Community Forum: How to hire a home improvement contractor

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VERMONT ATTORNEY GENERAL Charity Clark

This week’s writer is Vermont Attorney General Charity R. Clark. 

As the ground thaws and weather warms, many Vermonters will be planning their outdoor and home improvement projects. My Consumer Assistance Program is here to help with tips and resources for homeowners and residential contractors. For most of us, our homes are the single largest investment we will ever make. Taking care of them is important to ensure the health, safety, and comfort of our families. For these home improvement projects, we rely on our valued residential contractors. Here are six steps to take to protect yourself and your investment: 

1. Use Vermont’s residential contractor registries to make informed decisions. Contractors registered with the Secretary of State agree to meet Vermont professional standards, whereas those on the Home Improvement Fraud Registry have been convicted of criminal home improvement fraud. 

2. Ask for recommendations from your community – friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers. 

3. Once you identify a contractor you are considering for your project, do more research. Look up complaint history online, using the name of the contractor and “scam” or “complaint” in your search. Contact my Consumer Assistance Program and ask if they have complaints filed against the contractor you are considering. Review the Beter Business Bureau’s complaint history. 

4. Ask the contractor to show you their active registration and insurance policy. 

5. Get quotes from 2-3 other reputable contractors and ask for references. Quotes should include the expected payment timeline (ideally with a deposit of no more than 10-30%). 

6. Make sure all project expectations are in writing. Request a written contract or estimate and do not sign anything you do not agree with. DO NOT pay all at once! Request an invoice and offer to pay at completion, by installment, or with a reasonable down payment for labor and materials. 

Once hired, keep track of all invoices, bills and communication between you and your contractor. 

In a perfect world, homeowners and contractors work hand in hand to complete projects on time and on budget, adding value to homes and local economies. Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go as planned. That’s where my office can help. The Vermont Attorney General’s Office Consumer Assistance Program now has a Home Improvement Specialist available to help avoid problems in the first place, and to work out problems when they happen. You can contact our office with any type of home improvement complaint. Most of the time we can help reach a fair and reasonable resolution for both the homeowner and contractor. In just six months on the job, our specialist has already returned or saved Vermonters more than $400,000. 

We are also a resource for contractors. Our Small Business Advocate along with our Home Improvement Specialist help prevent and resolve disputes. If you are a contractor and would like assistance with the new registration requirements in Vermont law, you may call our Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424, or email [email protected]. 

This spring, let my Consumer Assistance Program be your trusted partner in home improvement! 

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