Ask anyone about their recent renovation project and chances are that you'll listen to them complain for at least a good hour. This is because contractors usually don't have the best of reputations. They are known for extending projects far past the estimated end date, are always "finding unforeseen issues," and charging more than they quoted you for. However, realize that not every contractor is like this. And, realize that when they do tell you there were unforeseen issues, that they may not actually be lying to you. Homes are not perfect, and just about every one of them has things that need to be fixed. Nonetheless, you still should be sure that you pick a good contractor. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking:
Make sure that there are no complaints filed online with the BBB (Better Business Bureau). If there are, you probably want to choose someone different. Anytime a contractor tells you that they need half of the project money upfront, you should be wary. No honest contractor is going to ask you for that much money upfront before they even begin a job.
That being said, never ever pay above 25% of the whole job upfront. This is enough money to show him that you can afford to pay him, but not enough to where he'll slack since he's already been paid for most of the work.
You have to include all the details in the contract. If you don't, and something goes wrong, you have no one to blame but yourself. Verbal agreements usually don't hold up very well in the court of law. Everything must be in writing. And be sure that the both of you sign the contract.
If the project you are embarking on requires a legal permit, its important that you get one. You can get in a lot of trouble if you don't. Also, any contractor that tells you you don't need a permit when you really do, is a contractor that you should fire right away. This speaks volumes about his ethical standards.
Lastly, go with your gut. After meeting with the contractor, you really should be able to easily get a good feel of who he is as a person, and if he is honest. Always trust your intuition. On the other hand, search him online to make sure that there are no complaints. People love to complain online, so if anyone's every had a problem with him, you'll be able to find out what happened right from your computer on the Internet. For further reading, see: How to Spot a Home-Contractor Scam, and, Contractor & Adjustor Scams.