For Immediate Release - February 07, 2007

Home Improvement Dos & Don'ts

Practical advice to ensure home improvement projects are a success

On day three of National Consumer Protection week, Director of Consumer Affairs Daniel C. Crane advised homeowners to be aware of their rights before hiring a home improvement contractor to ensure a successful project.

"It can be easy to be swept away in the excitement of a home improvement project," said Crane. "It is critical for homeowners to make sure they hire a registered contractor with good references. Homeowners who hire a registered contractor and run into problems are eligible for the Home Improvement Contractor Arbitration Program or Guaranty Fund." In 2006 more than $2.2 million was awarded to homeowners in arbitration settlements with home improvement contractors and $726,889 was reimbursed through the state-administered Home Improvement Contractor Guaranty Fund.
Crane recommends that homeowners take heed of the following Dos & Don'ts before signing on the dotted line. Nail Everything Down Before You Start.

  1. Research at least three candidates:
    • Make sure a home improvement contractor is currently registered with the state. Call the Board of Building Regulations and Standards at (617) 727-3200 or look-up the contractor on the web at: www.mass.gov/homeimprovement.
    • Referrals are helpful, but always ask for and check references.
    • Find out if a contractor has a complaint or judgment history by contacting one of the following departments:
      • The Board of Building Regulations & Standards ("BBRS"),
        (617) 727-3200, option 4 on the automated menu.
      • The Better Business Bureau (if the contractor is a member), (508) 652-4800.
      • The Office of the Attorney General, (617) 727-8400.
      • The Office of Consumer Affairs (to check judgment history), (888) 283-3757.
    • Never agree to unsolicited offers and be wary of pricing that seems too good to be true.
  2. Before you sign a contract:
    • Get a detailed, written estimate that includes price quotes for all special materials, installations and labor.
    • Ask for proof that your contractor carries insurance to cover your home improvement project.
    • Make sure the contractor understands that he must apply for and obtain a building permit if one is required.
    • Review the contract carefully! To view a sample contract, visit http://www.mass.gov/Eoca/docs/sampcont.pdf pdf format of Sample Contract It should include the contractor's registration number, a street address (not a P.O. Box), dates work is to begin and be substantially completed, the total amount agreed to be paid and a payment schedule, a list of specifications and materials to be used, provisions for changes or "extras."
    • State law requires contracts for more than $1,000 to be in writing, but the Office of Consumer Affairs recommends a written contract for any amount. If a contractor will not agree to a written contract, consumers should re-consider hiring the contractor.
    • State law prohibits contractors from collecting more than one-third of the total cost upfront, unless special materials must be ordered.
    • State law also allows consumers three business days to cancel a contract they enter into at a location other than the contractor's normal place of business.
  3. Disputes or Problems? Consumers' Options & Rights:
    • Arbitration: Consumer Affairs administers an arbitration program that is a cost-effective way to resolve disputes between homeowners and registered contractors. A professional, neutral arbitrator will hear the case and issue a legally binding decision, which may allow consumers to recoup some or all of their money from a contractor. An arbitration application must be filed within two years of the contract date.
    • Guaranty Fund: If a consumer wins a case in arbitration or in court and the contractor files for bankruptcy or fails to pay, the consumer can apply for relief from the Guaranty Fund for up to $10,000 of the actual losses. To access the fund, a consumer must prove that a reasonable legal effort has been made to collect the award or court judgment payment. A Guaranty Fund application must be filed within six months of the court or arbitration judgment. To qualify for arbitration and the Guaranty Fund, a homeowner must have a written contract with a registered contractor for home improvements to a pre-existing, owner-occupied, primary residence with no more than four units.

Consumers are encouraged to know their rights and options under the Home Improvement Contractor Law (M.G.L. c. 142A) by consulting the information provided on the newly redesigned Office of Consumer Affairs website at www.mass.gov/consumer or calling our hotline at (888) 283-3757.

National Consumer Protection Week highlights consumer education efforts in the fight against fraud in communities across the nation. This year, NCPW's national and state consumer officials encourage everyone to read up and reach out to be an informed consumer. By gathering and sharing information, consumers can be more confident, savvy, and safe in the marketplace. To learn more about National Consumer Protection Week visit www.consumer.gov/ncpw.