Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Selecting a Landscape Contractor for HOAs & Condos

A large portion of our clients are condominium & apartment complexes and Homeowner Associations, so we thought it might be helpful to share some information about how to select a landscape contractor in those situations.

Unless you are in the middle of a multi-year landscape contract, you are in the midst the process of signing a new landscape contract for this season. Landscape services are often one of the top expenses on an association’s budget, and it’s not uncommon for contractors to be chosen based on their ability to bid low.

If your association’s only determining factor is price, then your job should be easy. When you go out to bid, do your best to describe the landscaping tasks and try to get as many responses as possible so that you are certain to get the low bid. I believe there are circumstances that mandate an association seeking the lowest cost and there are contractors who thrive on delivering low cost service. When this match up works, everyone wins.

Keep in mind there may be some issues if you only contract with the lowest bidder:
  1. Is your contractor able to make a profit and stay in business? If the answer is no, you might find yourself looking for a new contractor next season, or part way through this season.
  2. Does your contractor strive to deliver low cost service or will they need to cut corners on their work?
  3. Does your contractor have a reputation within the industry because of their pricing? Will that reputation reflect on your property negatively?
If your association is in the enviable position to look beyond price, what are the other factors to consider?

References: Call or visit references listed on a proposal. Does the property closely resemble yours? Does it have enhancements that your association is looking for? How long has the contractor been servicing the account? Does the contractor have any multi-year contracts? Answers to these questions will reinforce that the contractor can service your property effectively while maintaining a good relationship with your association and property managers, and also that they can deliver satisfactory service at a price that is reasonable over several years.

Personnel: Request the credentials of key staff that would be involved in servicing your account. There should be at least one key employee with formal education in the green industry. The remaining organization should have one or more specialists and the crew chiefs should have a minimum three to five years experience in the industry.

Memberships: Maintaining memberships with industry associations can ensure that the staff keeps up with the latest news, techniques, best management practices and developments. Look for associations such as Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals (MLP), Mass Nurseryman and Landscapers Association (MNLA) and Mass Horticultural Society (MHS). Don’t forget CAI and BOMA as appropriate industry associations for landscapers too.

Certifications: Quality landscapers spend time and money in education and certification because that is what enables them to deliver the quality. Certifications include Mass Certified Landscape Professional (MCLP), Mass Certified Arborist (MCA), Mass Certified Horticulturist (MCH) and Certified Landscape Designer (CLD); these certifications also require a certain amount of continuing education in order to be re-certified each year.

Licensing: There are landscape tasks that require a license, like pesticide application. Anyone who applies a pesticide or herbicide must be licensed by the state or be under the control of a licensed applicator. Pre-qualify your bidders by having them list any state licenses they hold.

Whether you chose your landscape contractor based on price or on service and quality, make sure you clearly state your landscape requirements in your RFP. Clearly communicating what you need and what you are looking for is the first step in creating a long-term relationship with the contractor you choose.

Great additional resource:

If you have any questions on this, or want any additional information on the process, let us know. Either leave a comment here or send an email to

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