Choosing a Lawn Care/Landscaping Contractor- Part Two
This time of the year can be quite hectic for both customers and Lawn Care businesses. You’re looking forward to starting the spring off right, getting projects and contractors in order, while businesses are ramping up for our busy season. Hopefully this mini series can help you choose between us and other lawn care contractors while also giving you some insights on how you can choose other contractors for around your house.
Part Two- Choosing a Contractor to perform the work.
You found the company, or companies, you want to get some information and pricing from. What now? The first thing, which may by slightly obvious, that you should have in the back of your mind is………..
What do you want done?
From a lawn care aspect, this doesn’t happen all that often; most prospective lawn care customers have a pretty good understanding what services they are looking for. Mowing? Check. Fertilizer and Weed Control? Check. When it comes to landscaping, this question is sometimes one of the hardest for me to pin down from a client. “I want to landscape my yard.” Alright well……what are we looking to do? Landscaping has such a broad range of services, “landscaping my yard” could mean bringing in some black dirt and seeding a small area, or it could mean adding a front entry paver patio. I’m not saying you should have the plan drawn out in your head before hand, but letting a contractor know you’re looking to re-do the front yard entry plantings will give him a much better idea of the job at hand. Once you have a better idea of what you want done, it will be much easier to get rough estimates from contractors. For instance, when my wife and I needed our deck redone, I knew that a 16′ x 20′ was about the size we wanted, but I had ZERO idea what decks run. (by the way, pretty dang expensive, ouch) I had a couple contractors in mind so I gave them a jingle with the rough idea, just to get a rough price, all over the phone.
You have an idea what you want done, now get on the horn with the contractor(s). If you have not worked with them before, do not be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS. A competent contractor that knows what he’s talking about will be happy to answer your questions. What should you ask?
How long have you been in business? By no means am I saying a newer company may provide sub-par work. New businesses are popping up all the time, ESPECIALLY in the lawn mowing department. Some will stay in business for a very long time and have a very happy client list. BUT there are always companies that may not make it. For instance, every year we receive phone calls from potential clients that have been left in the dust by a previous contractor. Maybe the contractor just stopped showing up or, even worst yet, the company took their payment and ran. A company that has been around for some time will be FAR less likely to have any of those problems.
Are you insured and licensed? This is a HUGE one to ask any Lawn Care/Landscaping company. If you apply a chemical on a customer lawn, you NEED a special license from the MDA. This includes something as simple as spraying roundup in the cracks of your driveway. Insurance is a major question to ask when there is major construction going on. If Jimmy the new guy falls off your roof during your roofing job, you better hope the company you hired is legitimate and has the proper insurance or you may be footing the bill. In regards to Lawn Care, Snow removal is a BIG one. A normal insurance policy will NOT cover accidents when using snow removal equipment, special insurance is needed. Companies are typically good to go for this. The guy down the block with a plow on the front of his truck doing this on the side? Probably not and that’s probably why he’s so much cheaper than a legitimate company. Again, not saying it’s a guarantee they won’t have the proper insurance, but there’s usually a good reason their price is very cheap.
Are you locally owned? If so, where are you located? I like this question. Just having a phone number isn’t enough. A company that has been around a long time and has an office nearby is not going to take your money and run. That guy who only has a phone number and not much more info? Do you want to take that chance?
Do you have any guarantees/warranties? While lawn care is not really going to have any warranties, what happens if the lawn treatments aren’t taking care of what they should? For us, we offer free service calls to our program customers. We don’t have very many of them each year, but things happen. Lawn mowing? Well you can’t really warranty or guarantee that. Maybe guarantee your lawn will be mowed? Sure, I guess. Landscape installation is a different story. Just like a Roofing job, there are some guarantees or warranties that most companies offer. Hardscapes, such as pavers, firepits, landscape lighting, and retaining walls, often will have some type of warranty on them. Plant materials may be different. We offer a 1 year warranty on all plant material installed by us. Some companies do, some don’t. If they do not, assume that there pricing may reflect that. When you’re getting a large scale project done, say your roof, it’s important to note the warranty is ONLY as good as the company. If the company is gone next year, your 30 year warranty isn’t going to do much.
How large is your company or how many people do you employ? Are you a franchise? I like this question too. There are many large locally owned companies that can provide excellent service. There are also many small, sometimes solo operated, companies that can also offer great service. A large complaint we hear from prospective clients is they felt like just a number. You shouldn’t feel like your waiting in line at the DMV, or even calling Comcast, to get information. Sorry Comcast.
Detailed questions. Regarding Lawn Care, questions like “how often are your visits”, “what type of product do you use”, “what type of equipment do you use”, “will the same person be visiting my property each visit” are all good questions to ask.
During your conversation with them, take note of the answers they are giving you. How are they responding? Are they taking the time to answer all your questions thoroughly? I love talking to people and answering questions they may have. I like knowing things. Even more so I like sharing the things that I know with current or prospective customers. If you ask me “what can I do to have a better lawn” you better believe you’re going to get an earful. You may even wish you didn’t ask me that because you’re racking up the minutes on your phone bill. The point is, a business should take the time to educate you on the services that they offer. Even more so, are they being honest? As with any contractor, we don’t know EVERYTHING. I don’t know everything. If you ask me something I don’t know, I’ll come straight out and let you know I’m not 100% sure and I’ll have to get back to you. It’s OK to not know everything but they should follow through with any important questions you have.
All about the Benjamins!
Once you’ve gotten some answers and feel comfortable with the contractor(s), its time to ask for pricing. For some services, we can have pricing for you pretty quick, like within the conversation quick. Others we may have to setup an appointment on your property. Please note that landscape designs and large projects WILL take time to draw up. Additionally, there can be a fee for a larger landscape designs. These can some serious time to design, likes many hours time, but the finished design will show you exactly what and how much goes where. There is no such thing as a once size fits all landscape. For larger projects, it is often advantageous to have some measurements on hand. If you’re in the early stages of a project, like have no idea what a patio might cost early, have some measurements on hand. Most contractors will have an idea what kind of range something like that may cost. This goes back to my deck example. I originally wanted a deck with an octagon sitting area. Without even having any measurements but having an idea of the design, I was able to throw that idea out the window pretty quick. Yeah, octagon sitting areas on a deck are expensive. No it’s not a solid number, but it will give you an idea if it is in your budget. Speaking of budget.
Have a budget for larger projects.
Without getting to much into it, (landscape project pricing is a whole ‘nother can of worms) have some sort of max budget in mind. This goes back to having an idea what type of project you want to complete. Not sure what something might cost? Give a call and ask for a rough idea based on some measurements. Again, this goes back to my deck example. It’s extremely difficult to design an elegant front entry way if the budget is simple not there. Same goes for a remodel of a kitchen or, in my case, a fancy new octagon deck.
Choose a contractor.
If you are getting a couple different bids, you need to compare the services you’ll be receiving vs. the price. Far too often someone ONLY compares the price. This is one of the worst things you can do. Do a little research on each price and what they actually include. Let’s take a full summer of lawn maintenance. Company A will do it for $XXXX while Company B will do for 30% cheaper. There’s usually a reason for the large difference. Read a little bit closer and you may find Company A is providing more or higher levels of service than Company B. Another great example is snow plowing. While all of our customers are plowed at a 1″ trigger, many other contractors won’t provide service until there is 2″ of the white stuff down. This is fine if that is all you need but the point is many times you aren’t comparing apples to apples in regards to price.
Once you are ready to start service with your chosen contractor. Expect to sign an agreement before the project or service begins. Typically this is nothing to be afraid of, usually they are pretty straight forward with what the contractor will be providing and what the cost will be. The terms of the contract should be straight forward and anywhere from half a page to 2 pages long. Unless this is a MAJOR project, and I mean complete demolish and rebuild of a house major, the contract or proposal should not look like a bill getting pushed through the senate.