A Dozen Do’s and Don’ts for Home Improvement Season
“Whether you are looking for design improvements to your home or simply some needed repairs, we urge you to take your time, do some research, and make sure the contractor you hire is properly registered to work in Connecticut,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said today. “While registration doesn’t guarantee a contractor’s competency, it does give you protections that are not available if the contractor isn’t registered.”
Under the law, a home improvement contractor is anyone who performs improvements on residential property when the individual job exceeds $200 and when the cash price of all work performed by the contractor in one year is more than $1,000. All home improvement contractors -- including carpenters, roofers, remodeling contractors, driveway pavers, painters and anyone who installs fences, siding, insulation, windows and masonry, for example -- must be registered with the Department of Consumer Protection and adhere to certain requirements that protect consumers.
“While there may be dozens of things that can go wrong on any home repair or improvement job, the following twelve Do’s and Don’ts can help you choose well, and work effectively with your home improvement contractor,” Rubenstein said.
1. Do confirm that your contractor is registered with the Department of Consumer Protection -- before you sign a contract or pay any money. Each registered contractor is given a wallet card with their Connecticut registration number and expiration date – ask everyone working on your property to show you this card. You can also visit the Department of Consumer Protection’s website at www.ct.gov/dcp and go to “Verify a License.” By looking at the contractor’s credential record, you can tell whether the Department has any closed complaints against the person. If you do not have internet access, you may call the Department at (860) 713-6110.
2. Do get more than one bid and make sure all bids include the same quality of materials and time frames. The lowest bid is not necessarily a bargain, so resist the temptation to choose a contractor based solely on price.
3. Do talk to your local building officials, ask friends who’ve had remodeling done, and check out work being done in your neighborhood. These are valuable sources of contractor information. Be sure to ask your local building official about building permit and zoning requirements for the job.
4. Do ask contractors about their existing workload. Can they start and finish on time? You should be able to speak openly with the contractor and feel that he or she is being frank with you.
5. Do verify that any subcontractors hired to do skilled trades like electrical, heating or plumbing work, hold the appropriate Connecticut occupational license. This requirement is separate from the Home Improvement registration. Like home improvement registrations, occupational licenses can be verified by the Department of Consumer Protection through its website or by telephone. Your home improvement contract with your contractor can specify the type of trades work to be done, but for your safety and quality assurance, make sure the actual trades work is performed by a properly licensed tradesperson.
6. Do get a signed, fully executed contract before any work begins. By law, all home improvement contracts must be in writing, include all details of the job, and bear the contractor's name and registration number. The contract must also include the start date, end date, work to be done, materials to be used, and price. In addition, the contract must give you three (3) days to cancel. This is your “cooling off” period, a time to assess the contract, especially if you feel you signed it under pressure. Never agree to forfeit this right.
7. Do decide and confirm with your contractor whether he or you will obtain the necessary building permits. Ultimately, they are your responsibility.
8. Don’t allow competition for contractors tempt you to make hasty decisions or cut corners. Take all the time you need to thoroughly research the job, interview several contractors, and choose one who is qualified and capable of getting the work done right, on time and within budget. Be especially wary of any contractor who pressures you to make an immediate decision, and never agree to unsolicited, door-to-door offers.
9. Don’t overlook references. Check them thoroughly. You can even check contractors’ litigation history to see if they’ve been sued by former clients. Go online to http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov, select “party name search” from the left menu and type in the contractor’s last and first name or company name in the boxes provided.
10. Don’t allow a contractor to finance your home improvement project or put you in touch with a finance company unless you have an attorney or some other informed person review the finance agreement before you sign, to verify that it complies with state and federal Truth-in-Lending laws.
11. Don’t forget to verify with the contractor that he has the appropriate level of workers compensation and liability insurance.
12. Don’t pay too much up front, and never pay in cash. You should require that your contract include a payment schedule that roughly parallels the progress of the work, breaking the bill into three or four payments.
The Home Improvement Guaranty fund is available through the Department of Consumer Protection if you suffer damages and your registered home improvement contractor is unable to make you whole. After obtaining a court judgment, you may qualify for restitution up to $15,000 per contract. If you have home improvement questions or concerns, please contact the Department of Consumer Protection at 860-713-6110, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.