Careful Selection is Key to Successful Choice Of Home Improvement Contractor

The following information, provided by the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs, may be useful in your selection of a contractor.

As housing costs increase, more and more homeowners are investing in improving their current home rather than moving elsewhere. But this is often, sadly, a case of buyer beware.

Bad experiences with home improvement contractors head the list of most frequent consumer complaints to Fairfax County's Department of Telecommunications and Consumer Services. The homeowner's best protection is careful selection of a contractor, including obtaining a complaint history from the department.

Home improvements as defined in the Fairfax County Code cover such construction or property alteration as:

  • New roof
  • Installation of aluminum or vinyl siding over existing siding
  • Laying a concrete or asphalt driveway
  • Constructing an in-ground swimming pool
  • Remodeling a kitchen
  • Building a deck
  • Constructing retaining walls greater than 24 inches in height
  • Additions to existing structures or new accessory structures
  • Sealing an asphalt driveway

Not covered are chimney cleaning, exterior or interior painting, fencing a yard, wallpapering or building a brick patio.

Important tips for selecting a contractor:

  • Ask for a copy of the contractor's current licenses and insurance certificates. Home improvement contractors and their sales staff must be licensed by the Licensing Section of the Office of Building Code Services, 703-324-1540. They must meet requirements of the Virginia State Board for Contractors and are often required to have a Fairfax County Business, Professional and Occupational License issued by the Department of Tax Administration.
  • Check the contractor's compliance record with the Fairfax County Department of Telecommunications and Consumer Services at 703-793-8435. If the work was in other jurisdictions, call their consumer offices. Contact the local Better Business Bureau for a further check of the contractor's past performance.
  • Ask for customer references, particularly from those who have had projects similar to yours. If possible, inspect the work performed by the contractor.
  • Make sure the contractor has insurance to cover damage to your home or injury to employees working on your property. Obtain the name of the insurance carrier and the agent and contact them to verify that the appropriate policies are in effect.
  • Get written estimates from several firms. Be sure to specify the work you want done and the materials to be used, so that the estimates will be easy to compare.
  • Insist on a written contract, as required by the County Home Improvement Code and state regulations, and make sure that it includes all agreements regarding the work to be done and materials to be used. Also, be sure the contract specifies that you will be furnished with a signed mechanic's lien waiver or release from suppliers of materials or subcontractors. In the event that a contractor does not pay a subcontractor or supplier, state law provides that those working on the improvement project may obtain a lien against the property. Without a lien waiver, if your contractor fails to pay a subcontractor or supplier, you could be liable for the debt.

For further information or if you have a complaint regarding a home improvement contractor, contact the County Department of Telecommunications and Consumer Services at 703-222-8435. To determine if a contractor is appropriately licensed, call 703-324-1540.