Friday, May 14, 2010

Selecting a Landscape Contractor for Homeowners

Yesterday we gave tips for selecting a landscape contractor for condos and homeowner associations, but what if you are a homeowner looking for help in the yard?

Did you know that landscaping will add 7-15% to the value of your home? On average, this signifies 100% to 200% return on landscaping investments! Landscape projects can be complex, expansive and expensive, so hiring the right firm is essential. But what are the steps to choosing the right company? We’ve outlined them below:

Before you can start looking for a landscape contractor, you need to know what you want. Inviting a landscaper to come over and do a walkaround before you’ve put parameters around the project is a waste of time for everyone involved. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What is your project? Define what you want to the best of your ability. Try to find pictures in magazines or in your own neighborhood of features you like.
  • What services does your project need?
  • What’s your budget?
  • What’s your timeline? Is there a specific deadline for completion?
  • Any outside-the-box requests? Are you looking to have an eco-friendly result? Only want to use organic materials? Do you want to do part of the project yourself?
  • Ask your neighbors for a recommendation. Look around the neighborhood for trucks & trailers or lawn signs. 
  • Try doing a web search for keywords related to your project and your town, such as “sod installation Ashland MA”. Any reputable firm should have a website that includes services they offer, pictures of their work and background information on the business.
  • Check out review-based sites like Angie’s List and Yelp and see which contractors rate highly in your area. Don’t only rely on these sites though; people are always more apt to share a negative experience than a positive one. Combine the information from these sites with the rest of your research.
  • Find out as much on the background of a company as you can. It’s important to keep in mind that the landscaping industry has one of the highest company turnover rates when compared with other small businesses. For every first rate landscaping contractor, there are numerous “lawn mower and a pick-up truck” companies, which may be unlicensed, uninsured, and operating outside of set rules and regulations.
  • Landscape contractors build their business based on the projects they have completed. They should be more than willing to show you examples of their work, often in a before and after format. Have they worked on projects similar to yours in the past? Do you like the general outcome of their projects?
  • Hiring a company that values education and industry involvement ensures that the staff keeps up with the latest news, techniques, best management practices and developments. Look for associations like Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals (MLP), Mass Nurseryman and Landscapers Association (MNLA) and Mass Horticultural Society (MHS). The staff should have formal education and certification within the industry, such as Mass Certified Landscape Professional (MCLP), Mass Certified Arborist (MCA), Mass Certified Horticulturist (MCH) and Certified Landscape Designer (CLD).
  • Keep in mind that there are certain landscape tasks that require a license; ask the company if your project has components that will require special licenses.
Ask lots of questions! When meeting with potential contractors share your vision and ask them for feedback. You can get a good idea of how you will work as a team; is the contractor open to your ideas? Are they suggesting ideas that fit well with your plan? Are they interested in offering upgrades that will blow up your budget or are they staying in line with your plan?
Ask for a list of references and check them. Make sure you understand what kind of a project the contractor did for each reference and call on those that are similar to your project. Calling on a basic maintenance client won’t be helpful if you are looking for a cobblestone walkway.

  • Ask for proof of insurance, both liability and worker’s compensation. Working with an uninsured company means you might pay less for the service, but you could have a huge liability risk for your property and your home.
  • Does the contractor offer guarantees or warranties on the work they do and materials they install? Ask for one. Are they willing to sign a one-year service contract on the project for repairs?
  • Don’t start the project without a formal quote and contract, as well as a project timeline. Don't accept a verbal commitment; protect yourself from any problems that may arise.
Landscaping is an important investment, and the relationship with your contractor will hopefully last for years. Take the time to evaluate all the possibilities. If you find someone with great references, a beautiful portfolio, an enthusiasm for your project and the ability to deliver within budget, you have found your new landscape contractor. Best of luck!

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