How to choose a contractor

Start by asking friends and family for recommendations. Then, check in with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for a list of members in your area. Once you've assembled a list, make a call to each of your prospects and arrange a meeting to give each contractor the opportunity to discuss the project. Check the contractor's license status at the Maryland State Department of Labor and Licensing. The Better Business Bureau will give you more insight into the contractor's business practices. Ask the contractor for references and contact them.

Now that you've narrowed your list, it's time to start looking forward to your project. A conscientious contractor will work with you to make the project a successful and smooth process. Let your contractor know your 'must-haves', 'would-be-nice', and 'absolutely no' before they write a proposal. Compare bids - but be sure you are comparing apples to apples! (We can help you understand differences between bids and will give you honest feedback.) It's crucial that you and the contractor communicate well - this person will be in your home a lot! All things being equal, it will be better for you to work with someone you're comfortable having in your home.

You will have a signed contract before work starts. A good contract details every step of the project: a clear scope of work; materials and products to be used; payment schedule; proof of licensure and insurance; a start date and projected completion date; and how change orders are handled, among other items. Insisting on a clear contract ensures a successful renovation.

Adapted from This Old House