Contractor performance on seven of those jobs ranged from satisfactory to superb. The other one was a nightmare.

That was the first job, a combined kitchen remake and bathroom addition in our first home back in the early 1980s. Not enough room here for all the details, but suffice to say that a job begun in September that was supposed to have been finished in time for us to host our family's Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations did not get completed until the following spring. My family spent half a year washing dishes in the bathtub and spitting out plaster dust - although we did get long respites from the latter when the work crew failed to show up for weeks at a time.

Subsequent major projects included replacing a behemoth boiler dating from the early 20th century, a kitchen remodel in our next home, a family room renovation, landscaping, new plumbing, a vinyl siding/window replacement project, and most recently, we hired a firm to build bookshelves and a work station in a new condo we moved into last year.

Disruptions

All renovation is disruptive to occupants, but these other big projects were a lot easier to take than our original encounter with home remodeling. It's not that glitches never arose, but when they did, the contractors took care of the problems to our satisfaction. All of them finished the work in about the time they said they would and performed admirably not only in workmanship, but in the equally important area of customer care.

The only intolerable experience turned out to be the job for which we sought competitive bids. We certainly got our money's worth from those low-bidding buzzards.

Every contractor we've hired since then for routine home repairs or major renovations have been from companies we knew or were recommended to us by close friends. We endured some sticker shock along the way, and at times had to scale back plans to accommodate our budget. Yet, I've ignored all those who told me this or that job should have cost thousands of dollars less. I would not accept a rebate of those thousands in return for the kind of hassles we experienced doing business with a low bidder.

Interesting thing is, to some extent we considered ourselves lucky even on that job. When it eventually did get finished, the workmanship turned out to be pretty good, especially the custom kitchen cabinetry. That's because the contractor was a great carpenter. He simply was in over his head running a remodeling firm. Like so many contractors, he failed to understand that craftsmanship has relatively little to do with business success.

Basic business

What counts is operating in a businesslike manner - such as showing up for work. And returning phone calls. And not telling lies to customers because you think that's what they want to hear.

On that nightmare job, one particular encounter sticks in my mind after all these years. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, my wife and I begged the contractor to level with us about whether we needed to make alternative plans for the holiday. The creep looked us in the eye and swore his company would get the job done. I had the chilling realization that our fate was in the hands of a pathological liar.

Never again would I trust my property to strangers. Many people think as I do. A recent survey commissioned by the Scott consumer products company found 81 percent of respondents saying they would be most likely to hire contractors based on recommendations from neighbors, friends or relatives. No other referral source came close. This is an audience worth cultivating.

What might be called "trust marketing" doesn't take any special training, and costs much less than most advertising. A lot of it is simply staying attuned to basic business courtesies. You don't have to go to school or attend seminars to learn them. It's simply a matter of treating people the way you'd like to be treated. It's a mystery why so many contractors don't get it.