Both carpenters and contractors know the nuts and bolts, but they perform very different tasks. A good carpenter can help in countless ways, from building a bookcase to raising a house frame, but don't confuse a carpenter with a general contractor.
A general contractor finds and supervises subcontractors, builds your house to meet code, and makes or breaks your timeline and budget. In short, this is one powerful individual. So how do you find the right one? No specific regulations govern the licensing and business practices of general contractors, so you'll have to rely on word of mouth. Talk to friends who have recently built, or ask experienced builders and architects for recommendations. Once you have some contenders, follow these rules to ensure a good working relationship.
Always check for insurance. According to U.S. News & World Report, a contractor needs at least $1 million in general liability insurance. Accidents that happen on the job (both to workers and to the surrounding property) can end up costing you if the contractor isn't properly insured.
Get at least three bids and three references. Ask for references from contractors' most recent clients, as well as photos of completed jobs. Check to make sure the lowest bid includes all of the work you have discussed.
Have a written contract. Include start date, date of completion, all of the contractor's responsibilities, and any other stipulations, such as asking him to work only on your job until it's complete. Sample contracts can be found at the Associated General Contractors of America's Web site, agc.org.
Never pay in cash. Agree on a payment schedule in the contract, and resist paying more than 10 percent down. Do not make a final payment until you are completely satisfied. If a contractor doesn't agree to this, you may need to work with another professional.