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Last updated: 6/29/16

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.


You should have a written contract if the work costs $1,000 or more. Your contract needs to include:

  • the contractor’s registration number, business name, and business address
  • the total price of the project and a detailed description of the work
  • a payment schedule, and
  • both your signature and the contractor’s signature, along with the date.

You may also want to include:

  • what happens if extra work is needed
  • a detailed list of project materials
  • start and finish dates
  • the contractor's insurance information, and
  • a permit notice and a cancelation notice.

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.    


Make sure your contractor gets all of the required permits for your project. 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.


If something goes wrong, you can contact us at 617-635-3854. We offer help with mediation, arbitration, and small claims court.

The 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, and
  • pay a $50 non-refundable fee within two years of signing the contract.

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.

Still have questions? Contact:
Consumer Affairs and Licensing
1 City Hall Square
Room 817
Boston, MA 02201-2039
United States