You have saved for years preparing for your home remodeling project. You have done your homework to find the right design features and have spent hours looking for just the right kitchen cabinets and appliances, the most beautiful moldings, windows and doors, or just the right paint color and window treatments. The only thing left is to find the right contractor, handyman, or craftsman to execute the work.

It is our nature to be cost conscious. However, sometimes the cheapest price doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest price for the same product. There is an old saying – you get what you pay for.

It may be your tendency to hire the contractor that costs the least amount of money, but you have to wonder why they are cheaper. You may have interviewed one, two or three contractors, each offering a different price for what you think is the same work, so why not choose the one that is least expensive? It is important that you read each line item of each proposal to identify what may be missing, as the least expensive one may be missing some important aspects of your project.

If you are comparing licensed and insured contractors to similar licensed and insured contractors, and you have thoroughly checked all of the businesses in the running, it may be okay to choose the contractor that is less costly. However, if you are comparing estimates between unlicensed, uninsured contractors and licensed, insured contractors, you must beware. The money saved by hiring an unlicensed contractor may cost you double by the end of your project, or more.

That decision to hire an unlicensed and uninsured contractor can be the most catastrophic one you make. An unlicensed contractor is one that is not registered with the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA); which is a requirement for ANY home improvement contracting company that provides work in a residential home for a fee of $200 or more.

A contractor that is licensed by the DCA has produced proof of General Liability and Worker’s Compensation insurance, has successfully completed the agency’s licensing test, has agreed to uphold consumer contract and advertising requirements enforced by the City (to protect consumers), and has a valid business address.

One of the biggest benefits of using a DCA licensed contractor is that homeowners are protected by the agencies Trust Fund which provides up to $25,000 in relief to a consumer that may have paid for, but not received, the goods and services they were promised, or to make retribution for any damages that resulted from the actions of their contractor.

A contractor should be able to provide you with a valid Home Improvement Contractors License, which should be checked with the DCA prior to being considered.  The DCA can be reached by calling 311, or you may visit their website at

The risks of hiring an unlicensed contractor run deep. Utilizing an unlicensed contractor can leave you and your family exposed to fraud, inadequate workmanship and potential harm. An unlicensed contractor is not required to have General Liability or Workers Compensation insurance, since no one is vetting their business for a license. This can leave you liable for any damages to your home made by the contractor or their employees. Furthermore, an employee that gets hurt in your home becomes your liability, which may affect your insurance premiums in the future.

An unlicensed contractor cannot file your project with the appropriate City agencies, if required, as they are not registered to pull permits with the NYC Department of Buildings. This may be one of the reasons for the cost savings, but one that could plague you in the years to come and potentially halt your project, or the sale of your home.  Renovations that include adding a kitchen or bathroom in the basement, or the addition of a deck, or sunroom must be filed.  Failure to do so can lead to costly penalties and fines that you and your contractor will be responsible to pay.

There is a reason why a contractor is not licensed.  Whether it be they are doing it “on the side”, they lost their license in the past or they cannot have a business in their name – none of which are good reasons. Hiring an unlicensed contractor that is not qualified to do the type of work included in your project, or that cannot provide sufficient or qualified labor to complete the work, can be financially crippling. The excitement of remodeling your home, can quickly turn into heartache and sorrow.

Finding the right licensed and insured contractor is pivotal for the success of your home remodeling project. Working with a contractor that you are comfortable with, who communicates well, provides you with a comprehensive proposal and contract, a sensible payment schedule, and who has great references, are key components in making your home remodeling project worth every penny spent.

Lana Seidman, Executive Director – HIC of Staten Island Inc.

(718) 356-2323