Choosing a reliable, quality-conscious, home improvement contractor is the most important part of any project. Proper planning, doing the necessary research, and having lots of patience will help to ensure your dream project will not become a living nightmare. Once you have narrowed down the list of contractors (3 or 4) you want to consider for your project, it's time to start getting to know them better...much better! Plan a pre-construction meeting at the project site with each contractor individually and ask lots of questions.

Here is a sampling of some questions to ask the contractors you are considering. These will help get you started:

How will you approach a project like mine? This will give you an idea of how the contractor works and what to expect during the project. Listen carefully to the answer. The contractor's work ethic and other traits can be uncovered listening to the answer.

Have you completed many projects like mine? This will help you determine the contractor's familiarity with projects like yours.

Will I need a permit to do my project? Your contractor should know the answer to this question and be the one getting the permit.

How long have you been in this business? Seek out a local company or craftsman with experience in your community. A minimum of 5 years experience as a business owner is acceptable if everything else checks out.

Do you have employees or do you hire subcontractors? Or both? Who will be overseeing the project? It is good to know what parts of your project will be handled by whom.

Who do I speak with if I have a question or concern? Get exact names and contact phone numbers for all persons who will be involved with your project. It is best to speak with the owner if at all possible.

Are you properly equipped and qualified to do a project like mine? You may be able to hire a handyman to do your project if it is small enough and does not require special training or licensing. If your project requires multiple trades it may be wise to consider a full service company.

What kind of insurances does your company carry? Ask for copies of the insurance certificates to verify coverage. If they employ workers they will need workers' comp coverage along with general liability. Get the name of their insurer and contact them yourself to verify the coverage is intact.

Are you licensed to do my project? If your state does have contractor licensing laws ask for a copy of the contractor's license, then confirm the license number and expiration date with your local jurisdiction. Plumbers, electricians and those who work with hazardous materials are the only trades in Maine that need a license to operate.

Do you do a substantial amount of repeat and referral business? This will give you a good idea about the company's customer satisfaction.

May I have a list of your recent references? The contractor should be able to supply you with a minimum of three references, including names, phone numbers and addresses. CALL THEM! Ask lots of questions. DIG DEEP...and try to see if they might even let you come see their finished project. People who are satisfied with their contractor and proud of their project results like to show them off.

Yes...there are a lot of questions-and others will arise the more you speak with the contractors. Of the many questions you can ask during an interview, the most important question is one you must ask yourself: "Do I feel comfortable with and trust the person I am about to hire?"

Your answer to that question should help make the hiring decision a little easier. Also, remember that reliable, quality-driven contractors are busy for a reason...they are good at what they do and they are worth waiting PLAN and be PATIENT!