Free, For Now

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I lived with my ex for twelve years after a long engagement. It took
me far too long to extricate myself from the marriage. Fortunately the
house had always been in my name and he did not contest ownership,
even though I had built him a small cottage on my property so we
wouldn’t be under the same roof every day. I have ten acres of
country property, so there were advantages to having someone else to
feed the pets and help out with property care. But I have loved living
on my own.


Now my contractor has asked if he can build an eco-
friendly model cottage on a different part of my property, and use it
for marketing as an example of what he could build for others. He
doesn’t have any land of his own to build it on, and says I could use it
as I please, unless he is showing it, assuming I pay for materials. All
his labor is free. I like the benefits, but am wary of having strangers
coming in and out of my place on someone else’s schedule. Is this just
a bad idea?

Free, For Now

Dear Free, For Now:

This is an issue that requires a contract. Repeat: c.o.n.t.r.a.c.t.
Without a written agreement about who is responsible for what, and
who has access when, this is a scenario that has catastrophe written
all over it. The saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” came
about for a reason. You may hope for the best but that will be a very
thin layer of protection if or when things unravel.

Before you agree to the cottage, ask yourself what benefits you will
gain. For example you might like another guest cottage, or art studio,
or have another use for it. All good. Ask what you would be willing to
pay for that benefit without the contractor involved and what the offset
is worth. Think not only in dollars, but also in terms of privacy,
schedules, and generalized aggravation. Then think about ways to
protect yourself. Will there be a time limit on this, as in how long does
he have access, or how often and when? A budget cap, so that if the
project runs over his original bid (very common, assume 30%) you are
protected? Will he commit that no one will sleep there, including him?
To have a lock-box like a for-sale house would, and to get your sign
off on scheduling? Those are a paltry few of the things to consider. You
may be friends with your contractor now. But to ensure this remains
good, be sure to build a quit-claim clause in that keeps things explicit.
The money you spend on a lawyer now will save you grief later.