Click below to listen to our Consumerpedia podcast episode on how to hire a general contractor.

First address basic questions. What do you want? More living space? An extra bedroom and bathroom? An update for outdated rooms? A new layout to correct a dysfunctional floor plan? Will you use the remodeled or new space enough to justify the cost?

Get design help and make a plan. Architects, house designers, and kitchen and bath designers can convert your wish lists into a detailed plan with a rough budget.

Check out potential contractors. Hiring the right contractor is the most important step. Consult customer reviews here at Ask prospective remodelers to provide references, and ask them lots of questions, such as: Did the company follow plans? Did it get the work done when promised? Did it help you find low-cost solutions and stick to agreed-upon prices? Did it solve problems promptly? Did workers communicate effectively? Did it limit disruption to your daily life? Were the results as professional and attractive as expected? Was it flexible enough to make changes for a reasonable price if you changed your mind about something?

Schedule sit-downs with companies. Meet the contractor candidates. Sit down with at least three (but preferably four or five) prospects and go over your plan in detail. Ask pointed questions about their experience and point out potential problems—from your perspective and the contractor’s. Yours will be a close relationship, so imagine what it would be like to work with this person for weeks or even months.

Check key credentials. Are they licensed? Do they carry sufficient liability and workers’ compensation insurance coverage? Does the company have a clean complaint history with the Better Business Bureau and other local consumer agencies?

Get several proposals and bids. Checkbook’s undercover shoppers found a wide range of pricing for different remodeling projects: from $190,000 to $321,000 for one job, and from $38,600 to $61,500 for another. Moral: Get multiple fixed-price bids. Also, don’t assume that there’s any relationship between price and quality. Many contractors do great work at low prices.

Carefully evaluate proposals. Look for detailed pricing, reasonable payment schedules, and flexible terms that accommodate inevitable changes.

Do the deal. Once you’ve chosen a contractor, get a formal contract covering everything from payment terms and deadlines to who does the work and warranties.

Remain vigilant. There’s much you can do to help your project run smoothly. Communicate with your project manager every day. Deal promptly with surprises. If work isn’t done to your satisfaction, say so immediately and withhold further payments until it’s fixed.