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A building contract is a lawful arrangement between a builder and a client defining the provisions of a construction, such as timeline and scope of work. A well-written building contract is important for a successful construction task as it can help prevent conflicts, guarantee timely fulfillment, and safeguard both parties' interests.

Types of Building Contracts

Contracts play a vital role in building construction projects, and having the appropriate ones in place can prevent many legal issues from arising. Several contracts are particularly helpful for building construction lawyers, as they can help avoid potential problems during a project.

  • Cost (Plus) Contracts: A cost-plus contract is a fixed-price contract that includes a fee and a percentage of cost savings achieved by the contractor. This contract type is commonly used when a company wants to maintain control over costs but still wants to provide flexibility to the builder to achieve savings.
  • Lump Sum Contracts: Lump sum contracts are one-time agreements that establish a definitive price for each task in the project. It means that the client pays for all work on the project from start to finish. This type of contract suits those confident about their needs and expenses or with prior experience with similar projects.
  • Piecework Contracts: Piecework contracts involve payment based on the contractor's completion of work within a specified period. For instance, if a client pays $500 per room per week, the contractor receives more pay during the initial stages while more rooms are being built, less pay as time passes, and fewer rooms are left unfinished.
  • Unit Pricing Contracts: Building construction lawyers work with contractors to negotiate unit pricing contracts. These contracts define the cost of each part of the job, allowing the project to be managed on an itemized basis. It provides greater transparency between parties and keeps everyone accountable for expenses, making it helpful for cost management.
  • GMP (Guaranteed Minimum Price) Contracts: A GMP contract is a combination of unit pricing and rate contracting. Here, a contractor agrees to complete a project within a specific timeframe and at a guaranteed minimum price. It reduces risks for both parties, as they know how much they will pay. However, it can be risky without a clear schedule or plan for completion.
  • Rate Contracts: Rate contracts are generally used when multiple projects are being worked on simultaneously. They offer fixed rates for labor and materials across all projects, helping contractors know what to expect from one job to another. However, this can cause issues if there are delays or other problems between jobs.
  • Target Contracts: Target contracts are the most commonly used type of contract in building construction projects. This type of contract establishes a set price for a project, and the client pays that price regardless of what happens. Target contracts are suitable for specific projects with no significant unknowns, such as building a new office space or remodeling an existing one.

Essential Elements of Building Contracts

Some key elements of a building contract are as follows:

  • Payment Conditions: The payment terms in a building contract should be explicitly defined. It includes the overall contract price, payment schedule, and payment milestones or withholdings. The payment terms should also account for additional work or changes to the scope of work, which may necessitate further payments.
  • Work Description: The scope of work in a building contract specifies the details of the work to be carried out by the builder. It outlines the materials, equipment, project timeline, and unique requirements or specifications. Additionally, it should include provisions for written agreement by both parties in case of any alterations to the scope of work.
  • Warranties: A building contract should contain warranties for the work done, encompassing the quality of workmanship, materials used, and any other facets of the project. The warranties should also include provisions for any post-project defects or issues.
  • Insurance and Liability: A building contract should incorporate insurance and liability provisions, which involve liability insurance for the builder and subcontractors and property insurance for the project site. It should also outline the responsibilities of both parties in the event of any property damage, injury, or other incidents that may occur during the project.
  • Dispute Resolution: A building contract should incorporate provisions for dispute resolution. It may include mediation, arbitration, or other methods of resolving conflicts. The contract should also specify the procedures for lodging a dispute and any associated costs or fees.
  • Termination: A building contract should contain termination provisions, which outline the conditions under which the contract may be terminated, the notice period required for termination, and any associated costs or penalties.
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Why Hire a Building Contract Lawyer

Building contract lawyers provide a broad range of services to individuals involved in various stages of a construction project. They represent lessors, architects, designers, material vendors, subcontractors, and contractors throughout the planning and completion phases. They also offer assistance with budgeting, scheduling, fulfilling regulatory procedures, submitting claims, contracting, terminations, and more.

In addition to these services, attorneys proactively prevent disputes and legal issues from arising during the building process. They possess extensive knowledge of construction and construction regulations, understanding all phases, equipment, and other important aspects of a construction site. Below are some areas of expertise of a building contract lawyer.

  • Mediation and Arbitration: Building contract lawyers are frequently called upon to resolve conflicts between parties in an agreement. They use their knowledge and experience to draft prerequisites for a resolution or act as agents or mediators before arbitration boards, arbitrators, or other ADR mediums.
  • Construction Licensing: Building contract lawyers thoroughly understand licensing regulations and the importance of obtaining authorization. Clients require assistance navigating the licensing landscape and completing application provisions. They can also provide representation before licensing examination boards and deal with any issues on behalf of their clients.
  • Construction Finance: Lawyers are familiar with building construction finance and can represent lenders and borrowers in the payment process. They can assist with loan documents and reconciling escrows. They can also guide contractors and property owners who contract with lenders.
  • Bid Objections: Building contract lawyers also advise and assist their clients on issues related to bid objections. For example, they may examine bid proposals for compliance with current procurement statutes and represent clients before a procurement review committee and other regulatory agencies where disputes arise.
  • Project Design-Build: Lawyers can also represent design-build players in various projects. As design-build construction projects are becoming more popular among project owners, experienced lawyers can negotiate and prepare design-build agreements, settle conflicts, and handle challenges that arise.

Key Terms for Building Contracts

  • Warranty: A guarantee of the workmanship and quality of the completed work, generally for a specific period.
  • Change Orders: The process for modifying the original scope of work, including the documentation and approval process.
  • Termination: The circumstances under which either party can terminate the contract, as well as any associated fees or penalties.
  • Insurance: The required insurance coverage for the contractor, including liability and worker's compensation.
  • Indemnification: The contractor's obligation to protect the client from any losses or damages arising from work performed under the contract.

Final Thoughts on Building Contracts

To sum up, a building contract is an essential legal document that sets out the terms and conditions of a construction project. This document outlines the client's and builder's expectations and responsibilities and serves as a point of reference in disputes.

A well-crafted building contract should provide comprehensive details such as the scope of work, payment terms, timelines, warranties, and procedures for resolving conflicts. Hence, both parties must carefully examine and comprehend the terms and conditions of the building contract before signing. It ensures that they fully understand their rights and responsibilities, preventing any potential misinterpretations or disputes from arising later.

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ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.


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