You hear horror stories about people hiring contractors and they either do a sub-par job, steal all of their belongings, or break things in the house and don't have liability insurance to cover the cost (thanks to the interwebs, there are myriad sites dedicated to these torrid tales). Don't get caught in the same situation. Here are some tips to help you get a quality contractor who does quality work.
DO ask for a contractor's license number and check it against the Contractor's State License Board website (www.cslb.ca.gov) to make sure they are a contractor in good standing without any complaints against them.
DON'T choose a contractor based on looks. Two words: Ted Bundy. Enough said.
DO check with the Better Business Bureau in your city (sandiego.bbb.org) to make sure the company you're looking at is in good standing with the city.
DON'T go with the cheapest contractor. Oftentimes they will bid low and skimp on materials or craftsmanship to meet that bid. If they can't, they will often line-item everything, including the toilet paper they bring to the job.
DO ask for references or check review sites like Yelp (www.yelp.com) or Angie's List (www.angieslist.com). Word of mouth is one of the best sellers. Most companies that do quality work don't need to advertise much, because they get most of their business through referrals.
DON'T change job specs halfway through the job. Make sure you have solid plans before you hire a contractor, and make sure to discuss any changes you want to make up front. Changing late in the game draws out the timeline and drives up cost.
DO get a quote and timelines to make sure they fall in line with the scope and budget of the project. Make sure to specify which types of materials you want on your project in the contract, so lesser materials can't be substituted in an attempt to lower the cost of the project.
DON'T be pressured into using a contractor. If they insist on an immediate yes or no for a quote, run for the hills. A quality contractor will honor a deal, even if it takes you a week to think things over. Hiring a contractor is like hiring a ghostwriter for your memoirs: make sure they can tell your story how you want it.