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Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts

How to Choose a Builder/Remodeler

Selecting a Reputable Builder/Remodeler


If you are planning to build or remodel your existing home, finding the best contractor can be exceedingly intimidating if you are not sure of how to proceed. The key to ensuring a successful project is to be completely educated about how to select a professional builder or remodeler.

Consumers should choose a contractor in the same manner that they would choose any professional. Look for expert skills, experience, rapport and the recommendations of previous customers. Talk to family, friends and neighbors who have had remodeling work done for them. Check with your newspaper's real estate editor or librarian for local recipients of remodeling awards and call your local Home Builders Association for referrals.

After you have located a few contractors that seem well suited for your job, interview them in depth and investigate their credentials and their professional reputation. Call the local Better Business Bureau and your local government's Consumer Affairs Office to see if they have any information, such as outstanding complaints, about the contractors you are considering. Check the contractor's references to see if past customers were satisfied. Ask about reliability, quality level, problem-solving ability, promptness and if possible, look at some of their finished homes or projects.

Proper Licensing and Registration


In Connecticut, builders are required to be registered with the state, while in Massachusetts, all contractors who build new homes must be licensed. To obtain a Massachusetts Construction Supervisor's License, a builder must demonstrate - by exam performance and prior construction experience - that they possess the necessary qualifications to perform or oversee construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, removal or demolition involving the structural elements of building.

Since July of 1992, all Massachusetts home improvement contractors are required to be registered with the state Home Improvement Contractor Law. Failure to be registered with the state is illegal and can result in a $5,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to two years. Chapter 142A of the Massachusetts General Laws was established to provide a guarantee fund to protect consumers in the event that a home improvement contractor does not complete a job. What does this mean to you, the consumer? If you utilize a registered contractor, you may be eligible for reimbursement (up to $10,000) should you suffer monetary loss as a result of unscrupulous practices by a registered home improvement contractor. Be forewarned though, if you utilize an unregistered contractor, or if you obtain a building permit for any project, you forfeit your right to any protection under this consumer protection law.

Ask to see a copy of the appropriate registration or license to make sure your contractor is complying with the law. You should confirm that they are properly licensed or registered by contacting the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards. If a builder does not have a Construction Supervisor's License, that builder cannot apply for the permit to construct your home or project. Therefore, you, the homeowner must apply for the permit making you liable for all the subcontractors and all their work. If you pull a permit to build a home or for a remodeling job, you become the general contract for the project and are responsible for ensuring that all the Massachusetts State Building Codes are met. If you are not knowledgeable with the codes, you may open yourself up to many problems throughout the project - problems that are unavoidable and costly. For your own protection, it is imperative that you verify that your builder/remodeler is properly licensed and/or registered.

Protect Yourself with Proper Insurance


Make sure that you hire a contractor who has the necessary insurance to protect you against claims covering Worker's Compensation, Property Damage and Personal Liability in case of accidents. If not, you may be liable for medical bills, loss of income and damages that may arise if the contractor, subcontractor or anyone who comes on your property is injured during the course of the project.

What type of insurance should a contractor have, and how can you be sure they have it? As a minimum, you should insist on the following two coverages:

1) Workers Compensation
You can be liable for injuries whenever anyone is on your property. One way that you can protect yourself is to make sure the contractor has Workers Compensation Insurance. All business owners in Massachusetts who have employees are required by law to have Worker's Compensation coverage. It is "no fault" insurance that will pay all medical bills and lost income if the contractor, his employees or any subcontractor is hurt while working at your house. Your liability to pay for benefits due to the injured party especially holds true if you are paying the contractor by the hour, supplying materials or tools or giving directions to the workers in any way (and what homeowner doesn't do that?). These factors make it look like he is an employee of yours - subsequently you are responsible to him for Workers Compensation benefits if he is injured!

Ask to see a copy of the certificate of insurance with your name listed on it as the "Certificate Holder." Do not accept as a proof of coverage a copy of his policy - you will have no way of knowing if the policy is in effect or has been canceled. Get the name of the insurance carrier to obtain an issued copy of the policy to verify that this policy is current and that you will be notified if there are any changes in coverage during the duration of the entire project.

2) Liability Insurance
Every reputable contractor should have Liability Insurance. This policy covers his liability to YOU if he damages your property or if he accidentally hurts someone while performing the job. If your contractor does not have Liability Insurance, guess who would be responsible for damages? Another reason to hire a contractor that has Liability Insurance is to protect yourself from having to pay Workman's Compensation insurance. If your contractor is self-insured and does not have any employees, he probably does not carry Workman's Compensation insurance. If your contractor is injured on the job, the homeowner needs to prove that the contractor was not an "employee" of the homeowner, so they do not have to pay any injury claims. One defense the homeowner has is the fact that the contractor produced a Liability policy, which would assist in establishing that the contractor was a true independent businessman, NOT your employee. Therefore, he is responsible for his own injuries, unless he can prove YOU caused them. So, make sure that you insist that your contractor provides you with proof of Liability Coverage.

Building your dream home or remodeling your castle may be an expensive and time consuming undertaking. Many people have heard new home and remodeling horror stories about shoddy builders and fly-by-night remodelers. The truth of the matter is that there are many more successful stories of people achieving the American Dream by working with reliable and professional contractors. If you know how to select a professional contractor, you can avoid potential problems down the road.

Do not always go with the lowest price, utilize a "relative" or "friend of a friend," or take the unsolicited advice of others. Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable dealing with this person for the duration of the project, and remember that you may be seeing him or her daily for several months depending on the scope of the project. Make sure that you do some research to ensure that your contractor is properly licensed, registered and insured.

Why Do I Need a Registered Contractor?


Many consumers are naturally confused by the terminology "licensed" and "registered" contractors. A contractor is not necessarily a registered contractor if they are licensed with the state, and vice versa. If you are considering undertaking any form of home improvement, you need to thoroughly understand the differences and be aware of your rights under your state's consumer protection laws.

MASSACHUSETTS
Since July 1, 1992, most contractors that perform remodeling work on one to four family owner-occupied dwellings are required by law to be registered with the state under the Home Improvement Contractor Program (MGL 142A). The law was implemented to regulate many non-structural home improvement jobs, such as roofing, siding and window replacement that did not have to be supervised by a licensed contractor. Prior to implementation of the registration law, many of these services were open to abuses by a few unscrupulous contractors. The registration law was designed to help to protect the consumer from shoddy workmanship and abandoned projects.

Major Components:
The Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) Registration law requires all contractors performing home improvement work in the state of Massachusetts to be registered. This registration process provides the state with the name and address of the person responsible for remodeling work performed by a company or corporation. Some of the other key components of the law include:

All remodeling contracts of $1,000 or more must be in writing and contain certain provisions specified in the law.

Contractors or subcontractors cannot act as mortgage brokers or represent lenders for any financing that would result in a lien on the property.

The contractor/subcontractor is responsible for the conduct of their employees, salespeople, and subcontractors within the scope of their contact with the owner.

Advertising, contracts, business cards, and building permits must contain the contractor's registration number.
A Guarantee Fund was established to reimburse homeowners up to $10,000 for remodeling work with non-reputable contractors. Consumers can only utilize this fund after all other means of resolution have been exhausted.
Alternative dispute resolution was established through the Home Improvement Arbitration Program to settle conflicts between home owners and contractors.

What Should I Do?
Although the HIC law was enacted to protect consumers, it was not implemented to replace common sense and prudent research. The best way to protect yourself is to know how to select a reputable contractor:

Check out References: Ask the contractor for references and be sure to check them out.

Verify Proper Licensing: Verify that the contractor is a registered contractor with the state. If your project is of a structural nature, ask to see their license. To check on a contractor's registration or complaint history, call the Home Improvement Contractor Program, Board of Building Regulations and Standards at (617) 727-859

Obtain Proof of Insurance: Ask the contractor to give you proof of their liability and/or workman's compensation insurance.
Compare Competitive Bids: If you are making competitive bids on a project, be sure that you are making your comparisons on the same specifications... the lowest price is not always the best bid.

After you have selected a properly registered, licensed and insured contractor to do the work, there are several aspects of the HIC Program designed for your protection.

Written contracts are required by law for any work with a value of $1,000, or more. The written contract should contain the following:

  • The total price for the completed project.
  • A payment schedule. (Under the law, a contractor can not require more than one-third of the contract price as a deposit, unless special orders or custom materials are needed.
  • Approximate starting and completion dates for the project.
  • A detailed list of materials and services to be performed.
  • A provision for modifications to the job or "extras."
  • Proof of the contractor's insurance.
  • Notification that the contractor is required to obtain any necessary permits.
  • Any other details particular to your job.


As with any important legal document, it is advised that you have your attorney review any contract before you sign it. Do not ever sign a contract that contains blank items.

In order to be protected under this registration law, your contractor must obtain the permit for the project. If the homeowner acquires a permit for a job, they waiver their rights under the law and could incur some liability under the Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Insurance regulations. According to recent interpretations, you could be considered the employer of the contractor and any accident on your property might not be covered by your own insurance!

For further information, or a booklet about the law, call or write:

The Division of Consumer Affairs
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 727-7780


To check a contractor's complaint history or to file a consumer complaint:
Attorney General - (617) 727-8400
Better Business Bureau - (413) 734-3114, or (508) 755-2548
Board of Building Regulations & Standards - (617) 727-8598



CONNECTICUT
The Connecticut Legislature recently passed legislation that will require builders of new homes in Connecticut to register with the State Department of Consumer Affairs. Similar to the registration laws and regulations for remodelers in Connecticut and Massachusetts, anyone who contracts with a consumer for the construction of a new home must be registered with the Department of Consumer Protection, and abide by certain regulations designed to provide open communications between the parties and a greater understanding of what is being contracted for. Connecticut has neither a uniform state building code nor a construction supervisor's license program.

Under the recently enacted legislation, a "new" home is a newly constructed single-family or two-family detached dwelling, or condominium unit. In addition to registering with the Department and presenting proof of insurance, builders must provide their customers - prior to signing a contract - with a copy of his or her registration certificate and a notice written in ten point type that:

  1. Urges the consumer to request a list of the contractor's 15 most recent Connecticut customers and to actually contact several of them;
  2. Advises consumers to contact the Department of Consumer Protection for the contractor's complaint history and to verify registration;
  3. Tells consumers to ask if the builder has a customer service policy and if so, the name of the person to contact to resolve complaints;
  4. Advises consumers to determine the extent of contractor liability for work performed by subcontractors hired by the contractor;
  5. Warns the consumer that a registration certificate is not an endorsement by the Department of Consumer Protection nor an assurance of competence; and
  6. Advises the consumer that they may be contacted by prospective customers in the future unless the consumer tells the builder - in writing - that they do not want to be contacted.


Under the new law, the local building official is required to receive a copy of the valid registration certificate of the builder prior to the issuance of a permit; and the registration number must be featured in all advertisement.

The fines and penalties associated with the new law are significant. Failure to begin and perform a substantial portion of the work within 30 days of the contracted for start date, in the absence of a reasonable answer for such delay, deposit within ten days, if the consumer has satisfied all of his/her responsibilities under the contract. Other violators may be subject to revocation and suspension of their registration to work, civil penalties of up to $1,500 per violation and possible arrest and criminal prosecution. A guarantee fund has been set up for the consumer, and the maximum amount to be paid out per claim is $30,000.

For additional information - whether a builder of a buyer - may be obtained from the Department of Consumer protection at 800-842-2649.

License or Registration - Do You Know the Difference?


You are beginning to build your dream home, or planning a major renovation to expand your existing home. You want to hire the right contractor for the job - but where do you begin? Should your contractor be licensed, registered or both?

Licensed Contractor
Massachusetts requires a contractor to be licensed if they are involved in residential construction. Residential construction is defined as: "the reconstruction, alteration, renovation, repair, modernization, conversion, improvement, removal, demolition or construction of an addition to any pre-existing building containing at least one but not more than four dwelling units, which building thereof is used or designed to be used as a residence or dwelling unit, or to structures which area adjacent to such residence or building."

This would include all contractors building new homes or involved in remodeling work. A contractor is eligible to be licensed in Massachusetts if they are eighteen years old, has three years of full time construction experience, and passes a written examination. The license is renewable every two years and allows a contractor to pull a permit for the construction work.

Home Improvement Contractor Registration
Massachusetts requires any contractor that performs construction work exceeding $1,000 to be registered. A contractor does not necessarily have to be licensed with the state of Massachusetts in order to be required to be a registered contractor. Contractors that need to be registered include window roofing & siding contractors.

Registered contractors must post their registration numbers on their company vehicles, contracts, advertising, signage and business cards. A contractor does not have to publicly post their license number. Registering in Massachusetts just requires the contractor to fill out the necessary application and submit the appropriate fees. If a contractor only builds new homes, he does not have to be a registered in Massachusetts. If the same builder also does additions and remodeling work, he is required to be licensed and registered with the state.

A contractor that is established in another state must abide by the same rules if they conduct business across the state line in Massachusetts. Under no circumstance should you - the consumer - pull a permit for a job. First, if you do, you waiver your rights under the Home Improvement Contractor Registration law and would not be entitled to any compensation through the state. Secondly, you open yourself up to liability by taking out a permit for work to be done. You would be liable for any code violations in your project if you pull the permit. Also, if your contractor is involved in an accident on the job, it may be harder to prove that they were an independent contractor verses being an employee under your direction.

If you would like to check to see if your contractor is licensed and/or registered in the state of Massachusetts, go to www.state.ma.us/dps/licenseelist.asp. If you are building outside of Massachusetts, be sure to verify that state's building regulations and laws to make sure that your contractor is in compliance. If you would like more information about the Home Improvement Contractor Registration Law and how to protect yourself, please contact the Home Builders office at (413) 733-3126 for free information.