Lifestyle » Vol. 55

Home+Garden: Contracts: Read before you sign

As consumers, we sign contracts for everything from cell phone service to home improvement projects and other big-ticket purchases. Contracts are agreements that outline the scope of the purchase and protect all parties. Many tend to overlook the fine print before signing the dotted line, which can sometimes lead to issues. Better Business Bureau of Central New England has tips for consumers to consider before signing a written agreement.

A good, complete contract should address the full extent of the obligations of both the buyer and the seller. It should cover specifications of the product or service, timeline, delivery method and price. Your BBB often receives complaints of incomplete contractual obligations; however, some can be avoided by simply reading the contract thoroughly and being aware of all the terms and conditions.

“It can be a tedious task to read through long contracts, but it’s important to be aware of all the stipulations,” said Nancy B. Cahalen, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central New England. “Don’t be pressured to sign on the spot, and make sure all your questions and concerns are addressed before moving forward.”

Check out these tips before you sign your next contract:

Read the fine print. The scope of a contract is usually written as “Terms and Conditions.” A lot of minute details can be buried in this section. It’s what’s covered, and more importantly, what’s not covered by the contract.  Take time to consider the “best case scenario” and the “worst case scenario” outlined in the contract.  If you can live with the latter, you’re in good shape.  If not, you might consider having an attorney look over the contract for you.  If that sounds worse than living with the “worst case scenario,” reconsider the reason you’re signing the contract in the first place.

Don’t believe anything you hear unless you see it in writing. Insist that all verbal promises are included in the contract.  Trying to prove what someone said after the fact is extremely difficult.  A contract can only cover what’s included, not what’s implied.

Contracts are written on paper, not in stone. If there’s something in the contract that really bothers you and may be a “deal breaker” consider having it rewritten.  Small changes can usually be scratched out and initialed with both parties’ consent.  Bigger changes may require drafting a new copy. If something is missing from the scope of the job or service, be sure to get the contract amended before signing.

Get a copy of anything you sign. Was the balance due upon completion or within 30 days? Was the installation to be performed by a subcontractor or the contractor?  Keeping a copy of the contract allows you to look back on the agreement and check the details.  It’s also the only proof you have that you have an agreement.

In a contract, everything should be completed before you sign.  Leave nothing out and leave nothing to the imagination.

Don’t be confused by the “3-Day Cooling Off Rule.” This rule is commonly misunderstood as a way out of a bad deal. This rule applies specifically to contracts signed and purchases made at the consumer’s home or outside of the sellers normal place of business. The rule gives the consumer a chance to cancel a purchase over $25 for a full refund if cancelled before midnight on the third day.

Before you invest, investigate. Most importantly, remember that a contract, once signed, is a legally binding document. Before you sign anything, make sure you understand not only the contract, but the company that has written it. Ask for references, check with friends and family and check out the business’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org.

BBB of Central New England, Inc. was founded in 1940 and serves 225 communities in Worcester, Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin and Berkshire counties, as well as parts of Middlesex County and seven towns in Connecticut. BBB of Central New England is one of 112 local, independent BBBs across North America. For more information, visit bbb.org.

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