Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Avoiding scam artists when hiring home contractors

Many New Yorkers often face the daunting task of making major repairs to their property in the wake of a major weather event.  The increase in demand for contractors may make it more difficult for consumers to find reputable contractors to make badly needed repairs.  Some contractors may overextend themselves and promise more than they can deliver.  Natural disasters and major weather events often attract scam artists and other unscrupulous individuals who seek to take advantage of consumers when they are most vulnerable.  In the aftermath of the event, consumers need to be especially vigilant to avoid being victimized as they attempt to put their lives back in order. 

Home Improvement Fact Sheet

Hiring a Contractor

While it is understandable that you may be tempted to hire a contractor quickly, you should observe a few basic precautions to protect yourself from a potentially costly mistake.  Here are some tips to help you in choosing a contractor:

Be on the alert for scam artists:

  • Be wary of anyone who shows up at your door unsolicited and offers to do home repairs.  Non-local “storm chasers” may be difficult to track down if the work is performed incorrectly or there are other problems 
  • Use a contractor with a name, address and contact number you can verify
  • Don’t fall prey to high pressure tactics:  a legitimate contractor won’t pressure you to sign a contract and hand over a deposit on the spot
  • Never give a contractor a cash deposit before a contract is signed

Always do your homework BEFORE you hire a contractor:

  • Ask for and follow up with references
  • Ask the contractor for proof of insurance
  • Check the better business bureau website, www.bbb.org, for complaints
  • Search online for any evidence that the contractor is disreputable
  • Home improvement contractors must be licensed in New York City, Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland counties, and the City of Buffalo.  Before you hire a home improvement contractor, use these links to check whether the contractor is licensed or registered in your county

New York state law requires that consumers receive a written contract for home improvement work that exceeds $500.  The contract must contain:

  • The contractor’s name, address and telephone number.
  • The approximate start and completion date, including any contingencies that would change the completion date.
  • A description of the work to be performed, the materials to be provided to the consumer, including make, model number or any other identifying information, and the agreed upon price for the work and materials.
  • A notice advising you that you have three business days to cancel the contract, unless during an emergency you waive the right in writing.
  • A notice that all payments received by the contractor prior to completion of the contract work must be deposited in an escrow account.

Never pay the full price up front:

  • If the contractor requires a deposit, try to negotiate a small amount.
  • Establish a payment scheduled and adhere to it.
  • Contractors are required to put your deposit in an escrow account and notify you within five days where the funds are being held or  prove they have bond insurance. 

Be a smart consumer:

  • Never sign a document without reading it carefully.
  • Never sign a document that contains blanks or is otherwise incomplete.
  • Make sure you get a copy of any document you sign.
  • Ask your contractor if any permits are needed for the work and verify with your local building and codes office before beginning the work.
  • Ask multiple contractors get for price quotes and compare.

Working with your Insurance Company:

  • Before you have a contractor perform work (other than repairs necessary for safety reasons or to prevent further damage), review your insurance policy and check with your insurance company to see if the work is covered by insurance.
  • Don’t begin permanent or substantial work before you obtain approval from your claims adjustor.
  • Your contractor should work with your claims adjustor to make sure that the repairs are performed so they will be covered by the insurance company.