Consumer Complaints

Home Improvement Projects: Preventing Your Dreams From Turning Into A Nightmare

By Bianca Hoffman, Legal Analyst
Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts

You have finally saved for that home improvement project you have been dreaming about. You search for a contractor online and, after reading reviews, you hire one. You pay a lot of money upfront but the contractor fails to show up to start the project. Maybe they come once, gut your kitchen, and never return. Or maybe they do some work but the project moves so slowly and the work is of such poor quality that you have to hire another contractor to renew the entire project. Sounds extreme, right? Well, it happens more often than you might think.

Managing a home improvement project can be stressful and full of surprises. You put your trust, money, and time in the hands of a contractor, and some of them don’t hold up their end of the bargain. What steps can consumers take to avoid having their home improvement dream turn into a nightmare? The steps below are a good place to start.

  1. Plan ahead: Come up with a clear idea, a realistic budget, and a desired timeline before shopping for a contractor.
  1. Do your research to find a reputable contractor: Most states require a license or registration for home improvement contractors. Does yours have one? Look into the contractor with your state’s licensing agency. Ask for references and review past projects. You can also check to see whether the contractor you are considering has been the subject to any consumer complaints. Just keep in mind that a contractor with a complaint filed against them is not necessarily irresponsible.
  1. Get multiple estimates: This is not just about getting the best price, but also about ensuring the range of prices quoted to you are in a fair and reasonable range compared to others.
  1. Request a written contract: If your contract is for a value of more than $1,000, it must be in writing to be enforceable. Be sure both you and the contractor sign it and remember to check what your state requires when it comes to home improvement contracts. Usually, contracts should include at a minimum a total cost of the project, a payment schedule, a detailed description of services and materials, permit responsibilities, and cancellation rights.
  1. Don’t pay in full upfront: Unless you are paying for custom-made items, do not pay upfront. Instead, request a payment installment arrangement. And don’t finish paying until all of the agreed-upon work has been completed.

Already in trouble with a home improvement contractor? Contact your state attorney general’s office and/or another state consumer protection agency for assistance. Your state may offer an arbitration or mediation program that may be a free or low-cost option before you have to consider other legal options.

This blog is one of a series of articles contributed by state and local consumer agencies in connection with the annual survey about consumer complaints conducted by Consumer Federation of America. The survey report provides “real life” examples of complaints and tips for consumers. Have a consumer problem or question? Find your state or local consumer agency at https://www.usa.gov/state-consumer.