The answer, as is always the answer when you ask an attorney a question, is “it depends.” Lawyers don’t say “it depends” just to drive clients mad—really, we don’t. The thing is, lawyers, by their very nature, are cautious.
Lawyers want to plan for all situations and possibilities. Likewise, a construction contract can become an unwieldy document that only a lawyer could love, as it provides for all conceivable areas of dispute and all possible contingent situations. Such a contract does no one much good.
The best contract for you is the contract that is appropriate for your construction project and the players in that project. If the project is a multi-million dollar, multi-year project, you probably should not skimp on having a well-crafted, attorney-vetted contract specific to your deal. If, on the other hand, the project is a one-day residential job, you can get by on much less.
Do not assume, however, that just because a contract is small in terms of dollars or man-hours that you do not need a contract. You do. (See my earlier post on the importance of a written contract.) Paradoxically, some of the most hotly contested lawsuits involve homeowners. After all, their home is their castle.
In fact, a house is usually the single largest investment decision that most people will ever make, often involving a mortgage that may take as many as 30 years to pay off. It is only natural, therefore, that homeowners will be extra exacting when it comes to issues relating to their home.
To go back to the original question—how much contract you need depends very much on the situation. A two page, simple contract may be sufficient for your purposes, if it is carefully crafted to account for all common areas of dispute which may arise. It is vital, however, that you have one, and that it is in writing.