Buying a home is the single largest purchase most people will ever make. That home purchase comes with the added financial responsibility of maintenance and improvements. Be it from age, use or natural disaster, the average home owner at some point will need to hire a contractor for home improvement or remodeling.

Wisconsin law requires certain practices be followed in home improvement agreements that protect both the contractor and the home owner.  If the contractor requires any money up front or at any time prior to the completion of all the work, there must be a written contract.  In addition, any business soliciting door-to-door must also offer a written contract. Two common examples are the companies that go door-to-door in the summer soliciting driveway sealing or the landscaping companies that go door-to-door after storms soliciting tree services.

The Wisconsin Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection code states what must be addressed in the written contract.  Among the requirements, there are five items that apply to every transaction.

First, the contract must state the name and address of the contractor’s business.  It must also include the name of the agent who negotiated the contract.

Second, the contract must state the work to be performed and the general description of materials or products that will be used.  If the homeowner requests a specific type of material or product and the contractor agrees, the specifics of that material or product must be listed in the agreement.  For example, if the home owner wants a corrosion resistant steel shingle, the contract should list that specifically and not simply “steel shingle”.

Third, the contract must list the total price for the work, including any finance charges.  If the contract is for time and materials (instead of a lump sum for the total cost of the work to be performed) it must specify the labor charge per hour and any other terms that would affect the price.

Fourth, the contract must list the date the work is to commence and the date or time period in which it shall be completed.

Finally, the contract must contain a detailed description of any warranty offered by the contractor.  The contractor is not required to offer any warranty but if a warranty is offered, it must be specific as to the terms and conditions of what is covered or excluded, of the time period the warranty is in effect and of the time period the contractor has to perform the warranty work.  This includes warranties for labor, materials, products or service.  If the materials or products purchased for the job contain any warranty materials, they must be given to the home owner upon installation.

A written contract including the required information should ward against surprises at the conclusion of the job.  Each party knows what is expected and what to expect ensuring a good working relationship and a good home improvement experience.