Understanding Construction Project Contracts

By Published On: July 28, 2023

Understanding Construction Project Contracts: A Homeowner’s Guide to Different Types

Embarking on a construction project can be an exciting yet challenging endeavor for homeowners. As you prepare to hire a contractor to bring your vision to life, one critical aspect to consider is the type of contract that will govern the project. Each construction contract type comes with its unique features, terms, and responsibilities. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between various construction project contracts from a homeowner’s perspective, helping you make an informed decision that aligns with your project’s needs and goals.

Fixed-Price (Lump-Sum) Contract:

A fixed-price contract, also known as a lump-sum contract, is one of the most common types used in construction projects. In this contract, the contractor provides a fixed price for completing the entire project. This means that any cost overruns or unexpected expenses are the contractor’s responsibility. Fixed-price contracts offer homeowners cost certainty, making them ideal for well-defined projects with minimal changes.

Cost-Plus Contract:

A cost-plus contract is based on the actual cost of labor, materials, and overhead, plus an agreed-upon percentage or fee for the contractor’s profit. This type of contract is transparent, as homeowners have visibility into the actual costs incurred. However, cost-plus contracts can be challenging to control if the project experiences delays or if there are significant changes during construction.

Time and Materials Contract:

A time and materials contract is similar to a cost-plus contract but provides more flexibility in billing. The homeowner pays for labor and materials based on the actual hours worked and the cost of materials used. While time and materials contracts offer flexibility, they require vigilant oversight to ensure costs stay within budget.

Unit Price Contract:

A unit price contract is suitable for projects with repetitive elements, such as building multiple identical structures. The contractor provides a fixed price per unit, and the total cost is calculated based on the number of units required. Unit price contracts work well when the scope of work is well-defined and quantifiable.

Design-Build Contract:

A design-build contract streamlines the process by combining design and construction services under one contract. The contractor takes on the responsibility for both the design and construction phases, providing a single point of contact for the homeowner. Design-build contracts can save time and reduce potential conflicts between multiple parties.

Cost-Sharing Contract:

In cost-sharing contracts, homeowners and contractors agree to share the project costs based on a predetermined ratio. This type of contract is commonly used in joint ventures or projects with shared benefits and risks.

Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) Contract:

A GMP contract sets a maximum price for the project, giving homeowners cost certainty. The contractor agrees to complete the project within the agreed-upon budget and is responsible for covering any cost overruns up to the guaranteed maximum price.


Selecting the right construction project contract is crucial for a successful and stress-free home improvement journey. Each contract type offers its benefits and challenges, and understanding the differences will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your project’s needs. As a homeowner, carefully assess the project scope, budget, and desired level of control to determine the most suitable contract type for your unique construction venture. By collaborating with a reputable contractor and choosing the right contract, you’ll set the foundation for a seamless and rewarding construction experience. Happy renovating!

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