Monday, February 5, 2007

Tips for Hiring a Contractor

Home Improvement Contractor Law
Be aware of this Massachusetts state law, which is intended to provide protection to homeowners and a fair system for resolving disputes between homeowners and contractors. For detailed information, contact the Executive Office of Consumer Affairs (EOCA) at (617) 727-7780.

Registration Number
Make sure your contractor or subcontractor is registered with the state. If they are not, you will not be protected by the Home Improvement Contractor Law. Check their state-issued identification card to make sure the registration is valid and has not expired. Note that some contractors do not need to register, such as installers or providers of central heating or air conditioning, landscaping, interior painting, and others. Also, certain licensed professionals, such as electricians and plumbers, do not need to be registered, nor do some part-time and small job (under $500) contractors.

Check References
Ask friends, coworkers, neighbors, and SOHO for recommendations. Call the EOCA or the Better Business Bureau (617) 426-9000 ( to find out if the contractors have any complaints against them. Be aware that many complaints are invalid, but if you see a pattern, use extra caution. And finally, call a few people from a list of references supplied by the contractor.

Be aware that if you are financing your home improvement through a mortgage or by using your home as collateral, your contractor is not allowed to lend you the money, act in association with any lending association, or require you to finance with a specific lender.

Building Permits
Have your contractor obtain all necessary building permits. Getting them yourself reduces your protection under the law and also increases your personal liability for work-related accidents.

The law requires that any home improvement contract over $1000 must be in writing. There are several required provisions. For example, all contracts must include complete identification of all parties involved with the proposed job, including registration numbers of all contractors and subcontractors. It must also include a complete description of the project, a completion schedule, a final cost agreement with payment schedule, and signatures. It must conspicuously display notifications about your right to cancel a contract within three days of signing, any information on applicable warranties, and a warning not to sign the contract if there are any blank spaces. There are other required provisions as well. Read your contract carefully before signing it. Any contract that does not meet state requirements is invalid and could affect your protections under the law. Make sure you get a duplicate copy of your contract with signatures before any work begins.

Resolving Disputes
If you have a dispute with your registered contractor or believe they did shoddy work, you may contact the Attorney General�s office (617-727-8400) for help with informal mediation. If that does not resolve the issue, you may try a state-approved arbitration program. You also have the option of taking your dispute directly to court. For more detailed information, contact the EOCA Consumer Information Hotline at (617) 727-7780. Note that if you are awarded a judgment and your contractor refuses to pay or defaults, remedies are still available through the Residential Contractor�s Guaranty Fund.

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