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What Are Massachusetts Contractors?

In Massachusetts, the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) through its Division of Professional Licensure (DPL) regulates and issues licenses to over 580,000 people, business enterprises, and educational institutions across 150 trades and occupations. Individuals, corporations, and partnerships that seek out and execute residential property improvement projects worth above $500 each, or generate more than $5000 per year, under the “contractor“ or “subcontractor” title are required to obtain either a Construction Supervisor License (CSL) or a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) Registration.

Massachusetts’ Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS), through the Office of Public Safety and Inspections, issues the CSL and supervises Massachusetts building codes. At the same time, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) directly offers the required registration for home improvement contractors. Even though both of these occupational certifications are used in the building industry, the requirements (and purposes) for each are different. While a HIC registration is enough for projects such as home exterior painting and underground swimming pool construction, a contractor needs to add a CSL to work on some other projects, including roofing, plastering, and structural flooring and insulation.

Aside from home improvement contractors and construction supervisors, other professionals in the state like accountants, architects, health officers, and electricians are also licensed by agencies like the Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy, the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Architects, the Massachusetts Board of Certification of Health Officers, and the Massachusetts Board of State Examiners of Electricians respectively. Similarly, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers licenses and regulates over 59,000 actively practicing attorneys in the state.

Tips for Hiring a Contractor
in Massachusetts

In addition to getting value for your money when executing home improvement projects, it is also necessary to ensure that the people you grant access to your home are contractors that will maintain a high level of professionalism and job ethics. The following are helpful guidelines on hiring a home improvement contractor:

  • Think about the specific remodeling/repair/replacement that you want, and consult professionals where necessary.
  • Think about the materials your project will require either by going to home improvement centers, by speaking with people who have done something similar, or by looking at a home design magazine.
  • Write out a clear description and specification of your project, and let all bidding contractors work with the same project description to allow for uniform quotation coverage.
  • Reach out to a professional industry body for informed advice on the hiring and project execution procedure.
  • Compare at least three detailed and written project proposals and estimates.
  • Confirm with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation whether or not a contractor or subcontractor is presently registered with the state. Note that registered contractors are mandated to put their six-number registration number on display on advertisements, permits, and contracts. Moreover, hiring an unregistered contractor excludes you from the protection of the Home Improvement Contractor Law.
  • Ask for references from each of the contractors, preferably local and easily accessible references. Reach out to the homeowners who have hired them in the past for a review.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau and the state’s Office of the Attorney General for a complaint history. You can also contact the Consumer Affairs Unit toll-free in Massachusetts at (888) 283-3757 to determine if the contractor has a Guaranty Fund claim or arbitration case against them.
  • Check the authenticity of construction supervisors for projects that require their services.
  • Ensure that an authentic building permit is obtained for your project by the contractor.
  • Request a detailed written contract for the project.
  • Do not pay more than a third of the cost of the project as advance payment.
  • Do not allow a contractor to lend you money or collaborate with a lending institution to offer you a loan to finance your home improvement project.
  • Complete project payments only when your project has been satisfactorily completed as agreed.

Note that state laws require that projects involving more than $1000 be put in writing. However, it is always a good idea to get a written contract even if your project is not up to this amount. Make sure that the contract contains the following information:

  • Contractor identification details, including registration number
  • The total cost of the project
  • Mutually agreed payment plan
  • Provisions for modifications or extra costs
  • A comprehensive list of project materials
  • Project completion and start dates
  • One copy of the contractor’s insurance policy
  • A notice stating that obtaining a permit yourself or working with unregistered contractors renders you ineligible for the Guaranty Fund.
  • A 3-day cancelation clause establishing your right to terminate the contract provided both parties (the homeowner and the contractor) signed it at your home or another location different from the contractor’s office.

Get a qualified attorney to review the contract’s fine print to ensure that there are no detrimental hidden clauses anywhere in the contract.

How to Search A Contractor's License in Massachusetts?

There are several licensing agencies and registries in Massachusetts overseeing different trade professionals. Hence, to verify a contractor's license in the state, contact the relevant state or local licensing authority.

The Massachusetts Construction Supervisor License provides two categories of license to general contractors, called Construction Supervisors in Massachusetts. An unrestricted license allows the Construction Supervisor to handle new home constructions, while a restricted license is provided to home improvement contractors who must also register with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR).

Specialty contractors are also required to register with the OCABR, though licensed by a separate authority. Electricians are licensed by the Board of State Examiners of Electricians, plumbers by the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters, and HVAC and refrigeration technicians by the Office of Public Safety and Inspections. Note, some cities and counties have additional licensing requirements to those mandated by the State of Massachusetts. Ensure to contact your municipal authority to verify your contractor's license is updated.

The penalty for working without a state-required license or an expired license in Massachusetts is a $5,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
Massachusetts?

Contractors in Massachusetts charge consumers according to the factors such as the type of project at hand, the scope/size of the project, and the distance from the contractor's office to the homeowner’s residence. The average standard of living in a state also influences the fees that home improvement contractors charge. Below are estimates of the price range of different home improvement projects and skills in Massachusetts:

Interior Painting $1,500
$1,900
Exterior Painting $2,500
$3,000
Landscaping $3,000
$3,500
Whole house renovation:
Low end
$15,000 - $45,000
Mid range
$46,000 - $70,000
High end
$71,000 - $200,000
Flooring:
Vinyl
$800 - $2,650
Stone
$900 - $2,800
Laminate
$1,500 - $4,250
Wood
$2,500 - $6,750
Kitchen renovations:
Low end
$5,000 - $30,000
Mid range
$30,000 - $65,000
High end
$65,000
Basement Remodeling
$11,000 - $30,000
Roof replacements:
Asphalt shingles
$5,300 - $11,000
Wood shake/simulated
$10,000 - $20,000
Steel and aluminum
$5,000 - $26,000
Copper
$30,000 - $45,000
Tiler
$8,000 - $30,000
Slate
$18,000 - $45,000

The hourly price ranges for home improvement labor are estimated below:

Architects
$125 - $250
Interior Designer
$50 - $200
Painter
$20 - $50
Plumber
$70 - $120
Electrician
$50 - $100
HVAC Technician
$50 - $150

You will typically require the services of an attorney to prepare and review contracts, handle contract litigation where applicable, and other similar activities. In Massachusetts, attorney hourly rates fall between $200 and $400. Note that attorney fees are influenced by factors such as level of qualification and education, specialization, and years of experience.

What Are Home Improvement
Scams in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, consumers reported a total of 53,111 scams which included home improvement and repair scams, resulting in financial losses of approximately $40.9million. Home improvement scams involve contractors' use of deceptive tactics and tricks to cheat unsuspecting homeowners. Some of the most common tactics used include:

  • Misinforming consumers about the urgency of a repair
  • Hiking the price of materials
  • Misinforming homeowners about the discounts being offered to them
  • Duplicating project contracts to confuse the homeowner
  • Including hidden extra charges in contracts
  • Lying about the benefits of an home improvement project in a bid to convince you to undertake it

In addition to financial losses, some of the other devastating results of home improvement scams include shoddy or unfinished work, reduced home life span, increased property maintenance needs, and in severe cases, property foreclosure. Some of these unscrupulous contractors also deliberately do shoddy work so that you will need their services soon again. Therefore, homeowners should exercise due diligence and take necessary precautions against falling victim to home improvement scammers. Some precautionary steps are outlined below:

  • Avoid dealing with door-to-door contractors. Instead, deal with only those recommended by relatives and friends or reputable building supply stores.
  • Get more than one estimate for the project from different contractors
  • Inspect other work executed by the contractor(s)
  • Ensure that the written contract is the same as the job terms, specifications, and description that was discussed orally
  • Invoke your right to cancel door-to-door home improvement contracts within three days if you suspect foul play, even if you have already signed the papers
  • Never let work begin until financing terms have been agreed upon and sorted
  • Make final payments only when the project has been satisfactorily completed
  • Contact your attorney without delay once a problem arises with either the contractor or a third-party project financer

You can look up the arbitration and guaranty fund history of registered contractors online. You can also contact the consumer hotline of the OCABR at (617) 973-8787 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays to Fridays to make inquiries about a contractor.

Professional License Search

What are Common Home Improvement Scams in Massachusetts?

Just like every other state, Massachusetts witnesses its share of consumer scams, with older (senior) citizens being the most targeted group. The following are some of the most common home improvement scams in Massachusetts:

  • “One-day Only” Deals: Mischievous contractors will usually appear at homeowner’s doors with a proposal to do a hugely discounted job. This unbelievable discount will usually be defended by the claim that the contractors will be using excess materials from a recently completed job because they do not want the materials to go to waste. In the end, these contractors start adding extra costs in the middle of the project for “unforeseen repairs.” If the homeowner attempts to resist such an addition, these contractors will threaten to abandon the job.
  • “Only Cash” contractors: In this type of scam, the contractor makes attempts to ensure they are not traceable by providing fake names and requesting to be paid only in cash. Once these scammers receive payment, they disappear into thin air. Homeowners are advised not to pay cash for home improvement projects unless they have duly verified the contractor’s registration status and are sure they will be issued a formal payment receipt. Note also that the state’s home improvement contract laws prohibit paying more than a third of the total project cost as a down payment.
  • Energy and DIscount Scams: A contractor may show up at your doorstep offering to make your home energy efficient and for a significant discount. Note that setting up a home for energy efficiency is not a cheap project, and it would be wise if you walked away from a contractor offering you unbelievably low discounts on such projects.

In August 2019, the state's Attorney General's Office reported that it had sued an unregistered home improvement contractor for taking over $350,000 from consumers for home repair and renovation projects without completing these projects. This contractor had solicited for jobs, received money from homeowners as payment, and then reportedly refused to complete these jobs. In some cases, demolition was carried out without the required rebuilding taking place, making the homes unlivable.

It is always better to take proper precautions rather than relying on recovery measures because it is easier to prevent being scammed than attempting to recover lost funds. Once a contractor cannot answer your questions about their qualifications and registration satisfactorily, do not take any chances. Move on instead to contractors that can confidently pass the scrutiny stage.

What are Disaster Scams in Massachusetts?

Whether from fires, floods, or other natural causes, disasters typically leave properties damaged and ruined in their wake. Afterward, homeowners are often left devastated, traumatized, and desperate. Some contractors know this, and they seek to exploit this window to systematically steal funds from victims of these disasters. To prevent further loss of money and damage to property, affected homeowners have to be on alert to avoid falling prey to these opportunistic scammers. Some of the most commonly perpetrated disaster scams include:

  • Offering you cheap services only to use defective and inferior materials for your job
  • Making away with the down payment, particularly for massive projects where the down payment is sizable.
  • Pretending to be with charitable or government construction agencies in order to take your money
  • Pretending to be home inspectors from the government and charge you for an inspection or recommend that you hire a particular contractor, usually their cronies, for renovations

It is best to seek professional advice from licensed and registered contractors and construction supervisors before embarking on any major projects. Consulting qualified home improvement contractors will typically save you time, money, and worry in the course of the execution of your project. More precautionary tips to observe include:

  • Check contractor and supervisor licenses.
  • Be wary of contractors claiming to be from federal or state emergency management agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), respectively, as such agencies do not have approved contractors
  • Do not sign or enter into contracts you do not understand or contracts that have blank spaces. It is best to have a licensed attorney on hand in situations like this.
  • Have local building inspectors assess your project before paying off the contractor
  • Document all project records and work

Consumers can report suspicious activity by contacting the consumer hotline of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office at 1-617-727-8400 or online. Alternatively, consumers can also report fraudulent inspectors, contractors, and insurance representatives to FEMA via its Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.

What are Common Legal
Work Scams?

Legal work scams describe all forms of fraudulent activity perpetrated under the guise of providing legal services. Imposters, and sometimes attorneys, pretending to be offering genuine legal services to clients, scheme to defraud trusting clients of their money. When dealing with an attorney or generally dealing around legal services in Massachusetts, the following are the most common scams to look out for:

  • Wire fraud committed against clients
  • The diversion and embezzlement of clients’ monies and trust funds for personal use
  • The unauthorized use of clients’ names and companies to take loans from lending institutions
  • Real estate property fraud

Residents of Massachusetts should take the following steps to prevent scams like these from happening:

  • Work with only attorneys who have clean records. You may look up each Massachusetts attorney’s profile by visiting the official website of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers and clicking on the “Look Up An Attorney” tab
  • Ensure you know what the specific duties and responsibilities of an attorney are each time you hire or work with one
  • Resist attempts by an attorney to persuade you to move all your asset holdings to a single manager or fund
  • Seek out alternative opinions from other attorneys if you have doubts about a move or decision that your attorney has proposed
  • Ask for regular and detailed updates on your case and business with an attorney.

For cases of legal work scams involving a licensed attorney, consumers can file complaints by putting a call through to the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) at (617) 728-8750 or by downloading, completing, and submitting a complaint form to:

  • Office of the Bar Counsel
  • 99 High Street
  • 2nd Floor
  • Boston, MA 02110
  • Phone: (617) 728-8750

To report persons who committed legal work scams while pretending to be attorneys, consumers can or either reach out to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office at 1-617-727-8400 or file a report with their local police departments.

How Long Does it Take to Get a License in
Massachusetts?

Home improvement contractors that complete all necessary documentation, pay all required fees, and submit their application in person usually receive their HIC registration cards immediately. However, candidates that submit their registration applications by mail will typically receive their HIC registration card by mail within one to two weeks. Within that time, candidates can log in periodically to track the progress of their registration application. Candidates must pay a $150 registration fee as the final step of the registration process, usually after their registration has been approved.

For construction supervision licensees who have passed their licensing exams and mailed their score reports to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), it takes around 30 days to process their license application. Note that candidates must forward their score reports to the DPS within a year of passing the exam.

How to Maintain your License in Massachusetts

Contractors who wish to change their fictitious name (DBA) can do so by mail or in person by simply downloading and completing a DBA Change form, and providing their name, HIC registration number, DBA name, permanent business address, and a copy of the authentic DBA certificate issued by the clerk’s office of their city or town. All of these should be submitted in person:

  • Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
  • Home Improvement Contractor Program
  • 1000 Washington Street
  • Suite 710
  • Boston, MA 02118

Home improvement contractors can complete a change of address online while renewing their registration, or they can send a completed Change of Address from through fax at (617-701-8682) or by mail to:

  • Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
  • Home Improvement Contractor Program
  • 1000 Washington Street
  • Suite 710
  • Boston, MA 02118

Likewise, construction supervisors can also complete a name or address change by completing the name/address change form and sending it by mail to:

  • Department of Public Safety and Inspection
  • 1000 Washington Street
  • Suite 710
  • Boston, MA 02108

Attorneys in Massachusetts can file for a name change by first requesting a name change affidavit from the Supreme Judicial Court Clerk's Office for the County of Suffolk or by calling (617) 557-1050 to request the affidavit. The completed affidavit along with a copy of the legal document backing the name change should then be sent back to the Supreme Judicial Court Clerk's Office for the County of Suffolk, which will then inform the state’s Board of Bar Overseers of the change.

How to Renew Contractor License in
Massachusetts

Home improvement contractors have to renew their registration for a $100 fee on a bi-annual basis. Registrants must renew their HIC registration not later than 30 days after its expiration date. If this condition is violated, the affected home improvement contractors would have to make a new registration application and pay new registration and Guaranty Fund fees.

Home improvement contractors looking to renew their licenses must present:

  • A copy of their business certificates issued by the relevant agency in their town or city for individuals, sole proprietors, and DBAs
  • Evidence of recent filings with the Corporations Division of the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth such as an annual report, foreign corporation registration, and articles of incorporation for corporations

Contractors may complete a renewal online or by completing and submitting a renewal form in-person or via mail-in to:

  • Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
  • Home Improvement Contractor Registration Program
  • 1000 Washington Street
  • Suite 710
  • Boston, MA 02118

Similarly, it takes around five weeks to renew construction supervision licenses in Massachusetts Contractors with these licenses must pay a renewal fee of $100 and meet the necessary continuing education requirements. Licensees are allowed a grace period of two years after the expiration of their license for renewal. Note that this attracts an additional fee of $100 for licenses that have expired for more than one year but less than two years. However, if a license is not renewed before the end of this two-year grace period, then the construction supervisor will have to resit for a license examination and reapply for a new license. Construction supervision license renewals can be done online or by completing a renewal application form, attaching continuing education certificates and a check or money order made payable to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and mailing all these to:

  • P.O. Box 414376
  • Boston, MA 02241-4376

In-person construction supervisor license renewals can also be done at:

  • 1000 Washington Street
  • Suite 710
  • Boston, MA 02118

Finally, attorneys in Massachusetts are required to complete an annual renewal process online as mandated by the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (MASSBBO).