These are tough times in which to hunt for a good contractor to repair or spiff up your home. Mortgage rates are still low (check for yourself in our Rate Center, and get mortgage tips in our Home Center), so homes are still being bought at a good clip. And new homeowners, along with existing homeowners, frequently need or want work done on their abodes.

If you look in the Yellow Pages for a contractor, you might regret it (though you could be lucky, of course). Good contractors generally don't need to advertise -- their services are usually in great demand, and they're often overextended. A better way to go about it is to ask around and collect names of recommended contractors. After that, here are a few more tips:

  • Check them out. See whether they have any marks against them with the Better Business Bureau, and check your local courthouse, too, to see whether they've been involved in any lawsuits.

  • Check their references and go look at those jobs they've done. Get some older references, too, so you can see and learn how well their work held up over time.

  • Check their licenses and insurance, too. Make sure nothing has expired.

  • Get several estimates for your job, and ask that they be detailed and itemized, so that you can compare them easily. You shouldn't necessarily go with the lowest bid, but the range of prices you get will help you decide.

  • Get your contract in writing, and keep records of everything, in case something goes wrong.

Learn more about dealing with contractors in our Building/Maintaining a Home discussion board, where many Fools share their experiences. Also, check out our Home Center, which features tips on buying or refinancing a home, and special mortgage rates, too.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.