When the home-improvement business was going gangbusters, anyone with a pickup truck and a metal clipboard could call himself a general contractor. He didn't need experience, skill, or good working relationships with subcontractors to find business. Times are tougher, and it's the marginal guys who have gone under. "The contractors who are still standing are more likely to be those who have been around longer, who are more professional, who produce more accurate bids, and who are better at customer relations," says Harvard's Kermit Baker. Of course, you still need to do your due diligence and check references so you don't wind up being a failing contractor's unfortunate last client. Also, be wary of new-home builders trying to drum up renovation business; they may not have experience with older houses or working directly with homeowners.