How to Select a Home Improvement Contractor

Keys to Success

  • Be an informer consumer (learn about the type of work you plan to have done)
  • Make sure the contractor is licensed (contact Rockland County Department or Consumer Protection.
  • Check with the Department of Consumer Protection to determine whether there have been confirmed problems with the contractor
  • Get at least three estimates.
  • Get references (talk to previous clients of the contractors);only use well established, experience, legitimate contractors
  • Make sure you have a written agreement before beginning any home improvement project.
  • Make sure the contract includes specific details (e.g. , precise terms regarding materials to be used finishing touches, home-owner's right to  inspect/approve the work, etc.)

Definition of Home Improvement

Home Improvement generally refers to any repair replacement, alteration, renovation, remodeling, installation, construction, conversion or modernization of, or in a private residence including condominiums) or apartments.

Examples of home improvement categories include:


  • Waterproofing
  • Exterior siding leaders and gutters, decks, patios, garages
  • Additional rooms
  • Roofs
  • Driveways and walkways
  • Kitchens and bathrooms
  • Masonry
  • Fences
  • Painting
  • Landscaping
  • Swimming pools
  • Fire or burglar alarms( licenses by the State of New York)


Before you sign a written agreement or select a home improvement contractor :


License. Make sure that the contractor is appropriately licensed (check with your County Department of Consumer Protection.


Insurance. Its Important that a contractor has adequate liability, disability, and Workers Compensation insurance--- Licensing requires proper insurance. Check with your county's department of Consumer Protection to find th minimum  amount of insurance required for the type of home improvement contractor you wish to hire.


References. Ask the contractor to provide you with a written list of three of his/her most recent home improvement jobs, including customer names and either a telephone number or address of the customers. Contact the customers and ask questions about the performance of the contractor.


Complaints. Check with your county Department of Consumer Protection to find out whether there are any complaints on file against the contractor.


A three year history of complaints is kept by the Department of Consumer Protection. In accordance with the Freedom of Information Law, you may request a copy of any complaint history. Information about complaints is provided to you for the purpose of making an informed decision. Therefore, you should carefully review the outcomes of complaints (notes: complaints in and of themselves may not indicate a problem; some complaints, when investigated are found not be justified.)


Written contracts should generally include:

  • The name, address, license number, & federal employer identification number, if any, of the contractor.
  • The approximate date when the work will begin and the date approximation of the projects completion.
  • Detailed description of all of the work to be done, the materials, and equipment to be used, etc.
  • Specification of whether any additional/ related work needs to be performed in order to comply with laws, ordinances, building codes, etc.
  • Payment schedule, specified in dollars and cents. The schedule of payments must be specifically tied to the amount of work to be performed and to the materials and equipment to be supplied by the contractor. Its advisable to schedule your payments so that the final payment is due 30 days or more after the work is completed in order to have time to assess whether there are problems with the work.
  • If the contract provides for a down payment, such down payment must not exceed 1000.00 or 15% of the contract price(not including finance charges),whichever is less.
  • A minimum one-year warranty guaranteeing the quality of workmanship.
  • A provision that the contractor obtain any necessary permits and provide to the owner a certificate of occupancy, if required.
  • A provision regarding notice of cancellation by the homeowner.




a. Change orders. Make sure that no additional work is performed without prior written authorization of the person who hires the home improvement contractor. Generally, any such authorization must be on a contract change-order form, which shows terms and reasons for the changes. Both parties must agree, in writing, to the change order.


b. Vague terms. Don't sign a contract that has vague terms or blank spaces.


c. For more information. For additional information about terms to include in a home improvement contract, contact the us at



Do's and Don't


Plan ahead - make a checklist for yourself( you can use this list) Determine your needs, funds, including approximately 10% over the estimate for additional work that may have to be done, priorities and goals. Know what you must have in a home improvement project and what you can do without.


Be an informed consumer. Learn about the type of work you plan to have done: Review trade manuals ( available in libraries & hardware stores) and use the Internet. Look at catalogs for styles.


References/ previous experience. Evaluate contractors based upon your own experience, or the experience of one of the contractors clients. Professional references can also be important: it may be useful to contract the contractor's creditors, such as theirs banks , suppliers and local businesses that he/she deal with regularly.


Legitimate business. Make sure the contractor is established on premises that can visit; be wary of contractors who provide only a telephone number.


Multiple estimates. Obtain three or more estimates of the work; estimates should include very specific information about materials and labor. Review the estimates. If there is a wide range between the highest and lowest estimates, find out why.


Time-frames. Find out whether quotes/ estimates are binding for a specific period of time. If not, discuss with the contractor what a reasonable time frame is for the estimate to hold.


Building Permits. Determine whether a building permit is needed and whether a professional engineer or registered architect must prepare construction drawings in order to obtain such permits.


Ground Rules. make sure you discuss " ground rules" with the contractor. "Ground rules" include preparatory work, when the work will begin and is expected to end, and how the work site will be maintained (i.e., how clean it will be left, removal of rubbish etc..)


Payments. Schedule your payments so that final payment is due in 30 days or more after work is completed in order to have time to assess whether there are problems with the work.


Subcontractors. Get the names of subcontractors, if any. Check with suppliers and subcontractors to find out if they have been paid. It may be appropriate to get lien waivers from subcontractors before your final payment is made.


All subcontractors must maintain their own home improvement licenses. Electrical and plumbing work must be completed by licensed plumbers and electricians (check with the Department of Consumer Protection for information about the plumber and electricians.


Penalty Clause. Include a penalty clause in the contract in case the contractor fails to start or finish the project by the specified date.


Job supervision, Determine who (e.g homeowner, foreman, contractor) will supervise the job in order to ensure that the project is being done properly. Even if a foreman or the contractor is designated to supervise, you should keep a watchful eye on the contractor.


Extra materials. Obtain materials such as tiles siding wallpaper, and paint to have for repairs and so you don't have trouble matching colors in the future.





DONT  be pressed into having unnecessary work done; don't rush into signing a contract.


DONT jump at "special offers" ; check them carefully and make sure they really are "special"  ( a good price)  and that they are not lower in cost because of inferior materials or workmanship.


DONT pick the first contractor that you see advertised or hear about or use contractors that solicit door-to-door; dont select a contractor unless you have checked references.


DONT begin a home improvement project without a written agreement.


DONT sign a contract that has vague terms or blank spaces.


DONT give the contractor a cash deposit; dont give more than the minimum deposit required.


DONT pay a contractor in cash, However if you do, make sure that you are given a clear receipt.


DONT (avoid) select a contractor if you dont feel comfortable with him/her; you need to be able to resolve problems, express your opinion, etc


DONT alter plans once work is in progress unless absolutely necessary.


DONT alter plans once work is in progress unless absolutely necessary.


DONT give a contractor a key to your house or leave him/her unattended.




The best strategy is to prevent problems- please refer to other links on the this site for guidance about how to get started. However, if you believe that your home improvement contractor is performing in an unacceptable manner.


The least costly, least difficult route is to first try to resolve problems with the contractor. Consider and discuss terms of the contract.


Contact your local building inspector. Although building inspectors wont take sides, they also have an interest in ensuring that work is in accordance with building standards and codes.


If you need some assistance or just have questions we haven't covered here reach out to us


What to do when thing go wrong

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