Because of the expense of moving and of new housing, many homeowners have decided it is cheaper and easier to fix up than to move up. But finding the right contractor to do the job can be difficult.
Ideally, it's wise to obtain three competitive bids on a project. Comparing three bids will give you an idea of costs, expose you to three opinions and three sets of ideas and give you a chance to decide whom you would like to work with.
If you have worked with a particular contractor before and are confident of that person's abilities and prices, then one bid may be sufficient. Otherwise, the trouble with only one bid is that you have just one figure for the work, with no idea whether it is too high.
On the other hand, obtaining four or more bids will often confuse you, consume an enormous amount of time and be no more beneficial than three.
Paul Bianchina, author of "How to Hire the Right Contractor" (Consumer Reports Books), offers some suggestions for finding a good contractor to bid for the work in your home.
* Word-of-mouth referral.
The best way to obtain recommendations is to talk with someone you know and trust who has used a contractor in the past with good results. Ask your relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors.
If you know no one who has used a contractor recently, your next option is to ask strangers. If you see work occurring at a house in your neighborhood, stop and introduce yourself to the owners. Explain that you are thinking of having work done and ask whether they are satisfied with their contractor.
* Ask other contractors.
If you have used a contractor in the past who is not bidding on your present job -- because he or she is too busy, retired or does not do that type of work -- ask for recommendations. Even if it is just a plumber who fixed your toilet or an electrician who rewired your kitchen, these people are in touch with contractors all the time. They know who is honest and competent and who is not.
* Ask material suppliers.
Another good source of names can be people who supply materials to contractors. If you are looking for a general 'u contractor, stop by a couple of lumberyards and ask for recommendations. If you need a specialty contractor, like a plumber, look in the yellow pages for listings of companies that supply plumbing parts, especially at the wholesale level.
* Ask your real estate agent.
If you have just bought a building, lot or a house from a real estate agent, ask him or her for recommendations. Realty agents deal with contractors, or at least know of others who deal with them; they should be able to give you a name or two.
* Ask your insurance agent.
Insurance agents are a good source of names because they work with different contractors on insurance-related jobs. In addition, they often have contractors insured through their office whom they know personally.
* Check the local builders associations.
Most areas will have trade associations that contractors can join for an annual fee. The association sets contractor standards and policies for its own industry. Although these associations will not recommend a contractor, they do maintain lists of members. These lists are free.