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A guide to contracts for tradespeople

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There’s nothing more frustrating than a customer who keeps changing their mind on what they want - which is where a contract can come in useful....

For many tradespeople and their customers, work is started based on nothing more than a verbal agreement and a handshake, and while it usually works out fine, it means there’s nothing to fall back on if issues arise down the line.

That’s where contracts and quotes can make a big difference.


Is it possible to form a verbal contract?

Contracts can be made in many ways. It can be a dedicated document covering the whole scope of the project that you both sign, or it could be a spoken agreement. A quote that has been accepted also functions as a contract.

If you’ve verbally offered to carry out some work for a certain price and your customer has accepted this, you may have created a verbal contract.

Where both parties are in agreement of the scope of work and the cost, you’ve created “mutual assent” which effectively means a verbal contract is in place. But if things go wrong, it can be very difficult to prove who’s right and what the original agreement was.

If you’re just tightening a few screws as a favour to someone and you’re not expecting to get paid, a verbal agreement is absolutely fine to have in place. But as a rule of thumb, if you’re going to be doing any kind of work that you expect to be paid for, it’s best to have something down in writing that both sides can refer back to.


When should you have a full written contract?

The aim of a quote is to make sure all parties are in full agreement, and to outline what will happen if one party doesn’t fulfil their side of the agreement.

While a quote or a verbal arrangement can constitute a formal agreement on their own you should consider whether or not you want a written contract on top of this. They can be particularly useful if the job is complex, high value, or has staged payments.

You can use your quote as the main body of the contract and build the terms out more broadly from there. Things to think about here are:

  • The specific elements of the work - For example, you’ve agreed to paint a living room and you’ve agreed on the colour, but does the customer expect a certain brand or is it fine to go ahead and use the paint you typically would? A good quote will cover this kind of detail.
  • The payment terms - The total cost will be set out in the quote but do you need a portion of this up front or in stages? When and how will the final bill be paid?
  • Your responsibilities - This is an opportunity to let the customer know exactly what you’ll be doing. Will you be clearing away all the debris as you go, or in bulk at the end of the job? Will you be taking your tools away at the end of each day?
  • The customer’s responsibilities - Responsibilities work both ways, so what do you expect of the customer? Do you need access at certain times or certain facilities? Is the customer going to need to completely clear the area you’ll be working in before you arrive? Agreeing this in advance means everyone will know where they stand before the job starts.
  • Alterations to the initial quote - Things may have to change from the original quote, and that’s fine. Just make sure to confirm this in writing and get any signatures you may need. Keeping a record of any agreed amendments with the original contract will really help you in the event of a dispute.
  • Guarantees - If you offer guarantees on your job, be very clear about what they cover. Standard guarantees normally cover workmanship, materials or both, for a set amount of time.

Working with your customer

Getting a solid contract in place is important in making sure everyone is on the same page but it’s no substitute for a good relationship with your customer. Contracts and quotes are incredibly helpful but great communication, honesty and quality workmanship should be your main tools for avoiding disputes.

Quoting and pricing