Signing on the dotted line: Three things to know before signing a contract

By Ada-Marie Aman, published on October 2, 2004, in Savannah Morning News.

You sign contracts everyday, whether it is a credit card receipt, an invoice for a new stereo or a lease on a new apartment.

Do you really know what you are signing?

Many of us don’t read the fine print. We assume that the party on the other side of the table is reputable and honest and would not insert unfair terms. However, terms of a contract do not have to be “unfair” to be unfavorable.

Here are three fundamental and easy things to remember when signing a contract:

1. Read the basic terms!

Ideally you would read every word of every document you sign. Realistically, many of us do not have the patience or the time to do that.

At a minimum, before signing a contract, be sure to check the basic terms, including price, when payment is due, the specific obligations of both parties, the duration of the agreement, and the notice required to end the contract. There are often mistakes and checking the basics can save problems.

By knowing your specific duties under a contract, you can avoid inadvertently breaching or defaulting on the terms.

 

2. Warranty language

A warranty can take many forms, but it is generally a promise or guarantee that a product will work as represented for a specific period of time, and if it does not perform that way, how it will be fixed with minimal or no charge.

Many people assume that new products are covered by a warranty but that isn’t always the case. Language in a contract or warranty such as “as is” or “with all faults” means that the product is sold without a warranty.

Parties who sell products without warranties have little or no obligation to fix or replace the item. Make sure the language in the contract matches your understanding. Generally in a legal dispute, written language prevails over oral communications.

3. Negotiation

Once you have read the contract, if you find any terms that are unfavorable to you, you can try to negotiate those terms.

Certain parties are more amenable to negotiating terms of a contract than others. However, there are many times when parties are willing to negotiate terms to keep your business.

Do not be afraid to cross out terms of a contract before signing or ask that warranty provisions be made part of the written contract.

You have nothing to lose by attempting to negotiate – if the other party is not willing to agree to your proposed changes, you can always sign the first contract.