Hiring a contractor can be a nerve-wracking process. With that in mind, below are guidelines to follow to address your concerns:
Ask your family and friends for recommendations. Check references for projects of a similar size and scope. Read online reviews and check the Better Business Bureau to see if they are registered and how quickly complaints have been resolved. Be mindful that statistics show people are more likely to leave a review for a bad experience. Reviews may not provide a full picture of what it will be like to do business with a contractor. Are the negative reviews rare, or commonplace?
How long has the contractor been operating in your area? What experience does the contractor have with the work you are requesting? Established contractors are able to make critical on-site decisions when the unexpected happens. They are familiar with common problems and the best possible solution for your specific situation. Contractors familiar to your area will know the market and they better understand the climatic and geographical environment for the project than contractors new to the area. Verify the contractor has experience in the service you are requesting. Do they have the proper machinery and staff to complete the project? Can their maintenance crews keep up with scheduled visits? Is their customer service satisfactory and attentive to both small and large projects?
License and insurance
Verify the contractor is licensed for the type of work you need completed and they can work in your area. Ask your contractor for a certificate of insurance showing evidence of property and casualty insurance and workers’ compensation insurance so those risks do not transfer to you.
Estimates and design fees are common. The landscape design process is a valuable and vital step in many home improvement projects. It takes time and it should be specific to your project rather than be one of several standard designs a contractor offers. It may take multiple revisions to create the final outcome of the project you desire. In addition, when you pay for the design, you own it.
Have a written contract that you have read and understand. Sign it and retain a copy for your records. The contract should include:
- The contractor's name and contact information
- A description of the work to be done which includes any warranties and guarantees for the project
- The responsibilities of the homeowner versus the contractor
- The total cost of the project and how change orders will be handled
- Terms and schedule of payment
If you receive multiple estimates, consider why the price is different. A much lower price can mean different quality of material or it can mean the two estimates are for a different scope of work. A large percentage of landscape projects is labor. Consider if all contractors have properly trained employees that allow for the appropriate time and attention your project needs, while working in a safe environment. Review the specifications of each estimate and ask questions so you can make a fair comparison.
Deposits and payments
A contractor requesting a deposit is normal, but deposits are typically capped at a third of the project’s contract price. Deposits are necessary to cover the costs incurred to complete the job and they also demonstrate the client’s commitment to the project. Pay for projects with a check or credit card so you have record of your payment transactions.
Affiliations and Professionalism
Participation in professional associations is an investment and commitment to the industry. These associations provide a network of professionals that provide guidance on topics anywhere from industry standards to safety regulations. Certain associations also provide educational opportunities and certifications.
Does the company have experienced, knowledgeable, uniformed crews that receive regular training on their trade and safety? Do the employees hold the necessary certifications to perform the work they are completing?
Don’t underestimate your gut feeling. Did you feel comfortable when discussing your project with the contractor? Did you feel like the lines of communication were open and there was a clear understanding of what to expect? If your gut feeling is strong even after you have done all your homework on the contractor, take more time before making a final decision.
We encourage you to check with local professional agencies and the Better Business Bureau when hiring a contractor. Good luck on your upcoming projects!
Planning your outdoor living project