Quick Tips When Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Quick Tips When Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Always use a licensed home improvement contractor.

To check if your home improvement contractor is licensed by the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), formerly the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), call 311 or visit the Search for a DCWP Licensee page.

Prepare beforehand.

Home improvement contractors may complete a variety of tasks including remodeling and new construction, flooring, painting, electric work, plumbing, and more. Before you speak to any contractors, it’s helpful to have specific goals in mind, including project and budget limitations, end goals, and any specific features you want. If your project involves an older building, it’s also crucial to maintain safe working conditions. More than half of the city’s residential buildings were built before lead paint was banned in 1960. Many of these older buildings may still have lead paint on their walls, windows, doors and other surfaces. Visit nyc.gov/lead to learn more about lead paint safe work methods.

Get references.

Call 311 to check a contractor's complaint history with DCWP and check with at least three reputable references before hiring a contractor. Also check with surrounding areas including Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties for complaints:

Know your contract rights.

Always get a written contract. Contractors are required to provide a copy of the contract signed by both parties before performing any work. The contract provided must be in plain English and the language you used to negotiate the contract if you used another language. It must also include a description of the work to be performed, important dates, description of materials the contractor will provide, any schedule of payments negotiated, charges, guarantees, and warranties.

By law, homeowners have the right to cancel any contract within three days, including contracts for home repair and/or improvements. Always check the contract, especially for a cancellation notice. For an example of what a contract from a home improvement contractor should include and may look like, download Sample Contract and Notice of Cancellation.

Get a written estimate.

One of the best ways to calculate the cost of your home improvement work is to get estimates from a minimum of three contractors. Under the Home Improvement Business Law, a home improvement contractor must provide a written estimate upon request. If a contractor charges for supplying a written estimate, you must be told the fee before an estimate is prepared.

Don't start work or make payments without a written contract that clearly indicates all of the specifics of the project. DCWP’s model contract is an easy-to-use template that covers the breadth of a home improvement project, from materials and equipment to prices, payments and work schedules.

Use DCWP's Home Improvement Contractor Sample Estimate, Contract, Notice of Cancellation, and Change Order Form

Never pay cash.

Never pay for repairs or improvements without a contract and never pay in cash. Pay no more than a quarter of the total amount upfront, up to a maximum $15,000, to get the work started. Then continue with 'progress' payments as work continues so payments are tied to specific work progress, with final payment due when all the work is completed to your satisfaction. The schedule of payments that you’ve negotiated should also be included in your written contract. Be sure to keep track of all paperwork and payments.

Don’t finance improvements or repairs through your contractor.

It is illegal for contractors to arrange or offer to arrange home improvement loans for you. If they attempt to do this, file a complaint immediately with DCWP. If financing is needed for repairs or improvements, investigate reliable and legitimate options on your own at your bank or credit union of choice. You can get free one-on-one financial counseling at an NYC Financial Empowerment Center to create a spending plan, improve your credit, and more. Book an appointment at nyc.gov/TalkMoney.

Ask to see permits.

  • If your home improvements involve plumbing, electrical work, pointing, or extensions to your home, your home improvement contractor needs a permit from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). If your contractor does not have required DOB permits before work begins, YOU pay the fines.
  • Sidewalk work requires a permit from the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT).

File a complaint.

If you encounter problems with the contract from your home improvement contractor or their quality of work, you can file a complaint online.