Unless you're a world-class do-it-yourselfer, you'll probably need to hire a contractor at some point to handle your major home improvements. The first step is to ask friends and neighbors for recommendations of contractors who have done work for them. Once you've gotten a list of names, do a little research on each one. Contractors should have a physical address, rather then just a post office box, in case you need to get in touch with them. Statistically, most contractors go out of business within three years, so look for one who's been around a while. You don't want one to go bankrupt halfway through your job. Check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints that may have been registered. Any legitimate contractor will provide you with a list of satisfied customers whom you can talk to. Contact at least three contractors for bids. Provide them with detailed written specifications of the work you want done and the quality of workmanship you expect, then allow them about three weeks to submit their bids. Read each bid closely, and be skeptical of any that are exceptionally higher or lower than the others. Ask these contractors the reasons for the difference; they may know something you haven't considered. Before you officially accept a bid, check with the contractor's bank to determine solvency. You also need to know if the contractor is insured. Property damage, liability, and worker's compensation are the minimum insurance needs. Make sure the final contract contains a detailed description of the work, the price to be paid, dates for the beginning and end of the project, a certificate of insurance, warranty, an arbitration clause to settle disputes, and a section releasing you from any liens (leans) that may be filed against the contractor.