When it comes to remodeling, the enjoyment of the new backsplash and re-planked porch is too often tainted by the horror story about getting the job done.

Buck up, little remodeler: You've got company. "Complaints about home improvement contractors have become the number one homeowner complaint," says Richard Roll, president of the American Homeowners Association (AHA), a national consumer alliance organization.

With your time, good nature, and largest investment on the line, it pays to put in a little work ahead of time to ensure a smooth-running project. Here are four tips to make it so.

1. Pick a project that'll pay off. If you are making improvements to increase the value of your home (and according to statistics, about one-third of remodeling homeowners are), avoid the temptation to over-improve for your neighborhood. Most major home improvements will pay off in resale just 80 to 90 cents for each dollar spent. Get an idea of what's worth it and what's not.

2. Set a budget and line up the dough. Before you take sledgehammer to drywall, decide on a budget (be firm) and earmark the needed funds. Hopefully, this is something you've been planning for a while and have socked away some money in an appropriate, safe, short-term savings vehicle. If you are borrowing against your home to fund a project, make sure you calculate the associated costs and add that into your budget.

3. Stick to the budget. Cost overruns occur when you do not have firm design plans before accepting estimates, according to the AHA. So write down your "must haves," "nice to haves," and "can live withouts," and share these preferences with your contractor. Should he or she have to scale back the project to stay within your budget, you'll each have a prioritized list of what goes first.

4. Ask for official papers. When you're done picking the perfect project and planning your budget, you're halfway there. (Sorry to throw a wrench into your plans.) Do yourself a favor and spend just as much time picking your pros for the job as you did deciding on what color Corian to use on the countertop. Here are some tips for interviewing candidates.