If a contractor has a state issued contractors license he would also be bonded up to $12,500 in case the contractor does not or cannot finish the work to your satisfaction. So ask to look at his license. If he is a legitimate contractor he will be willing to show it to you. Be sure that the name on the license corresponds to the person you are speaking to. Sometimes “contractors” will try to obtain work by using someone else’s license. If in doubt, ask for a photo I.D.
The next thing you need to do is ask for references. Tell a prospective contractor you want not only a currant reference but a past one perhaps a client he had 1 to 2 years ago. You can do a little snooping on your own by contacting your local Better Business Bureau. They can tell you if any complaints are on file. Also a past reference can help you decide whether or not a contractor is not only reliable but is the sort of person you can trust in the event it is necessary to enter your home. You can’t be too careful!
Now comes the most difficult part; the contract. Discuss in great detail the end result you desire. Discuss with your contractor the grade of material available and the difference in cost from the best to the worst. I have always been the middle of the road person, myself. If you feel more comfortable having an architect or home planner present your ideas to a contractor of his/her choice then by all means do so. Don’t accept any “deals”. The old adage of “if it’s too good to be true” aptly applies to remodeling. A home improvement contract is usually long and detailed. Be very leery of a one page contract.
In my opinion it is never a good practice to prepay any portion of the contract before work begins. (By law a contractor can ask for 10% of the contract amount or $1,000, whichever is less.) Only too often the “contractor” that asks for a “material payment” up front is never seen again. Beware!
Finally remember that your contractor is not your pal or friend. Both parties have to keep it professional. If you expect a professional job you will have to communicate with your contractor in a professional manner. Remember to have everything in writing to the smallest detail. Discuss financial details before hand and again, put it in writing.