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

Buck up, little remodeler: A little prep work can ensure a smooth-running project and save you time, money, and at least a small sliver of your sanity.

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 (think kitchens and bathrooms).

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. Ask for official papers. When you're done picking the perfect project and planning your budget, you're halfway there. Do yourself a favor and spend just as much time picking your pros for the job as you did deciding on what color granite to use on the countertops. Choose a properly licensed, insured, experienced, and financially stable contracting firm. American Homeowners Association has some tips on interviewing candidates and how to protect your financial interests.

4. Stick to the budget. Cost overruns occur when you do not have firm design plans and before accepting estimates. 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.

For more on making your renovations pay off:

Dayana Yochim is a four-year survivor of a home renovation. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is stronger than your average load-bearing wall.