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So you’ve come to grips with the fact that your upcoming kitchen or bath overhaul is beyond your scope and needs a professional touch. But the thought of hiring a contractor brings to mind the numerous horror stories of friends and neighbors whose remodeling dreams turned into nightmares. Some had projects that took three times longer than promised, others were overcharged, and worst of all, many had such shoddy workmanship that they still have lingering problems. There are no guarantees, but here are a few tips toward finding a legit contractor.

Ask around. Get recommendations, and warnings, from friends and relatives who’ve had remodeling work done.

Find a kitchen and bath expert. Not all contractors are proficient in all types of projects. Many specialize, and you need someone who can prove they’ve done the kind of work you’re looking for.

Research credentials. Check licensing, certifications, and bonding. Confirm that no unlicensed sub-contractors will be doing the real work.

Check customer references. Ask for a list of some previous customers and contact them for a personal endorsement.

Get professional references. Make sure suppliers, banks, and the BBB can verify their sound financial standing.

Get three estimates. Don’t overdo the search. Interview several contractors over the phone or in person, but then pick only three to give a quote.

The lowest bid isn’t necessarily the best. We all want to save money, but an unusually low quote may signal someone with a poor reputation who is desperate for work. Highly skilled workers are often worth their higher fee.

Be patient. Good contractors are in high demand. If they’re busy, it’s a good sign. Your project may not start as soon as you wanted, but it’ll probably get done right.

Get it ALL in writing. Make sure materials, services, and deadlines are itemized so the job is done on time and without unauthorized changes.

Get the permits. Any contractor suggesting that they skip this step should make you wary of their integrity.

Don’t pay more than 10% upfront. A payment schedule is common with legitimate contractors. Don’t trust one who demands a large advance.

Plan ahead. Go in with a specific idea of what you want done so you are not coerced into a project that grows far beyond your needs and budget.

Be comfortable. Go with your gut. You need to be able to communicate easily with your contractor. Choose the one whose confidence and professionalism is readily apparent.