There are many highly qualified and reputable home improvement contractors in the industry who use reliable materials, hire trained subcontractors, perform superior work for a fair price. Unfortunately, not every person who purports to be a home improvement contractor is skilled, experienced, and qualified for the project that you may have in mind.
Perhaps the most important challenge in home improvement planning is hiring the right contractor for the job.
Here are a few tips to consider:
By law, most contractors and subcontractors performing residential home improvements on owner-occupied homes must be registered with the state. The few exceptions to this registration requirement include: licensed professionals, such as plumbers and electricians; part-time or small job contractors; and other contractors who specialize in certain kinds of work, including landscaping, central heating and air conditioning installations, and interior painters.
A Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) is defined as any person who owns or operates a contracting business who, through him or herself or others, undertakes, purports to have the capacity to undertake, offers to undertake, or submits a bid for residential contracting work to an owner, as such work is defined in 780 CMR 110.R6 and M.G.L. chapter 142A (which are the rules and regulations pertaining to the program). All HICs must be registered with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations (OCABR).
A Construction Supervisor's License (CSL) is required for any work that involves a building's structural elements and the holder had to have passed an examination which demonstrates knowledge of the building code. A holder of an HIC registration is not required to pass an examination. The holder is registered with the state and must pay a fee which is deposited in to the Guaranty Fund at the Office of Consumer Affairs. These serve as protections for consumers in the event of a dispute between a homeowner and a HIC holder.
You should hire a registered home improvement contractor to protect yourself as a consumer. When contractors register with the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, they must make a contribution to the Guaranty Fund. Consumers may be eligible for reimbursements through the fund should something go wrong during the construction process.
To look up a registration for a contractor, visit the OCABR's website. You should do this prior to hiring a contractor to perform the construction. By checking database records, you can identify the proper (legally recognized) name of the contractor, and confirm whether the contractor is appropriately registered under the home improvement registration program, and/or properly licensed to perform the work. Presently, roofing, siding, demolition and window replacement contractors are only required to be registered as Home Improvement Contractors. However, beginning in July 2008, individuals engaged in these activities will be required to have both a home improvement registration, and a construction supervisor license.
- Ask your contractor to show you his or her contractor's Registration Certificate issued by the state;
- Look for the six-digit Registration Number that contractors are required to display on all home improvement advertising (including the yellow pages), contracts, and building permits.
Registration alone is not a guarantee of high quality performance; you need to do more homework before you settle on a choice.
References and Experience
Interview two or three contractors and check out their local references with friends, neighbors, or former clients who are familiar with the contractor's work, his or her business practices, and the contractor's reputation for reliability.
Ask to see samples of the contractor's work, particularly models of those jobs that are similar to the home improvement project you want for your home.
Check with the AGO, your local consumer program, or with the small claims court to see if any unresolved complaints have been filed against the contractor. Judgments entered against the contractor for incomplete or shoddy workmanship, or for other alleged unfair or deceptive practices, may also be available.
Protect Your Families from the effects of Lead Paint
Federal law requires that consumers receive certain information before renovating six square feet or more of painted surfaces in a room for interior projects or more than twenty square feet of painted surfaces for exterior projects in housing, child care facilities and schools built before 1978. That information is available in the Renovate Right Booklet available through the US Environmental Protection Agency and other consumer advocacy groups.