When it comes to landscaping, I encounter a vast array of homeowners. Some homeowners know exactly what they want. Others know very little or nothing about what they want. Regardless of the trade, knowing the tips below will help any home owner (or property manager) choose a professional contractor. Some items will relate more to landscaping, but in general all will apply to hiring many different contractors or services.
First off, know what you want, or more importantly define your main goals. What is the purpose of the project? Knowing what is truly important will help define priorities. The more specific you are the better. With landscaping, getting a design can be very useful. Think about what elements or styles you want to incorporate into your project. Your contractor or designer can help establish the best way to implement these elements in a manner that will meet your main priorities.
Learn. I can certainly understand a lack of knowledge regarding any trade. But it would certainly be advantageous to the consumer to have a basic knowledge of the tasks being performed. It may be as simple as a Google or YouTube search. Learning even a little bit about the work to be performed may prevent overpaying for unnecessary or non-essential services. You can also gain insight by asking the professionals about certain procedures. It could be as simple as asking “what makes this line item so expensive?”
Budget. This can often be a tricky subject. But knowing your budget up front can help determine realistic goals for the project. Plan for some unexpected costs. With many projects, there are some unknown variables or problems that may arise when the work is being performed.
Design. Have a design or rough layout of what you are looking for. With landscaping, hire a professional landscape designer or architect. It’s no different than the plans contractors use to build your home. Landscape designs can run from $500-$5,000, or even more. For most residential projects, you will likely find a good designer in the $1,000-$2,000 range. A quality design can save thousands on a large project. It helps determine scope and if you go with the low bidder you can hold them accountable to all items. Without a design, it’s easy for contractors to skimp on some items. In general, with low bid, you get what you pay for.
Meet once. Initially, meet with every contractor at the same time. In the commercial world, we call this a pre-bid meeting. Scheduling a meeting with multiple contractors all at once will not only save you time, but also allow for the contractors to voice questions and suggestions. Any questions asked by any given contractor can be answered for all to hear. This along with a well-planned design will give you the closest apples to apples bids.
Set a Date. With the pre-bid meeting, also set a bid due date. On some commercial projects pre-bid meetings are mandatory to bid. Others simply send plans and a bid deadline. Having a bid deadline can keep your project on track. It will also allow you to distinguish the professionals from their competitors. Not accepting late bids may prevent future timeline issues. I would also prioritize a start and completion date. Ask the contractors if those dates are attainable and be willing to negotiate if needed. Deadline dates should also be included in contract documents.
Be Ready for Questions. If you don’t have your details straight, be ready for lots of questions. Details make all the difference when bidding on a job. If you have already determined what you want, this step should simple. If you don’t know exactly what you want, don’t overthink it. Ask the contractors what their recommendations would be, or what has worked for other clients.
Ask for referrals. It may sound obvious, but asking for referrals is a great idea. Many companies have reviews on-line. But additionally, asking for contact information and speaking directly with previous clients is one of the best ways to gain insight on what you might experience from start to finish if you choose that contractor.
Request photos of previous projects. Along with referrals this is an important tool that can gain you valuable insight on the quality of work offered. Some contractors may have photos on their website. However, some use stock photos or don’t have any at all. Photos will additionally be a telling story if they are capable of the design style you desire.
Warranty. If it is something that is important to you ask for a warranty. This would be a good item to discuss at the pre-bid meeting. Ask all contractors what they would recommend be included in the warranty and how long it should last.
SHARE the Results! Remember these companies have invested time and effort in bidding on your project. What they want more than anything is to win your work. Nobody bids a project wanting to lose the bid. But if they don’t win, the next best thing they can do is know why they lost. Knowing the bid results can help them sharpen their pencil or make internal changes to be more competitive on the next job.
Watch out for Low Bids. I know everybody wants to get the best use of their dollar. But it is important to ask questions to the lowest bidder to ensure all items bid by other contractors are also included. Many times, in the bid selection process the low bidder can withdraw after indicating to them the bid results. If there is a huge gap between the lowest bidder and the others it is obvious they missed something in their bid.
VE (Value Engineering). This is a term also often used in the commercial world. It’s very common for projects to go over budget. Value Engineering allows cost saving measure to be performed while keeping in mind the main goals outlined previously. If the project is over budget ask the contractors what VE options they would suggest.
Contract. Signing a contract not only shows the contractor that you are committed to them. But it also holds the contractor accountable. Ask questions about wording in the contract you may not understand. If you want a warranty on services ask that it be included in the contract before you sign.
Lastly, trust your gut. If you talk to multiple contractors you should start to gain confidence in what they say as the information receive should start to build on itself. Rather, if information is conflicting, then the uneasy feeling you have will likely be true.
Regardless of the project you have planned, following these recommendations can only make the process easier for you. Perhaps it will help you establish additional steps or procedures in your bidding process to help get more bang for your buck. There is no right or wrong way to do it.