up an LLC to comply with law in your state will be at least several hundred dollars for filing and recording forms. Plus, most states charge LLCs a minimum franchise tax. In California that’s $800 a year plus a fee on gross revenue that adds another $900 for up to $500,000 in income.
Last week I got a question from a contractor who had read the June 2016 Consumer Reports article on home improvement. He told me that nine out of 10 contractors in the CU article claim to offer a written guarantee of their work. He wanted advice on the guarantee he should offer. My answer: “Fine. We can work up a written warranty. But understand that all your jobs come with a warranty already – even if you never breathe a word about it in the contract.”
This blog is for contractors. But I get questions from owners too. The most common is “Can’t I just fire my contractor – order him off my property?”
I had a question like that last week. The owner was disgusted when his home improvement contractor damaged the existing electrical system, didn’t show up for days and didn’t return calls. “Can’t I just fire this guy?”
Mike Mandell owned a residential lot in Paradise Valley, just outside Livingston, Montana. It was a beautiful site for a home – overlooking the Yellowstone River. Mandell asked the Bozeman firm of Bayliss Architects to design his new home. Mandell and Bayliss met on the site and struck a deal: Bayliss would design a 2,000 square foot home that could be built for $170 per square foot. His fee would be 8-10% for architectural design and structural engineering. So far, so good. But Mandell had one more request. And this is where Bayliss got into trouble. Mandell wanted Bayliss to handle construction management. For an extra 7-10%, Bayliss agreed to act as project manager and general contractor for the job.
A case decided in Indianapolis last week makes the point once again: Any time there's a dispute on a construction project, the contractor better have a good contract. Jim Dorey didn't and paid the price. Here's what happened.
Most construction disputes begin with a surprise. And no job can astonish better than rehab work. So how do you stay out of disputes on repair jobs? Maybe you can’t. But a case decided earlier this month in Maine may be a good model for contractors on residential and light commercial repair jobs.
Chris Bond agreed to have Riley Woodwork remodel the Sebego Lake Rowing and Sailing Club in Standish, Maine. Before taking the job, Riley warned that the clubhouse was an old building – rotted floor joists and subfloor and outdated electrical system. Riley wrote what he called a “baseline” bid and added a caution about unforeseen problems. The job scope might change once work started. Riley estimated the baseline cost at $26,781. Bond signed a written agreement to pay more for approved extras. Continue reading
Tom and Denise Ambrose wanted to add a pool to their home in Carmel, Indiana. They selected Dalton Construction to do the work. Dalton’s plot plan for the pool was approved by the city. Just to be sure, Dalton laid out the pool outline on the ground using metal stakes, string and orange paint.
When Dalton’s excavation crew arrived on site to begin work, Denise had a problem. The pool layout was wrong. Dalton re-staked the pool where Denise wanted it. And that’s where the pool was built. Tom and Denise monitored the work almost every day and never said anything more about location of the pool. But when a subcontractor began making stress cuts in the freshly poured concrete deck, Denise turned irate. The cuts were not like a neighbor's pool deck! And the concrete was the wrong color. Denise told the subcontractor to stop work.
Nearly everything you buy at a store or online is made before it’s sold. Construction is different. The job gets sold before work starts. That’s why an owner’s first question is likely to be about price. Experienced contractors anticipate the cost question and are ready with an answer that helps sell the job.
There’s no single best answer to the cost question. But quoting a price off the top of your head is a mistake. Even if you have a ballpark figure in mind, keep that number under your hat. Better answers include:
Nineteen states have changed their construction contract law in the last few months. Some of these changes are trivial. Others will affect contractors throughout the state. In several cases, legislatures are simply falling in line, writing new statutes to mirror law adopted recently in other states. Highlights are below.