Nikki Leonardi remodeled her kitchen to give it a big, open feel leading into her dining and living rooms.

"There actually used to be a solid wall over on this side," she said while pointing and describing the old kitchen.

She was so happy with the kitchen and several other past projects that she’s now redoing her guest bathroom, with the same contractor.

"There was a strong connection. We communicated and we kind of moved forward. Eight years later we still use him," Leonardi said.

Find a Licensed Contractor

Mike Bell is Leonardi's contractor. His company, M.W. Bell & Son, Inc., is a Better Business Bureau accredited business, which means it's gone through extra scrutiny with the BBB.

Bell is a licensed contractor and says that's one of the most important things homeowners should look for to help protect themselves.

"You'll have guys who will walk away from jobs," Bell said. "If we do something wrong, we're governed by the state. You'll call the state. They call us."

Do Your Research

Avoiding problems later always takes a little work up front:

• It's a good idea to get three bids in writing for any job.
• Make sure they're itemized estimates, so they're easy to compare.
• Find out how long the project will take.
• If any changes are made, you should both agree to them in writing.

Also, read online reviews and get recent references.

"The old saying is we're only as good as our last job. So go to the last job the contractor did," Bell said. "Ask how the quality was, did they do what they said, was it in budget?"

The Better Business Bureau gets plenty of complaints about contractors—some of the most common:

• Delays in completing the job
• Changes in price
• Taking a deposit, then not coming back to finish the job

For more tips on choosing a contractor from the BBBs Bryan Oglesby, click here.

Deposits and Payment

Another important tip: Don’t pay a large, lump sum for the job up front. Split it up into several payments—generally, one at the beginning of the project, one in the middle, and one at the end, when the job is complete.

Before you provide the last payment, make sure your contractor gives you releases of liens from his subcontractors and suppliers and a Contractor's Affidavit. This assures that everyone involved with this job was paid and you won't be held responsible if they were not.

It's also a good idea to pay by credit card or check for added protection.

Paying by credit card gives you some recourse if the job is not completed as outlined in the contract. If you pay by check, make it out to the name of the business; be cautious if asked to make the check out to an individual especially when dealing with a company.

Unexpected Problems

When you're doing a remodeling project, it's not uncommon for unexpected problems to crop up. Find out in advance how your contractor will deal with it if a problem develops that was not anticipated.

"When you're remodeling, there are a lot of things behind the walls that you just don't know," Leonardi said.

Her bathroom project hit a snag when they discovered the floor joists were rotting and needed to be replaced. Bell explained to her what they found, and they worked together to come up with a new design to fit within her budget.

"You try to resolve it, and do it in the most efficient way you possibly can. And be honest!" Bell said.

It's great when a job goes well, but as a consumer you have to plan for the possibility that things won't go well. If you do your homework, in advance, you'll decrease the likelihood of any problems. And if something does go wrong, you'll be better prepared to deal with it and hold the contractor accountable.