Renovations don’t have to be risky, but they often are because too few homeowners understand and follow the three essentials for hiring a contractor. Learn what the pros recommend to keep in mind for your next project:

1. Ask for references and check them out. Always call at least three previous clients, ask how long their projects took, whether the contractor delivered what was promised, and how the work has stood up over time.

2. Specify quality. Avoid disappointment by spelling out the quality of windows, doors, plumbing fixtures and floor coverings before work begins. Without a detailed list — including product model numbers and colour — who knows what you’ll get?

3. Get it in writing. What’s the total cost of the reno? When is money due and how much? What warranty coverage is there? These are some of the things that need to be laid out in black and white before work begins.

Feel like saving money with a cash-only deal? This is the riskiest move of all. Contract-free, cash-only jobs mean you’re legally responsible for worker accidents. You might even lose insurance coverage on your home. Get expert guidance before you agree to any deal. The Canadian Home Builder’s Association offers free useful information for getting it right at