The attorney general's office, for example, has received only three complaints against Green Builders since 2010, two of them in the last month. The BBB gives Green Builders an A+, noting that the company has had only one complaint in the past three years and no government action against it.

BBB spokeswoman Jody Thomas says the ratings are based on customers' experience and complaints. She adds that the BBB will follow up on Green Builders' bankruptcy.

Get at least a few bids from builders or contractors. (That may not be possible if you're erecting a home on the builder's land.)

Beware of the low-ball bid, which could be a way to win your business but impossible for the company to meet.

"Make sure the details of the contract are clearly spelled out and you are getting what you want to have done," says Jeston Hamer Jr., director of the state's home builders registration unit.

Try to resolve disputes directly with the builder or contractor. Some businesses require you to settle problems through arbitration.

You may be entitled to make a claim with one of the state-run guaranty funds when things go awry — although the process isn't quick.

Consumers can recover up to $50,000 from the homebuilder fund, although it won't pay out more than $300,000 per builder. The home-improvement fund will reimburse consumers up to $20,000, with no more than $100,000 paid out for a single contractor. Builders and contractors are required to replenish the funds.

If many claims have been filed, it's possible that consumers will get less than the maximum amount — and, in a worst-case scenario, nothing at all.

Of course, you can take precautions and still run into trouble with a contractor or builder.

Venditto, the Westminster homeowner, says he talked to former Green Builders' customers and that their complaints were minor. He adds that the builder offered an exceptionally low price — which should have been a red flag.

Would he do anything differently?

"I would have bought a house that's already built," he says, half-jokingly. "In all seriousness, I didn't know that it was going to be like this."

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

  • Text BUSINESS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun Business text alerts