Q: Our home is in desperate need of kitchen and bathroom updates, but we’re really anxious about hiring the right contractor to make sure we get the results we want at the price we want. Any advice?

A: At some point, most homeowners will need to hire a remodeler or contractor. Whether your home needs a structural overhaul, routine repairs or an update — kitchen, bath or whole-house — hiring a contractor can be scary. We’ve all heard horror stories about jobs going over budget and over time, with low-quality workmanship and disappointing final products. These experiences, passed around over the years, have made homeowners understandably wary of the word “remodel.”

“Often, clients come to us with project ideas like replacing countertops, mirrors, fixtures and flooring in their bathroom, but hesitate to refer to their project as a ‘remodel,’” says Laura Elfline, co-owner of Mighty House Construction in Seattle. “But regardless of the size of your project or what you want to call it, the process doesn’t have to be scary.”

Contrary to the rumors, she says, there are honest and caring contractors out there who pride themselves on customer satisfaction. The key is to find a contractor who will work side-by-side with you to create a detailed scope of work.

When it comes to major home remodels such as a kitchen or bathroom, or any project too large for a handyperson, Elfline recommends also hiring a designer. A good contractor and design team can help find the sweet spot that balances budget, aesthetics and function.

“Working with a designer is extremely useful. Having all of your ducks in a row before starting the project eliminates the anxiety of time and budget overruns, or other unforeseen developments,” she says. “Even when projects seem simple, designers can identify hidden nuances that may impact the space before the project begins, show you what you’re asking for ahead of time and, perhaps most important, get everyone on the same page on the expected final outcome.”

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If you are interested in pursuing a remodel, start by talking to a trusted professional before attempting major renovations on your own. A good contractor should be transparent with you and provide credentials and references, so you feel comfortable hiring them. 

And do your homework beforehand. Educating yourself on the process and researching prospective contractors will result in fewer surprises and a clearer understanding of the project, greatly decreasing your chances of a stumbling into a remodeling nightmare. With the right preparation, you don’t have to fear the remodel.

Jill Williams is a writer with Mighty House Construction, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling, or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’s more than 2,700 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.