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Home improvement and contracting tips

We work with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to educate consumers on a variety of topics. These home improvement tips will help you avoid costly mistakes and scams.


Only use a licensed contractor. Most of time, Massachusetts requires a Home Improvement Contractor Registration for contractors doing more than $1,000 of work on a one-to-four family building where the owner also lives at the property.

You can look up registered contractors online. Research your project and learn how it’s done. Get references for each contractor you use and don't be afraid to ask questions.

If you don't use a registered contractor, you won't be able to use the state arbitration program if something goes wrong.


Under Home Improvement Contractor law, you must have a written contract if the work costs $1,000 or more. However, you should have a contract for any home improvement job. Your contract needs to include the following:

  • Complete agreement between the owner and contractor
  • Contractor's full name, contractor’s registration number, social security number, business name, and business address (physical not PO box)
  • A detailed description of the work and materials to be used
  • The total price of the project and a detailed payment schedule
  • The start date and date which work is scheduled to be substantially completed
  • Signature of all parties with the date
  • A clear and conspicuous notice stating:
    • all home improvement contractors and subcontractors shall be registered and that any inquiries about a contractor or subcontractor relating to a registration should be directed to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Home Improvement Contractor Program, with the Office's address and phone number
    • a three-day cancellation notice, informing you of your right to cancel your contract if you signed the agreement in your home, or at a place other than at the contractor's office or business
    • all warranties and owner's rights under the provisions of this act
    • a statement warning, in 10-point bold type or larger, directly above the space provided for the signature, the following: DO NOT SIGN THIS CONTRACT IF THERE ARE ANY BLANK SPACES
    • whether any lien or security interest is on the residence as a consequence of the contract
  • A sentence explaining that no work can begin prior to the signing of the contract and the owner receiving a copy of the contract
  • No contract can contain an acceleration clause that would require any part or all of the balance not yet due to be declared due and payable because the contractor deems himself to be insecure
  • Any contract entered into between a contractor and homeowner shall require the contractor to inform the homeowner of the following: any and all necessary permits, that it shall be the obligation of the contractor to obtain said permits, and that homeowners who secure their own permits will be excluded from the guaranty fund
  • Any contract entered into between a contractor and homeowner may provide that the contractor may initiate alternative dispute resolution through any private arbitration services
  • Any other provisions otherwise required by the applicable laws of the Commonwealth

Read the contract carefully before you sign. Make sure you get any changes to the contract in writing. Don't pay for more than one third of the price upfront and ask for a receipt for each payment.

Before and During Construction

Make sure your contractor gets all of the required permits for your project. Do not secure your own permits. You can contact Inspectional Services to find out what permits you need. You can also look up building permits online using your address.

Take your time and educate yourself before making decisions. Don't let a contractor talk you into something you don't need.

You should also be around during construction. If you see something you're not happy about, bring it up right away and take pictures to save them for proof.

Getting Your Money Back

If something goes wrong, you can contact us at 617-635-3834 for mediation help or you can contact the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation's (OCABR) for arbitration.

OCABR's Home Improvement Arbitration Program helps you get your money back. To use the program, you need to:

  • get your written and signed contract for the project
  • get proof that the contractor was registered at the time
  • get proof that work was done on a one-to-four family home and that you live there
  • your request for arbitration must be filed within two years of the contract date
  • the property or residence is located in Massachusetts, and
  • the property is your primary residence

If you win your case but the contractor doesn’t pay you, you can apply for the Home Improvement Contractor Guaranty Fund. You'll get up to $10,000 of what the contractor owes you.

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