Some Things You May Need to Know Before You Start That Home Improvement Project

In the Andover Real Estate market and for greater Massachusetts, good citizens and honest people from time to time are taken advantage of by construction contractors due to poor workmanship, and or not building to regulation (building code) or not carrying the proper liability insurance. Generally this leads to financial disappointment or in some cases financial disaster for the unsuspecting home owner. Many times this type of shoddy work has to be torn apart and complety redone. Most people do not have that kind of money to throw around these days. Hence the success of the HGTV television program Holmes on Homes.

Have you thought about how your insurance company will view your coverage for a fire if they find that major modifications to your home were completed with no building permit on file to ensure the work was performed to building code standards?

There are many good contractors that follow the rules and provide a good and valuable service. Where would we be without them. The question is how can you tell the difference.

First of all, understand that there is a difference between a simple home repair such as replacing faulty electrical switches or outlets and replacing a roof. A roof replacement most likely will require a building permit. This building permit process is viewed by many people as an obstacle to getting things done quickly. On the other hand, it begins the screening process for who is licensed in their trade and who is properly insured. It does not however, guage the difference in quality, reliability and honesty though. You will have to check references for that information. However the process does provides a service to help ensure sure that things are constructed according to the International Residential Building Code (with Massachusetts amendments). Many of the building codes today are a result of accidents that have caused injury or taken life over the many years in our country. Hence the reason the code requires proper fire blocking or the construction of that deck meeting the LIVE LOAD requirements to safely hold all those people at the back yard cook out or the roof holding all that snow that we were given last winter.

In selecting a contractor, understand that most but not all carry a Construction Supervisors License (CSL). This license requires taking and passing a comprehensive test in the knowledge of the state building code. Now the state requires an addition 12 hours of continuing education in order to maintain this license. There are specific licenses for the various trades such as Plumber, Electician, HVAC etc. Beware of the contractor who says to you the homeowner, I do not have the time to pull the permit; you do it and I will do the work. RED FLAG!!! This means that they probably are not licensed and do not carry insurance. In addition, as soon as you the home owner signs the home owner exemption affidavit at the building department to obtain your permit, you are not longer eligible to apply for the state Guarantee Fund in case you are cheated as a result of non-performance by the contactor.

Another type of license in Massachusetts is the Home Improvement Contractor (HIC). In realty, this is a registration and not a license. It requires the contractor to pay a fee into a this guaranty fund for home owners who have been abused by a contractor. The most award that this fund provides is up to $10,000 and it requires that you file within 2 years of the contract and satisfy requirements in arbitration. In reality, this is a fund that the good contractors pay into to make up for the bad contractors. To obtain an HIC Registration the contractor must file with the Division of Consumer Affairs, Pay a fee of $100 or more depending on the number of employees in the company, provide a copy of documentation evidencing their business is registered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There are exemptions such as full time students or HVAC, Electricians, and Plumbing contractors. Any other contractor who signs a contract for home improvements over $500 are required to possess this registration. You should always insist on a properly licensed contractor with proper liability insurance coverage. If a worker falls off your roof and is paralyzed you want to make sure that the contractors insurance covers you before hand. Insist on their insurance company sending you a Certificate of Insurance naming you as an additional insured before allowing any work to proceed. It should be noted here that NEW CONSTRUCTION does not require the HIC registration i.e. new home.

Always write a contact for the work being done. State law requires the following elements for any contract greater than $1,000: MUST CONTAIN: Contractors name and HIC number, Total Price, Payment Schedule, Provision for changes or extras, detailed list of specifications and materials to be used, start date and completion date and a copy of contractors insurance. I recommend tying the payment schedule to the amount of completion of the project and final payment withheld until final sign off for final inspection on the building permit by the building inspector. In addtion, Massachusetts law states that the contactor CAN NOT ask for more than 1/3 as a down payment except only when the homeowner requests special project considerations that may require monies in excess of a 1/3 down payment i.e. a gold leaf door as example. A detailed and well written contract protects all parties involved by greatly reducing the unknown.

Finally, check references before hiring anyone. REALTORS®, neighbors, local building supply and the building department know who is good and reliable and who is not. The local building department can not recommend anyone due to liability issues. However as you check around, you will begin to see a pattern.

Check with your local building department at Town Hall and your attorney before proceeding to make sure you have your bases covered.