I did a post on my old blog with some advice for homeonwers being protected while dealing with contractors. There was a new article on MSN Money today called Ten Ways to Avoid Contractor Scams, that had some other helpful tips. The article centers on the need for contractors due to flooding in areas of the Mississippi River, however, many of the tips still hold true way up here in Massachusetts, with a few tweaks. As to their 10 tips, they are all pretty good, but I chose the 3 that I think are the most important for further discussion, then filter in some of my Massachusetts tweaks, below.
1. Get Four References. This tip is likely the most important of all. The article suggests getting four references, as contractors typically come prepared with three, so asking for a fourth forces them to think of someone new. I get tons of calls from homeowners looking to potentially sue contractors, and often times the homeowner had no references from the contractor prior to starting work. Or sometimes just the word of one friend. ONE IS NEVER ENOUGH. Anyone can get lucky and do a great job one time. Multiple references are the only way. If the contractor gets testy about it, that might be a sign. Further, just blame your lawyer and say he/she said you should ask for references.
2. Verify contractors’ licenses. In MA, there are many different types of license requirements, but pretty much any contractor needs to have at least one. For most jobs over $1000, a Home Improvement Contractor License (HIC License) is required. Further, a Constrcution Supervisor’s License (CSL) is needed for anything structural in nature, plus many other instances as well. In the internet age, checking licenses is easy, takes no time at all, and is a MUST for considering any contractor for a job. Dealing with a registered HIC program contractor provides many protections not otherwise available (under the Home Improvement Contractor Law (M.G.L. c. 142A), there is an established arbitration program for resolving disputes between homeowners and registered contractors; there is a “Guaranty Fund” that can compensate homeowners up to $10,000 for unpaid judgments against registered home improvement contractors; there are established written contract requirements). So how do you know if your contractor is registered? Simple. There is an on-line lookup available at the Office of Consumer Affairs (called the OCABR) website: OCABR license look-up .
3. Proofread your contract. Make sure it spells out exactly what is to be done, details all of the costs, and provides both start and end dates. The HIC law requires that certain specific provisions be present in the contract, including the total price of the work, the payment schedule, start and completion dates, a permit notice warning you that if you secure your own building permit or deal with unregistered contractors, you will not be eligible for the Guaranty Fund, and several other required provisions. Have an attorney review the contract – it does not pay to be “penny wise and pound foolish”.
If you have questions, call my office, and if you have a few minutes, read the full Ten Tips Article at MSN Money.