For folks reading this thread (I think Thurman knows this already, and I'm in no way directing this at him):
Hiring a contractor isn't difficult. The task of weeding through the slugs out there, apparently, is.
The way to hire, sorted by increasing levels of risk:
1. Talk to your neighbor/someone at church/family/miscellaneous community group that has recently had this work done, ask if they would recommend someone, and call and talk to them (you should end up with 2-3 candidates). Get copies of their registration/license and proof of liability and workers comp insurance. Check references. Have a written contract. Call the town and see if a permit is required for your project, and have the contractor submit the permit.
2. Look up in the yellow pages. Call a bunch, talk to them, get references, and narrow it down to 2-3 outfits. Get copies of their registration/license and proof of liability and workers comp insurance. Have a written contract. Call the town and see if a permit is required for your project, and have the contractor submit the permit.
3. If you're really feeling salty, post an ad on Craigslist. Call 4-5 outfits and talk to them. Get copies of their registration/license and proof of liability and workers comp insurance. Check references. Have a written contract. Nail down anything that can be stolen. Buy the material yourself. Call the town and see if a permit is required for your project, and have the contractor submit the permit.
4. If you've hit your head recently, you might try to go down and pick up some day laborers. I'm not even going there, because some people might mis-read this and think I'm actually recommending this as a fourth option. I'm not.
Here's why you have to do the different steps:
a. Asking for recommendations cuts down your legwork.
b. Calling and speaking to a bunch of outfits and talking to them will weed out the people who don't return calls, are hard to get a hold of, are disorganized, etc.
c. Getting copies of their registration/license will arm you with info that you can use to go online and check their status at a state website to see if they're in trouble, or their license has been revoked.
d. Getting proof of liability insurance protects you if they back into your house, or burn it down, etc.
e. Getting proof of workers comp insurance protects you if they get hurt on your property. If they have workers comp insurance, it's less likely that you'd be sued if they cut themselves, fell off your roof, etc.
f. Checking references is just plain smart. Be wary of stunt-clients, though: less scrupulous contractors might give you fictitious clients (friends of theirs).
g. Having a written contract protects you in court. Having the contractor mail you back a copy of the contract is even better. Then if they swindle you, you can nail them for mail fraud as well, which is a federal offense.
h. Calling the town and seeing if a permit is required for your project - and then following the process - protects the value and safety of your property.
i. Having the contractor submit the permit puts the contractor in front of the building department, where they will be further scrutinized for licensing issues and code compliance.
A little about Craigslist: it isn't perfect. While there are honest folks there, sometimes it definitely resembles a cesspool of crooks. But if you do your homework, it might work out. I would caution everyone in how to post an ad: the lower the road you take in your wording ("do it for this, or don't call me", etc), the poorer the results will be. There is a way to write a great ad that will deliver a positive outcome.
In a nut shell, if you don't have a copy of their registration, a copy of their liability insurance, a copy of their workers comp insurance, a written contract, references that you have checked yourself, and positive results from a search of your state's division of community affairs website, and the job goes bad, then in all likelihood you'll have to look no further than the nearest mirror for where it all went wrong.