A house stuck midway through a remodel is unavoidably ugly. Bare beams loom under half-constructed ceilings, and sawdust clouds the air over the torn-up flooring, making it hard to see, breathe, or walk. For the average person, working in such an environment is intimidating – and the work itself seems impossible! An ideal home may be easy to dream or talk about, but constructing it beyond the hypothetical requires the services of a contractor.

According to the Joint Housing Services at Harvard University, renovations are on the rise and will cost Americans roughly $320 billion by early 2018. With incomes increasing across the country, more and more homeowners are turning to large renovations over quick-fix projects. The latest figures from Houzz report that these large endeavors typically average a price tag of $27,300. Put simply, a decent home renovation can’t be done on a pocket-change budget – but the funds put into the project do represent an investment in a valued future home.

With tens of thousands of dollars and a home on the line, would-be renovators can’t afford to be thoughtless about the contractors they employ to make their dream house a reality. While the majority of contractors are honest and capable business people, a few scammers do operate within the field – with a significant cost to the homeowner. The slipshod work of a dishonest operator can, according to the Better Business Bureau, cost the homeowner up to and over  $1400.

That said, there are a few ways that a cautious homeowner can vet potential contractors.

Do your research.

A potential contractor should have a current license, proof of insurance, and at least three references. States usually have databases where you can check licensing – these sites can usually be found through a quick Google search. If a contractor attempts to pass you a contract without a license or proof of insurance, move on! Odds are good they are attempting to run a scam on you.

If the contractor seems to check out on paper, reach out to their references. Three is a decent number, but keep in mind that even sketchy contractors may have a few good jobs that they reference for credibility – so asking for additional references can help you make a final determination about whether a contractor is trustworthy.

Read the contract.

Contractors who attempt to pressure you into signing a contract without a thorough read-through – or worse, try to move forward without a contract – are likely shady. Make a point to ask for a day to mull over a contract, even if you don’t think you need it. The contractor’s response will give you a solid indication of whether they are on level.

Once you have the contract, read it carefully. Beware of quotes that seem too good to be true, because they probably are! Some operators give an attractively low offer at the beginning of a project, then fabricate a reason to hike up the price at the end. Establish clear expectations and set a fair price that works for both of you.

Evaluate your relationship.

Finding a contractor is a little like dating – you need to make sure that you can stand the other person before you enter into a commitment. Talk to the contractor a couple times to gauge whether or not the two of you click; some operators can be charming during the initial consultation, then turn unpleasant once they have you under contract. Above all, you want to find an honest businessperson who will treat you with respect – and who will expect the same in return.

Most contractors are wonderful, honest people who will make every effort to ensure that your ideal home appears just as you want it. Be cautious in choosing who you work with, but don’t let the poor behavior of a few alienate you from a productive partnership!