How to find good home-improvement contractors

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Q: I have read many times that when hiring professionals to work on one's home that three bids, with references, are preferred. Unfortunately, I have a problem with that method. While it sounds prudent, I live in a place (Vallejo, Calif.) where I can't get a single pro to come out to my house, let alone three of them. I have been stood up many times and have been disappointed with the few that have come out. It seems that people wish to work on new home developments. Most of my neighbors are do-it-yourselfers, but I am not so confident, nor do I have the time. Any suggestions on finding qualified people in an apparently undesirable location? I feel helpless and ripped off. A: We must confess that we're among those who suggest that, when hiring a professional contractor to work on your home, it is prudent to get at least three bids, get references and review some of the work they've done before hiring. Also, depending on the size of the job, make sure the contractor you hire is licensed...