Home Improvement and Contracting Tips

Mistakes planning home improvement projects can prove to be very costly. Protect yourself using our tips and find resources if you are scammed.

Use a licensed contractor. Anyone in Massachusetts contracting to do more than $1,000 of construction work on a 1-4 family owner-occupied building must have a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) Registration. There are some exceptions. You can look up registered contractors online. If you don't use a registered contractor, you lose the right to use the state arbitration program to resolve disputes.

  • Always have a contract. All contracts for home improvement work over $1,000 must be in writing, and must include:

    • Contractor's Registration Number and Business Name
    • Business address
    • Total price of the project
    • Detailed description of work
    • A Payment Schedule
    • Signatures
    • Date

    It's also smart to include:

    • Provision of "extras"
    • Detailed Lists of Materials
    • Start / Completion dates
    • Contractor's Insurance
    • A Permit Notice
    • A 3-day Cancellation Notice

    Remember to carefully read the contract in full before signing. Get any changes to the project in writing. Don't pay more than one third of the price up front.

  • Get all necessary permits. Contact the Inspectional Services Department to learn whether your project requires any permits and make sure your contractor gets those permits. You can also search building permits online by your address.

  • Do the research. Only hire a reputable contractor with good references from friends or trusted sources. Research how projects similar to yours are done. Don't be afraid to ask the contractor questions.

  • Take your time to make informed decisions. Don't be pressured by a contractor who tells you there is a safety issue and work must begin immediately.

  • Be present as much as possible. Don't leave on vacation during the project. Often, consumers are wronged while out of town, thinking their project was being done properly. If you are not happy, let the contractor know as soon as possible. Don't hesitate to take pictures of any documents with your smartphone to save them.

  • Beware of "storm chasers". After a major storm, people may show up at your door offering to check parts of the home for damage. Don't be influenced by their high-pressure pitch to fix whatever they find.

Prevention is the best course of action. Contact us if you are a Boston consumer and believe you are the victim of an unfair or deceptive business practice.

Getting Your Money Back

If something goes wrong, you can mediate, arbitrate, or take your contractor to court. Contact us to get started.

If you win your case in arbitration or in court and the contractor fails to pay the award or judgment, you can apply to the Home Improvement Contractor Guaranty Fund for up to $10,000 of your actual losses.

What You Need to Arbitrate

To arbitrate through the Home Improvement Arbitration Program you need:

  • a written and signed contract
  • proof that the contractor is registered at the time of the contract
  • proof that the the work was done on a 1-4 family, owner occupied, primary residence in Massachusetts
  • $50 for a non-refundable processing fee within two years of signing the contract


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