Hiring a Landscape Contractor

Landscape ContractorThere are a number of reasons why hiring a landscape contractor to do up your front/backyard is a good idea. It provides a superior aesthetic appeal to the exterior of your home, it increases its resale value, and it can be eco-friendly. It also ensures that the work has been done professionally, and will be maintained well. However, all this is subject to finding the right person to do the job. So, where do you begin, and how do you shortlist the perfect person for the job? Here’s a checklist to hire a landscape contractor.

How to Begin

Remember that landscape contractors are professionals who execute landscape designs. However, some of them have their own design teams and carry out design and execution themselves. In other cases, you may have to get designs from a landscape architect, which a landscape contractor will then execute.

References from family and friends can be a good start to finding a landscaping contractor. Local directories and landscaping associations that have a strong online presence can help you find credible contractors with the necessary licenses and certification. While these associations don’t guarantee the efficiency of the contractor, they do have certain criteria without which he/she cannot make it into the association. This is enough to certify his credentials. The remainder, you can find out by following the checklist below.

Checklist

License
The licensing process may vary from state to state, but all landscape contractors must possess a license by the respective state’s license board to provide landscaping and related services.

Certification
A professional contractor will not only have certification himself, but will also have a team of certified professionals/contractors working with him. Your contractor should ideally be a Landscape Industry Certified Technician (earlier known as CLT).

Manpower
How many people does he have in his team? Is he going to further outsource the work to another agency for execution? If so, is he going to be liable for their work?

Business Liability Insurance and Workers’ Compensation Coverage
It is mandatory for a contractor to have both these so that any damage to your property will be insured. Workers’ compensation coverage covers any injury to workers during site work. These are important to protect you from extensive expenses in case of such situations.

Experience and Portfolio
As a potential client, you must learn about the contractor’s experience, number of years in the business, and request pictures of his previous work. This will help you judge whether his type of work is suitable to your requirements and tastes.

Client References
Ask for client references to get a clear idea about his work, professionalism, and maintenance services. You may even visit a site in progress to see his manner of working.

Cleanup During Work
A professional will ensure that when he leaves the site at the end of the day, it is clear of unnecessary material. It is imperative that contractors do this to ensure smooth work flow daily.

Warranty and Maintenance
What is the duration of warranty he is providing? Will he provide maintenance services after the completion of the contract? These are very important because landscaping is not a one-time job. Some parts of it require regular care and maintenance at the hands of the professional who helped you create it.

Material Procurement
Find out where he buys supplies from, and whether these agencies are reliable. This may be confirmed by speaking to previous clients. Further, there may be certain bits that you may want to contribute to on your own. For instance, you could purchase the trees and shrubs yourself. Ask if he can provide this flexibility.

Price and Estimate
Some contractors charge by the hour, while others may charge a lump sum. Either way, get a written estimate from them after the scope of work has been defined. In some cases, providing an estimate will require them to create preliminary designs for your space. This work may be chargeable. When you ask for bids from different contractors, ensure that the scope of work is the same. You may see someone charging a lower price, but you may not notice that certain aspects of the project have not been included. So, simply because someone is offering to do the work at a lower price, it may not be a better option. You must take into account all the things mentioned in this checklist, compare them across different contractors, and then make an informed decision.

Project Duration
While this will depend on the amount and complexity of the work, a professional will be able to give you a suitable time frame within which the job will be completed. Knowing this is important for you to prepare yourself for the days/weeks/months of ongoing work.

Contract and Payment Terms
The contract should enlist the entire scope of work and payment terms of the project. It should also highlight the method of payment and the stages in which it is to be processed. Read the contract thoroughly, and understand all its clauses clearly. When you do finalize upon a contractor, ensure that you question things about the contract that you don’t understand. Do not sign it without understanding the nitty-gritty of the process.

Attitude and Communication
The biggest deciding factor, in my opinion, is the attitude of the contractor.

Does he clearly understand your requirements?
Does he ask questions beyond the obvious, to genuinely understand what you are expecting from the landscaped space―just utility or more?
Does he offer valid solutions for your requirements, or alternatives if certain things are not possible?
Does he communicate professionally?
Do you think you will be comfortable working with him for a long time?

Before You Make the Final Decision

To summarize the decision-making process, here’s a short checklist you should follow when you do make the big decision.

Factor in all the aforementioned points and compare them with others.
Take written estimates from each contractor and compare.
Read through the contract details thoroughly, and clarify things that you don’t understand.
Choose a contractor who shows openness to incorporating your choices and opinions in the final project.

Some experts argue that by posing so many questions, you are questioning the ability of the contractor. However, landscaping is not an inexpensive process, neither is it a short one. It requires so many questions to be asked, and no contractor worth his salt is going to have a problem answering them. In fact, a genuine landscape contractor will prove his worth to you even without you having to ask so much.

Buying a Foreclosed Home

Foreclosed HomeIn the current scenario, buying a foreclosed home seems like a wonderful investment. A number of economists feel that today, homes are as affordable as they were in 2004. Of course, there is a chance that people may not witness noteworthy appreciation in the price of the property for a long time. Given the state of affairs, a foreclosed home may be good purchase for people, who need a place to stay, rather than people looking at it from an investment perspective. However, aspiring homeowners need to be very cautious while buying a foreclosed home. More so, if the foreclosed property is going to be their first home purchase.

Find the Listings

The internet is the best place to find foreclosure listings. Typically, bank websites and the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) websites have detailed foreclosure listings. People should look for foreclosed homes sold by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Internal Revenue Service, Small Business Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Customs, U.S. Marshals Service, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation, and General Service Administration. The website of the National Association of Realtors, also has a plethora of information on home foreclosures for sale. Newspapers, too, carry information regarding proposed auctions, the names of the homeowners, and the lenders.

Important Tips

Foreclosed homes are disposed off at auctions held on the steps of the county courthouse. People, who have considerable experience in buying foreclosures, can buy the foreclosed home at this stage. Risk-averse individuals should not buy a home that is being auctioned on account of the following reasons:

☛ The bidders are not allowed to inspect the property before making a bid, although it, certainly is possible that the home may be in need of serious repairs. The successful bidder is expected to make the payment right away and may not have time to inspect the property again. The title deed may be unclear, and there may be additional liens against property that may have to be borne by the buyer. The buyer also has the unsavory task of evicting distraught tenants from the property, and the latter may vandalize the house out of spite before bidding goodbye to a home that was once theirs. House auctions also tend to inflate the price of the property and may end up costing the bidder much more than it, actually is worth. Thus, buying at an auction is not advisable for a novice. Even a seasoned player may find it difficult to navigate the aforementioned risks of buying a foreclosed home at an auction.
☛ If the property is not sold off at an auction, the bank winds up with the deed to the property. The home that is now a part of the bank’s inventory, is referred to as real estate owned (REO). The bank may price the REO at a reasonable figure just to get rid of it. In addition to low cost, there are numerous benefits of buying a foreclosed home from a bank.
☛ The buyer can inspect the house before purchasing it. At times, banks may pay for repairs that are found during preliminary home inspection. Buying a bank foreclosed home is a good deal for the first-time home buyer, since the buyer does not have to concern himself/herself with evicting tenants. The bank also tends to negotiate with other creditors and gets rid of taxes and other liens against property.
☛ A seasoned investor may consider purchasing a tax-lien foreclosure that is the result of the homeowner defaulting on property or income tax. The home, again is sold at an auction, and it may be disposed off for as low as 60% below its market value, since the government is only interested in recovering the taxes.

Finer Points

❒ A mistake that most first-time buyers commit: They do not weigh the pros and cons before buying the property. Majority are lured by the price tag. A lower price does not mean the deal is in your favor. Well, this, precisely is not the real deal. Before you sign on the dotted line, question yourself on a few important variables. Does the house need major repairs; would you be refurbishing the house and renting it in the future; do you have the capital to maintain the house, if you don’t find a tenant to rent the place — these are a few questions that may help you judge your efforts and sort your options better.
❒ Inspecting the house, thoroughly, before you make up your mind to possess the property, is an absolute requirement. If you are planning to buy a foreclosed home in another city, you need to make several trips to the site and recce the place. Asking someone else to do the job for you is a waste of time. It is you, who needs to be proactive and take the final step.
❒ Know that the neighborhood matters. If there have been a number of foreclosed properties in the vicinity of the house you are planning to buy, you may be unable to cope with major repairs as the value of the house itself is deprecated. Besides, learn how the neighborhood looks during the day and the nighttime. The neighborhood that looks lively, however, does not breed hubbub, fetches potential buyers to invest in the property.
❒ Another important variable you must counter-check is the current condition of the house. The present state of the house does matter. It reflects on the degree of refurbishment the house requires and the amount you must shell out for the purpose. Besides the filth and the muck build up, there are various plumbing- and sewage-related problems that set in. Better check, if the pipes are in a good condition; if not, make way for modifications. If the problem is not sorted, there may be complications in the future. Water leaking, courtesy of the cracked pipes, which seeps onto the walls is not a pleasant situation to be in and amending the same after you have rented out the house is not an entertaining idea.
❒ What adds to the house price, is the landscape. Overgrown bushes, unkempt trees with occluded branches lead to depreciation of the property. There are times when overgrown branches gatecrash the spaces, predominantly the windows of the house, and pave the way for deterioration.

Hopefully, the aforementioned tips on buying a foreclosed home will be of use to a buyer, who is keen on buying his/her first home. Price of comparable properties is an important factor that has to be taken into account regardless of whether one buys a REO, a tax-lien foreclosure, or bids at an auction. The absorption rate, or the length of time required to sell the current inventory given the present rate of sales, also needs to be calculated, since a low absorption rate is a bargaining chip for the buyer.

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