Recently, we offered some suggestions to a reader in Vallejo, Calif., who could only be described as discouraged.

She was searching for a contractor to do some work at her home and was unable to get anyone to even look at work she needed done, much less do it. We offered our suggestions and at the end of the column asked readers to weigh in with their suggestions.

Be careful what you ask for — you just might get it. We received dozens of well-thought-out e-mails — some with suggestions we overlooked and some from contractors with observations about the state of the industry.

Today, we’ll offer our readers’ suggestions. In a future column, we’ll relay the reasons why it’s so tough to find good people to work on your house.

One contractor generally agreed with our assessment of the situation but took issue with the idea of contacting local real estate agents for leads. He recommended contacting the Better Business Bureau. He wrote:

“As a contractor, I am pleased to read an article that displays the state of contracting accurately. There is too much work and too few people to do the work, and, yes, the aging population, with some money, has stressed many services, and contracting is certainly one.

“I would have to differ with you on one word of advice you offer, and say that contacting a real estate agent for a referral may be stale. Like many contractors, I depended on real estate agents’ referrals when I started out. But I found nothing but real estate agents who were solely cost-driven and didn’t care if a contractor is licensed, bonded or insured.

“Don’t forget the BBB, one of our great resources for the consumer, and, yes, they do give referrals, and they only refer licensed, bonded and insured businesses.”

Another contractor echoed the sentiment about referrals from real estate agents and offered other sources: lumberyards and hardware stores.

“As a contractor, I get calls from relatives and friends who are out of the area or out of state asking about how to find a contractor. I usually tell them to ask at the local lumberyard or hardware store — not the big home-store types. If they need a plumber, ask at the fixture showroom. These folks usually take the request pretty seriously and refer good, reliable people, like the contractors who do a lot of business with them and/or pay the bills on time.

“I find that the local real estate agents usually hire the cheapest-fix kind of guys and are not looking for quality or reliability.”

We think this is good advice. Ask where the pros shop and you’ll have a better chance of getting a solid referral.

A number of readers suggested culling the Yellow Pages or the Internet for handymen if the job is small. One reader writes: “I also used to have that problem. But my friend referred me to, and it works well for small jobs. I found people for door hanging and tile fixing easily there.”

In the same vein, a recent transplant from Dallas writes: “Although I’ve just relocated, I had quite a bit of success in Dallas using the ‘Handyman’ listings in the Yellow Pages and the smaller, local papers (usually with fairly ‘cute’ names: ‘Rent-a-Handyman,’ ‘Your Honeydew Partner’; you get the gist).

“Start with a small project, such as replacing doorknobs or hanging curtain rods. If the person who was sent was good, ask for him again. I did check the Yellow Pages where I am currently living (in Fremont), and they had a category for ‘Handyman.’ “

A San Francisco reader echoes this suggestion: “I can sympathize with today’s letter writer. I have contractor friends who are too busy to work for me! When one of these guys had to bail on a recent project at my house, I had excellent luck in finding Mr. Handyman in San Francisco. They really came through for me in a pinch, and did a fantastic job. They showed up on time and came in under the estimate.”

An Oakland, Calif., reader offered two other suggestions: other tradesmen and homeowners associations. She writes: “Whether you are sourcing vendors, employees or products, the refrain is the same: The best source of anything is referrals — from neighbors, friends, agents, employees, bosses and other people with whom you do business.

“Even if you are not currently doing business with a vendor, but know and respect their work, it would be worth the effort to ask them for a referral.

“The homeowners association in my 1960s Oakland Hills development maintains a Web site where neighbors can ask neighbors for referrals and post referrals.”

Finally a contractor offered this suggestion: “Great article about finding a good professional contractor. We hope we’re one of the ‘good’ ones. However, I would recommend that when homeowners find a good contractor in a certain trade that they ask that person for a referral to another trade.

“We work with high-quality tradespeople and often get requests from our clients for other trades. When you find a capable contractor, no matter what the trade, chances are he/she will know other capable contractors.”

Thanks to all who took the time to respond. We’re confident that these suggestions, along with the ones we offered, will bear fruit. Of course, finding good contractors is one thing. Finding good contractors with time to do your job may be a different thing altogether.


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