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Just about every home owner has had some experience with hiring contractors for repairs or remodeling . . . and almost everyone has a tale to tell of something that went wrong. ConsumerProdigy.com finds that many of those complaints can be forestalled by carefully choosing the right contractor for a big job or a competent and reliable specialist or handyman for a smaller one. But how do you find a good contractor?

  • First of all, make sure you have a clear idea of what work you want done. Outline the job in writing, and, if you want specific materials used or certain fixtures or appliances installed, describe those.
  • Generally avoid businesses that solicit door-to-door for home improvement jobs. Although some of these businesses are reputable, this type of approach is standard practice for home remodeling scams, particularly those preying on elderly people. Unless you need an emergency repair, it's also usually not a good idea to select a business at random from the yellow pages listings.
  • Check with neighbors, friends, and relatives who have recently undertaken or completed a home improvement project similar to yours. Be sure to ask if they were satisfied with the work, the price, and the time frame for completion of the work.
  • Ask local suppliers of home improvement materials, appliances, or fixtures if they have recommendations for contractors or workmen; for instance, if you will be contracting for electrical work, ask your lighting fixture store for recommendations.
  • If you have had related work done by a reliable business, for instance, plastering or drywalling, and you need interior painting done, ask the firm you used to refer you to painters they recommend. Craftsmen in a related area who take pride in their work usually won't steer you to a lemon.
  • Once you have the names of several possibilities, your work in checking out these people or businesses is just starting. Call your local Better Business Bureau to find out if there are any complaints against the firms. Then check to be sure the contractors and craftsmen you're considering are licensed in your state (over 30 states require licenses) by calling the licensing board or commission, usually located in the state capital. While licensing is no assurance of competence or reliability, it does establish a base level, and dealing with a licensed contractor may give you greater clout if problems occur.