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Choosing a Home Improvement Contractor  Building tools image


Unless you already know a contractor who will provide good quality workmanship at a fair price, or have a strong recommendation from someone you trust and has done their homework, you'll need to make a list of several contractors from whom to get estimates.

Because the chances are that you will eventually sign a contract with one of the firms on your list, it's important to be as careful and selective when you choose contractors to give you estimates as when you make the final choice of a firm to do your work. Whether your list of contractors comes from friends, the Yellow Pages, Google, or the clerk at your local hardware store, check them out carefully before you inquire about estimates.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Above all else,  never hire an unlicensed home improvement contractor.  In Maryland, it is illegal to act as a home improvement contractor or salesperson without a valid license.  Licenses are issued by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC).  To verify a license, call MHIC at 410.230.6309 or check online at  Public Search .


Before calling for estimates, do your homework!  Once you have made a list of the contractors that you want to contact, search license and agency records so that you don't waste your time on unlicensed or problematic contractors.  We have prepared a list of agencies for you to contact for licensing verification, complaint histories, and other information.

Agency Description

Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection
T: 240.777.3636
Email: [email protected]

  • Provides  merchant complaint history.
  • Offers advice on selecting a contractor, problems during the project and your rights as a consumer.
  • Investigates complaints.

Maryland Home Improvement Commission
T: 410.230.6309
Quick Tips Guide 

  • Verify that a contractor, subcontractor, and/or sales person is properly licensed.
  • Provides complaint history.
WSSC - Licensing
T: 301-206-8588
Email: [email protected] 
  • Verify that a plumber or gas fitter is licensed

Maryland Judiciary Case Search

  • Online public access to Maryland court records to check if a contractor is involved in any legal action.

Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation
T: 410.767.1184

Consumer's Checkbook Magazine 
T: 800.213.7283

  • Non-profit consumer organization that provides unbiased consumer ratings and information on local service firms.  Please note that access to ratings is on a paid subscription basis.  Free consumer advice is available on their website.
Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation
  • Issues licenses to Plumbers, HVACR repair, Locksmiths, Electricians, and many others.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • Issues licenses to arborists and tree cutters.

Don't be afraid to ask questions!  We recommend that you get at least three (3) written estimates from licensed contractors.  To compare prices accurately, give contractors the same work description.  When you discuss your home improvement project with contractors, the following questions may help you get the information you need:

  • Do you have a Maryland Home Improvement License? Can I see your license?  (Verify the information with MHIC.)
  • Can I see your general liability insurance certificate?
  • How long have you been in this business?
  • Do you do this particular type of work? How long?
  • Do you charge for an estimate?
  • Do you use sub-contractors?  Are they licensed?
  • Can you supply references from previous customers?
  • Can you supply references from your suppliers?
  • Who will be on-site?  How do I contact you if you are not on-site?
  • What guarantees can you give me?  On labor? On materials?  Be sure to get warranties  in writing.
  • Does your price include clean up and debris removal after the work is done?
  • How do you handle contract disputes?

Get it in writing!  Maryland's Home Improvement Law requires that all contracts for home improvement work be in writing and signed by both the consumer and the business before work begins or any money is paid.

Contracts must:

  • be in writing and legible;
  • describe clearly each document that it includes; and
  • be signed by both the contractor and consumer.

Above all else, never hire an unlicensed  home improvement contractor.  In Maryland, it is illegal to act as a home improvement contractor, subcontractor or salesperson without a valid license.  Licenses are issued by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC).  To verify a license, call MHIC at 410.230.6309 or check online at  Public Search .

A contract must contain the following terms:

  • the  name, address, telephone number, and  license number of the contractor and each salesperson who solicited/sold the contract;
  • approximate  dates when the work will begin and when it will be substantially completed;
  • description of the work to be completed (be as specific as possible);
  • a list of the  materials to be used (include make and type if appropriate);
  • the total  contract price to be paid;
  • payment terms (including any finance charge);
  • a description of any  collateral securing this obligation; and
  • notice providing MHIC's telephone number and web page stating that each contractor and subcontractor must be licensed and a notice set by the Commission that:
    • specifies the protections available to consumers through the Commission; and
    • advises the consumer of the right to purchase a performance bond for additional protection against loss.

Maryland's Home Improvement Law also states the initial down payment or deposit can  not be more than 1/3 of the total price for the work to be done. YOU CAN NEGOTIATE A LOWER DOWN PAYMENT.

You can also work out a plan to make future payments at intervals as the work moves ahead, with the amount of each payment to be based on how much progress has been made on your job.  You should not make the final payment until the work is completed and you have checked it carefully to be sure you are satisfied.

Know your rights!  As a consumer, you have many rights when negotiating a contract.  Always get a written contract, and make sure you understand all of the terms.  If you are unsure, ask for an explanation.  Below are some rights that you should know before entering into an agreement:

  • Alternative Financing  You have the right to arrange your own financing.  Be wary of contractors who offer to arrange financing for you.  Oftentimes, your bank or credit union may offer better terms.
  • Cancellation Rights  When you sign a home improvement contract in your home and in the presence of the seller you have the right to change your mind and cancel the contract.  You have 5 business days, or 7 business days if you are over the age of 65, to cancel the contract without any penalty or obligation. The seller must tell you about your cancellation rights orally and in writing and provide the forms to use to cancel the contract. If you must cancel a contract be sure to follow the contract requirements.  The seller must tell you about your cancellation rights orally and  in writing and provide the forms to use to cancel the contract.
    • We recommend that you not sign a contract until you are certain of your decision.  Waiting to be certain of your selection will save you from problems.  If you must cancel a contract be sure to follow the contract requirements.
  • Mandatory Arbitration  Many contracts now contain mandatory arbitration requirements.  You have the right to request a contract without mandatory arbitration.  However, you may have to find another contractor if the contractor refuses.
  • Materials  You have the right to keep any materials that you purchased or for which you paid.  You can ask the contractor if they will give you a credit if you return them.

What to do if there are problems  If there are problems, such as the contractor disappearing or the work being unfinished, attempt to work it out with the contractor. If you are unable to resolve the problem, contact the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection.  

  • You can speak with our Investigator-on-Duty on Monday through Friday, from 8.00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. by calling 240.777.3636 or
  • You can send us your questions or concerns by email to [email protected].
  • If you would like to file a complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection, view our  Filing Consumer Complaints webpage.