For most homeowners, the hardest part of any home renovation project isn’t the work itself, it’s finding a competent and reliable contractor to do the job. Designing your space, installing landscaping, knocking out some concrete or building a patio is simple compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish.

Everyone has heard stories about horrendous contractors who started the first few days of demolition and never returned or projects that cost three times the contractor’s original estimate.

Those are the nightmare kind of stories we hear all the time when speaking with our clients. Even with a good contractor, construction can be stressful, expensive and involve unpleasant surprises, such as more extensive than expected demolition that is revealed when concrete is broken into or dangerous unmarked electric or gas lines that previous homeowners or contractors installed themselves.

Choosing the right contractor can make the difference between a successful landscape renovation project and a disaster. But even for experienced renovators, finding the right contractor can be a challenge.

It can be difficult to hire contractors and know what you’re getting. You’re spending a lot of money, and you’re dealing with your home. If they do it wrong, there can be a whole lot of heartache. There are steps you can take to find the right contractor while still keeping your budget – and your sanity – under control. Here are 12 steps to help you find a contractor who will get the job done right.

H2 Know what you want before you get estimates.

Start with a plan and some ideas. Don’t start by talking to contractors. You’ll get a more accurate estimate if you can be very specific in what you want done and the materials you would like to use to make it happen.

Look at online reviews.

Other people who have done similar projects with the contractor in the past are your best sources. If you know people who have worked with them personally, ask them too.

Interview at least three contractors.

Ask a lot of questions and get a written bid from each one. When you compare bids, make sure each one includes the same materials and the same tasks, so you’re comparing apples and apples. Get three bids even if you have a contractor you like because you’ll learn something from each interview.

Expect a contractor to be too busy to start right away.

The best contractors are usually the busy ones, although at Haddad Landscaping we’re working hard towards a new initiative to make it possible to have any project installed within a couple weeks of the contract being signed.

Choose the right contractor for the right project.

Someone who did a good job cutting your neighbors grass isn’t necessarily the right person to build a new paver driveway for your home. You want to find a company that routinely does the kind of project you want done.

Check references.

Talk to clients, vendors and subcontractors, who can tell you if the contractor pays them on time. See if you can talk to current or past customers too because those clients have the most recent experience working with the contractor.

Sign a detailed contract.

Make sure your contract spells out exactly what will be done, including deadlines, progress payments, the materials that will be used and who will provide the materials. “If you don’t have it documented, it’s your word against theirs. If the builder’s contract is not detailed enough, write up your own or provide addendums. Any change in the project, whether you change your mind about products or ask for additional projects, should generate a written change order that includes the new work, materials and cost.

Don’t sign a contract for your entire renovation budget.

No matter how careful you and the contractor are in preparing for the job, there will be surprises that will add to the cost. They can’t “see the future”. Expect to spend at least 10-15 percent more than your contract if extra unforeseen work is required.

Negotiate ground rules.

Discuss what hours the contractor can work at your home, what kind of notice you’ll get, what bathroom the workers will use and what will be cleaned up at the end of every workday.

Talk to the contractor frequently.

For a big job, you may need to talk every day. If you see a potential issue, speak up immediately. Something that is done wrong will be harder to fix later after your contractor has packed up and moved on to his next job.

Verify insurance coverage.

Know what is covered by your homeowners insurance and what is covered by your contractor’s business insurance. Get a copy of the company’s insurance policy.

Don’t make the final payment until the job is 100 percent complete.

Contractors are notorious for finishing most of the job and then moving on before they get to the final details. Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work and everything is 100 percent complete.