Home improvements can be exciting – and stressful – no matter how big or small the project. And while every project is different, many follow a similar trajectory. These 10 tips are designed to help you get the most out of your project, no matter what its size or scope.

Take Control Right Away

Set yourself up for success by having the right mindset from the get go and determining what it is you want to get out of the process. Projects have a way of spiraling out of control if you don’t take the reins early on and define what it is you want to get out of them. For example, you might want to give your kitchen a cosmetic update. This may mean cabinet refacing, new floors, and a new backsplash, but if you don’t determine what you want, your Pro (architect, builder, contractor, etc.) may think you need a new layout and custom cabinets as well. By setting the parameters early on, you can determine the best professional to call for your job, get a better handle on your budget, and get realistic expectations on how long this project will take.

Set Realistic Goals

Home improvement projects are messy, time consuming, and often more expensive than you realize. Do your homework, and set realistic expectations so you don’t get stuck in a time or budget crunch. For example, a full kitchen remodel can take up to 8 weeks. That’s 8 weeks without a kitchen to cook in, during which time you’ll need to make alternate arrangements. By setting some realistic goals for the project, you can help maintain your sanity throughout the process.

Do Your Due Diligence

The Pro you hire more than likely has the qualifications on paper that you’re looking for. It’s up to you to double check these, though, performing a background check before you sign anything. Make sure your Pro is local, licensed, has insurance, and that you check with a minimum of three references to see how he’s handled similar jobs in the past before you hire.

Hammer Out the Details Before You Sign the Contract

Too often, the contract and details of a project are too vague in the beginning, which leads to a lot of confusion and headaches on the part of the homeowner. Before you sign anything, be sure to get all the details squared away with your Pro. This includes the start date, cost breakdown, timeline, when subcontractors will be brought in, and what materials will be used. The more you know up front, the more relaxed you’ll be through the whole project.

Communicate

It’s necessary that you keep in touch with your Pro throughout the process so you can keep track of what’s going on. If something is going to overshoot time or budget, you need to know. This doesn’t mean that you should be calling every day to “check in”, but it does mean that you should have open communication so things don’t take you by surprise.

Plan Ahead

Your Pro will let you know if parts of your home may not be available for an extended amount of time. Now it’s up to you to figure out what you’ll do during those times. Shower at the gym? Set aside a takeout budget? Make plans to stay with your in laws while the floors cure? By planning ahead you can save a lot of headaches when the time comes.

Expect the Unexpected

Even the smoothest projects sometimes have minor glitches that pop up from time to time. Maybe the tile you selected is back ordered, or maybe bad weather delays your new roof. Keep your cool, work with your Pro, and learn to expect surprises – both good and bad – throughout the project.

Collaboration Is the Key

You hired your Pros because that’s what they are; experts at their jobs. Treat them as your partner with respect, and make sure that you both stay on the same page. Remember, you’re in this together, so don’t try to micromanage the project, just let the Pros do their job and trust that they’ll come to you if there’s a problem.

Keep a Folder for Documentation

From your contract to your change orders, you’ll have a lot of paperwork over the course of the project. Start a folder, binder, or digital binder online and keep everything including pictures that inspired you, material selection sheets, notes about the project, agreements, texts, and discussions with your Pro as well. This way, if there’s any question you can refer back with ease.

Protect Your Home and Assets

Make sure you add some clauses to your contract to protect your home in the event of a problem. Sometimes things come up during a project that just can’t be fixed. Your contractor keeps you hanging while he finishes another project, or you need to put a pause on things financially due to unforeseen circumstances. Having a termination clause in your contract means that you can end the job at any time without penalty, so whether you need to take a break or fire your Pro and start over, you have an escape hatch. Likewise, having a clause that helps protect you from damages on the job can ensure that unforeseen problems don’t haunt you after the job is over.