It’s pretty rare to buy a house that is absolutely perfect in every way. And when it comes time to sell your house, you might need to take care of a big project or two in order to get the price you want. Regardless of why you need one, hiring a contractor to tackle a major home improvement project can be a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be! With these seven guidelines, you will be set up for success when working on any sized job for which you need professional help.

Clearly define the project - The more information on exactly what you want out of the project that you can provide a potential contractor, the more accurately they can tell you the estimated costs and timeframes involved. Some large projects might require multiple contractors to be deployed at different stages. Having a clear picture of the finished product that you can explain from top to bottom will help you and your contractor avoid surprises later on down the road.

Do your research – Google is your best friend when looking to hire a contractor. Not only do you want to thoroughly research the contractors themselves, but you also want to be fully informed about the intricacies and lingo they’ll be using when speaking to you about the project. If you’ve done your research, it’ll save you a lot of head scratching and mixed signals in the important communications between you and your eventual project manager.

Get multiple estimates – Not only does engaging multiple companies to bid on a project help you get the best price, it might also save you from surprises in the scope of the work. Where one contractor makes a project sound very straightforward and easy, another might notice things that could become issues that will need to be addressed during the course of the work. Getting at least three companies to look at the project and bid on it will help you see the complete landscape of the job and could save you money AND headaches!

Ask for references – Everyone knows a guy that does this kind of work and just about everyone also knows someone who’s had a terrible experience with a contractor on a big or even small-sized job. Any company can have a slick looking website and sound professional, but the real proof is talking to actual customers about their experiences with their work. Reputable companies won’t hedge or stall on providing you a few references that you can call for a first hand account of how they were to work with. Find out if they finished the project on time and on budget and if there are any red flags, listen to your instincts and go with another contractor.

Verify licensing & insurance – Before you pull the trigger on a given contractor, go back to Google and verify the company’s licensing and insurance. If they’re members of trade associations, even better! Not that you want to expect things to go wrong, but just in case something does happen, you don’t want to be left holding the bag!

Set a timeline – A good contractor will include an estimate of time needed to complete a job with the estimate of the total cost. If you have a deadline for some reason – like the impending birth of a child, for instance – be sure you clearly communicate that at the outset so you and the contractor have very well defined expectations. No one can control for things like weather and issues hiding in walls or under ground, so try to keep some flexibility in the schedule as well.

Put it in writing – Even if you have known the contractor you’ve chosen since high school, nothing is guaranteed except your disappointment if you don’t get a contract that explicitly defines the job and the expectations. Read the entire thing before signing and ask friends or family that have been in similar situations if you have questions about any section.