All the good, bad and the ugly flooring contractors are found in big city yellow pages. Sifting through a dozen pages is time consuming and the size of the ad doesn't indicate quality. Some phone companies issue a smaller local directory, for the neighborhoods of the city and here you might find a local contractor with local references. If you live in a small town this is all a moot point, so far. You may have a small newspaper that is distributed in your area. You can tell if it is just an advertising circular, or a real community journal by looking up it's classified section. It should be full of lost cat, baby-sitter for hire type ads. This is an indicator of a well read neighborhood paper. Tradesmen that list in these papers generally will have scads of local clients. I advertised for about 15 years in a nonprofit community newspaper that was delivered door to door by volunteers ( talk about local support ! )
Friends and family that are very pleased with the flooring contractor they hired are an important source to tap. But be aware that they may not have the same standards as you for judging quality work. At least you'll be able to look at the work that was done and decide for yourself. Be sure to ask if the tradespeople kept on a predictable schedule.
When getting bids be sure of what you want, by collecting as much unbiased information before hand. Read a book from the library (there are some good ones listed in the Getting Knowledgeable section ) . Always question the source of the advice, manufacturer associations are really there to defend their members ( guess who pays the bills ) Try to find consumer driven info that will give you the good story and the bad stories about hardwood flooring products. You will then be able to take charge of getting at least 3 written quotes on the same quality of work you know to be best, not what is simply the industry standard.
Hardwood floor installation is not floor covering, it is floor carpentry. Some of the big showrooms that sell all types of flooring may not have the particular expertise to figure out what is the best wood floor for your house. Believe me prefinished floor is not suited for every house in existence. You would never hear this from a showroom salesman. Contracting for the installation at one of these places doesn't allow you to meet your installer, and this is the person who can make or break the job.
An existing wood floor that is to be resanded, must be carefully inspected in person. Many old floors have been sanded too many times during it's life and there are many alternatives to simply replacing the wood. A good contractor will have more than one solution to this problem in most cases. They should also know when a floor cannot be salvaged and explain why.
Promptness is a good indicator of a well organized floorman. Do they show up on time for the quote or call when they will be late ? Do they return your calls ? If not imagine what it will be like when the job is done and you've got a problem or question.
Never pay more than a 10% deposit and only pay that for a guaranteed start date . Don't pay any more than that until the material is delivered to the job, and then only what you know it is worth. Be sure to inspect the material before you pay to make sure it's what you ordered. An honest contractor will be quite willing to do this. From then on pay only when progress has been made and a schedule of payments should be mapped out in the contract. A large last payment should held back at the end, you would be surprised how quickly they will respond to your questions or concerns when you owe them money.