Study up on these 8 tips to help your home remodeling project go smoothly and boost your bottom line.

You bought the home; now you’ve got to fix it up. You know what you like, but do you know what remodeling projects will pay off with enjoyment now and with a higher listing price when it’s time to sell?

“Many homeowners overimprove or improve the wrong parts of their home in anticipation of listing,” says Keith Thompson, a real estate broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolinas Realty in Charlotte, NC. “It’s important to consult with a real estate broker to determine which improvements will add value and lead to a quicker sale.”

(See lesson #1.) We’ve created a CliffsNotes version of the top home remodeling lessons so you can skip class and still score an A+ in home improvement.

Lesson #1: Consult a real estate agent

Even if it’s been years since you worked with the agent who helped you buy your home, you can always go back for advice — especially on home remodeling projects. “They’ll be able to tell you which ones you’ll have a return on and which ones you won’t,” says Thompson.

“For instance, in the Charlotte market, an in-ground pool adds zero value to a home,” he says. “It won’t hurt your sale, but I always let my clients know if they put in a pool, it will be for their enjoyment and consider the expense as such. It’s like going on a vacation: You don’t get a financial return there.”

Lesson #2: Do your homework

Do some home schooling! Study up to find out about the best home remodeling projects and materials for your home. Use the information you learn, in addition to the help of a trusted broker, to decide which remodeling projects will add enjoyment — and value — to your home.

Lesson #3: Hire a recommended general contractor

If you’re trusting someone to tear down walls, install electrical work, or pull out plumbing in your home, you’d better be sure you’ve hired someone who is not only trustworthy but also reliable.

“To increase the perceived value of any property, craftsmanship is important, so surround yourself with professionals,” advises Justin Udy, a real estate agent with Century 21 Everest Realty Group in Midvale, UT. “Get multiple bids and hire the person that seems to be the best for the job and most realistic, not the most expensive. I found the cheapest bid never does the best work and the most expensive just costs more. Remember, good work is not cheap and cheap work is not good. Just find someone good, professional, and competent.”

Keith Thompson adds: “Get references from clients that have had work done recently, and even ask if you can see some of the work firsthand.”

Lesson #4: Consult an interior designer

These days, most home improvement or home furnishings stores have in-house designers at the ready for customers. Pottery Barn and West Elm, just to name a few, both offer free at-home design consultations with their design associates.

“Oftentimes, they can help you gauge whether or not a smaller home remodeling project [such as wallpapering or painting] is worth the investment, as well as how to incorporate the design into the home,” explains Ronnie Tal, a licensed real estate salesperson at New York City–based real estate brokerage firm Charles Rutenberg.

Bonus: In most cases, these services are free.

Lesson #5: Get it in writing

Sad but true: A handshake does not seal a deal. “Get everything in writing,” says Thompson. “Make sure a clear process is outlined before signing on the dotted line, and that there is a process for resolving disputes or questions over the work being done. [Some issues] are inevitable on a medium- to large-sized project, so you’ll want to know how to work through those bumps in the road to end up happy with the work that was done.”

Lesson #6: Expect the unexpected

And be prepared with a contingency fund waiting in the wings. With many remodeling projects, hidden costs pop up throughout the process. “There are always issues that weren’t anticipated,” says Udy. To combat those extra snags, “take your total budget cost and add 10% for a contingency fund. The older the home, the larger the contingency fund should be.”

Lesson #7: Ditch the traditional

“Buyers these days want more of a contemporary look,” explains Tal. “The most important rooms are the kitchen and bathrooms, so choose more contemporary light fixtures, stainless steel appliances, and sleek cabinetry.”

To that same end, opt for a neutral color palette, adds Tal, such as gray and off-white, which work well with almost any style but still feel clean and modern.

Lesson #8: Follow the rules

“Nothing is worse than having your project shut down because you lacked the proper permits or paperwork,” says Udy. While it’s mainly on the shoulders of the general contractor to secure the proper permits (see Lesson #3), make sure you ask the contractor, architect, or designer what permits are required for this project and how they plan to get them.

“It costs you valuable time and money if you don’t have them,” adds Udy. “Avoid the fines and call your city planning office early to find out what is required and necessary to make your renovation successful.”