Hiring a Landscape Contractor
There 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.