One day I was having lunch with a colleague who is an in-house counsel and he told me that someone asked him, "Do you really read everything that's written in those contracts?" At that point, we both started to laugh because the answer is yes, we really do read every word.
It astounds me at times what people will sign without reading the contract. For example, I recently reviewed a Massachusetts contract that said that all disputes would be resolved by going to an arbitration hearing that would take place in Washington, D.C. How could these people agree to go to Washington, D.C.?
Another contract stated that the arbitrator had to be chosen by the Superior Court. How practical is that? It is better to say that an arbitrator will be mutually chosen by the parties. If the parties cannot agree, then there should be a secondary mechanism for choosing the arbitrator.
One of my favorite clauses is when people put in that the prevailing party will be reimbursed for his/her legal fees. Why give away legal fees? The party creating the contract should put in a clause allowing him to collect legal fees if he has to bring a claim against the other party. Let the other side negotiate to protect her interests.
Choice of law. I can't tell you how many times I've seen contracts where some other state's law controls, or the parties agree to go to a given court or county. Just make sure that these terms are intentional.
Interest and/or late fees. Payment requirements are also negotiable. Do not agree to pay interest or late fees unless you have to.
I could give many more examples, but by now, you've gotten the point. The homeowner must read the contract before signing it. The contractor must make sure that he has a contract that is in compliance with the law and that protects his best interests.
Finally, if the contract is for a significant amount of money, extremely complicated, or you just can't bear the thought of reading it, ask your attorney to review it. Dare I admit, I actually enjoy reading and writing contracts, and it is my job to protect your interests.