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Updated: April 3, 2023

5 Things I know about ... Hiring a home improvement contractor

I am often contacted by aggrieved homeowners, who have retained a home improvement contractor and find themselves in a difficult situation: Project deadlines have past, costs have soared, and phone calls are unanswered. Unfortunately, at that point, homeowners are left with limited options. To avoid these problems, consider the following.

Michael Brangwynne smiling, wearing a business suit and tie
Michael Brangwynne is an attorney specializing in civil litigation for Fletcher Tilton.

5) Check the contractor’s registration. Check that the contractor is registered as home improvement contractor with the Mass. Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. This provides protections to the homeowner if the HIC causes financial damages.

4) Check the contractor’s license. Both license and registration searches can be performed through the OCABR website. If there is any question, ask the contractor to provide documentation to confirm their licensing and registration status.

3) Check references and past projects. Speak to these people about the work the contractor performed. Ask the contractor in what municipalities they typically work and reach out to local officials, such as the town building inspector, to ask about the contractor’s projects and reputation.

2) Ask for proof of insurance. A recurring theme we encounter is home improvement contractors who are judgment proof. You can obtain a legal judgment against them for the damages they have caused, but you will be unable to collect on that judgment, rendering it worthless. Unscrupulous home improvement contractors understand they will likely be sued and shelter their assets. If the project goes off the rails, you will be in a much better position if the contractor has insurance. Ask the contractor for proof of insurance coverage, and review it with an insurance professional or attorney to understand what issues would be covered. Understand the scope of coverage; for example, if the contractor does not have professional liability insurance, then defects in construction likely will not be covered.

1) Negotiate a written contract. This may sound self-serving coming from an attorney, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of this precaution. You must negotiate the terms of a written contract. That does not mean simply signing the standard contract provided to you by the contractor. Construction contracts are not simple documents, and you should consult with an attorney to understand the cost for the work, under what circumstances cost can increase, when payments should be made, and what to do if disputes arise.

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