Before you hire a contractor, you should ask if he or she can provide you with a fixed start date and a completion date -- including any cleanup duties. These dates should be included in the formal written agreement, along with a timetable of the work that'll be done and a material list of everything that'll be needed. It's also smart to address how change orders will affect the project's timeline in the contract (more details on that later).
During the project (provided you aren't watching it unfold firsthand), you'll probably want to check in once in a while to see how everything's coming along. So it's a good idea to ask the contractor how he or she plans on keeping you up-to-date and the process for scheduling site visits. Another related concern is determining the best way to stay in contact with the contractor so you can communicate any questions or concerns to him or her.
Without proper communication -- and documentation -- your project might go from being a dream come true to a disaster, so on the next page, we'll check out another set of questions you'll need to clear with a contractor before you hire him or her.