Before you Hire a Contractor
Finding the right contractor may seem like a daunting task. Start your search by speaking with family, friends, and neighbors who have had remodeling work done at their home. You can also search the newspaper and internet. The Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts maintains a directory of its member contractors.
The MA Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation recommends that you interview at least three contractors. Find out about their experience, expertise, and credentials. Also, request written, detailed estimates from each contractor so you can make an informed decision.
Verify License and Registration
During the interview process, you should request copies of the prospective contractor’s license and registration. You can verify their licenses and registration and disciplinary actions at the following websites:
- Use the Home Improvement Contractor Lookup to verify registration and view complaints.
- Check a Contractor’s Arbitration and Guaranty Fund History.
- Verify plumbing, electrical, and other licenses.
- Verify Construction Supervisor, pipefitter, refrigeration, and other licenses.
Massachusetts home improvement contractors should be registered with the state. If you use a HIC registered contractor and they fail to complete the work, you may be eligible for reimbursement if you suffered monetary losses. Visit the MA Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation website for more information about registration, including who is exempt from this law.
Confirm Reputation and Experience
Call their references, search the web for reviews, and contact the Better Business Bureau for more information. The MA Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation recommends contacting local professional or trade associations to see if the are in good standing.
Make sure that you hire a contractor with workers compensation and liability insurance. The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts recommends that you ask to see a copy of the Certificate of Insurance with your name listed on it as the “Certificate Holder.” As Certificate Holder, you will be notified of any changes in covered during the project. It is also wise to get the name of the insurance carrier to obtain an issued copy of the policy to verify that this policy is current. Contractors without employees may not have Workmans Compensation, but all reputable contractors should have Liability Insurance. Liability Insurance protects YOU if the contractor damages the property or gets injured.
Before you Sign a Contract
Review and Understand Contract
To protect yourself, always ask for a detailed written contract. A written contract will also help ensure that the contractor understands the scope of the job and the price. State law requires that home improvement contracts over $1,000 be in writing. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation stresses that contracts include the following information:
- the identification of the contractor, including the contractor’s registration number;
- total price of the work;
- the payment schedule;
- a provision for changes or “extras”;
- a detailed list of specifications/materials;
- start and completion dates;
- a copy of the contractor’s insurance;
- a permit notice warning you that if you secure your own building permit or deal with unregistered contractors, you will not be eligible for the Guaranty Fund;
- a 3-day cancellation notice, informing you of your right to cancel your contract if you signed the agreement in your home, or at a place other than at the contractor’s office or business; and
- other details particular to your job.
Other Important Considerations
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation warns about the following:
Be sure the contractor obtains the building permit. If you apply for the permit, you may not be eligible for compensation from the Guaranty Fund.
By law, the contractor cannot collect more than one-third of the cost of the contract in advance, unless special order materials are needed.
If you are financing your home improvements, be aware that contractors are not allowed to lend you the money, or act in association with any lending institution if the loan is secured by a mortgage on your home. Similarly, a contractor cannot offer you financing with a specific lender if your home is used as collateral. You have the right to choose any lender who is willing to negotiate your loan. Get a cost estimate from the contractor for the work that needs to be done, and then shop around for the best financing option.
For More Information
- A Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Home Improvement, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
- How to Choose a Builder/Remodeler, Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts
- How to Hire a Contractor Brochure, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation