How to select landscaping company

paleblueJuly 24, 2010

Hi...I live in a 60 year old house. Many of the shrubs

are over 50 years old. They had been neglected due to

my failing health.

I would like to hire someone to pull out all the old stuff

upgrade soil make brick pathway and generally plant things

in such a way that I can care for them with drip hoses etc.

I don't know how to go about hiring someone for this task.

I know it will be costly. But my experience is, that

when the see an 'old lady', there's a tendency to take

advantage of me, whether in price or materials.

Where do I start. None of my neighbors have used this

type of service.

Thank you.

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This is a common problem for most people, but particularly for older people.

The ideal way to hire someone is based on knowing someone else who has had a positive experience with someone because it is all about removing doubt. You not only know something about their abilities in that case, but how they are to talk to and do business with. You really need to have insight into three things - capability, comfort in personality, and how they do business. It is very difficult to get a sense of all three of those without knowing someone who has used them. Perhaps a friend of a friend can give you a referral.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2010 at 9:14AM
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Here is my recipe. If you can have a friend or relative present when you are dealing with the contractors it will be advantageous to you and the contractor as well. Remember changes after the contract is signed escalate the costs exponentially and allow the contractor to make up any costs for mistakes he has made and needs to correct. Write out your plan or requests in detail before calling any contractors. Then call at least three landscape contractors(more is better) for estimate proposal. Before inviting them to your house, go over their credentials with the local Better Business Bureau and State Licensing Board( don't be in a hurry). Invite approved contractors to inspect and receive your plan for proposal. Give all contractors the same items of information in order to compare like bid estimates. Take time to create a spreadsheet or table comparing like items of your proposal and the total. Also make notes of who you liked better and why. Discuss all this with the friend or relative. Make a selection and put all details of the work in writing which will be part of the contract. Do not just take what they give you and sign it. Include how you want them to perform the work carefully and in what manner as well as cleanup of the work site as they found it. If you post the bid result details here before you select one, I am sure the forum members with their wealth of experience will help you with the details and items to add to make sure the project is completed successful and for the best price. Later we can give you advice on how and when to pay the contractor for his work. If you don't want to do all the above have a friend or relative do the contract preparation/bid portion for you. Make sure that they have up to date insurance coverage and will give you a copy with contract signing. Do not be in a hurry no matter what anyone tells you. If you do this you will have control of the project instead of the contractor controlling you. You will be confident that the price you you have contracted is a reasonable price for the work in your area. This ensure you a trouble free enjoyable experience with which to enjoy your new landscaping. Do not be enticed by just the lowest price of an unqualified contractor. A good/honest contractor will have no problems with what I have laid out and will be glad cooperate as it helps him as well. Paying the contractor properly and at a certain time, which I will provide later, will help greatly as well. JMHO Aloha

    Bookmark   July 25, 2010 at 12:01PM
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Thanks for all your good advise. I will be back once things get started. Lehua 13...may I have your email
address? Mine is:

thank you

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 5:44AM
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I am really sorry, but I don't have the time to work with others via email. I enjoy the little time I have interacting on GW. If you have a specific question of me then others have a chance to pitch in with their experience. If you need a one on one dialogue as you proceed with your project. It would be worth your while to hire a landscape architect(well worth the expense). They will not only help with preparing a plan but will protect your interests with the contractors doing the work if you request it. As long as the contractors are not affiliated with the architect. I hope you understand that I am not available for consult. Aloha and hope you ask your questions and voice your concerns here in the forum for everyone's benefit. Mahalo

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 9:32PM
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Thank you for your help. My best wishes. Mahalo.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2010 at 3:23AM
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Thanks for your understanding. The last item would be how to pay the contractor as the work progresses. Do not pay anything before the contractor starts. If he is competent and reliable he can finance his own start and you are already paying for his financing so do not be duped into paying ahead of work installed. Write in the contract the schedule of payment. Major items of work will be paid when the work is in place complete and to your satisfaction. An honest contractor understands this concept very well. These payments can be made during the length of the project. Retain 10% for final acceptance and walk-through. When you are totally satisfied with the entire project pay that 10%. That is about it. Ask any questions as they come up or make any comments or suggestions to what I have written. My warmest aloha and good luck, you are now in control.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2010 at 10:22PM
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Contractors don't like to play banker any more than consumers do. Good luck getting a contractor to start with no money down. Good luck getting a contractor to sign a contract written by the consumer. We can argue all day about how things should be, but the reason people look for help in hiring a contractor is because they don't have confidence in how it works.

Telling them that things should be light and easy with low risk makes them feel good until they compare those notions with reality. That sharp contrast between expectations and reality add a lot more stress than if they understand what they will encounter. Then if they get a contractor who will accept only a small down payment and/or agree to special contract terms it would be a stress relief.

One of the biggest complaints that I am hearing from contractors in this economy is not in getting work, but getting paid for it. Few are eager to pay out more in materials and/or labor than they have received.

It is also unwise to pay too much ahead as a consumer. The average profit margin is between 10-15% on a landscape job. Holding onto 10% until final acceptance is a good practice and more often in the terms of a reputable landscape contractor. The highest expenses for the contractor on a job where he is providing the materials is up front. You should not be surprised to have to pay 50% at the time of work commencement. You may do better than that, but don't be surprised if you can't.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 7:15AM
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Sorry laag,

My experience is just the opposite. Contractors in this down market will do alot more than when time are good and they can ignore you over 10 other people waiting in line. Good contractors understand that they need to insure you when you enter your property. They want good description of work items and a payment schedule that you as the owner have promised to pay in writing. This is good business and the obligation benefits both parties.

I was two thousand miles away when my wife who has never hired a contractor before, because I was always around to do it for her, had to hire a roofer, painter, fence installer and landscape/irrigation installer. She went through the steps I outlined and was very successful in completing all four projects. We knew we were paying a reasonable price and made sure the quality was good in our contract descriptions of work. The preparation before signing the contract is the key to it all and it is what most people short themselves on because they are in a hurry. As long as it is a competitive bid you will ultimately get what you want if you don't let the contractor talk you out of it and you don't get rushed into doing what the contractor say he wants you to do. I did not say it was an easy process but worth the work you put into it. You reap what you sow.

Good site Whershfeld but some of the answers to your investigative questions could only be found from asking the contractor himself and you have to take his word for it.

JMHO Aloha

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 8:50PM
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We'll see. I expected your scenario to be the current reality in our area, but it is not happening here.

I talk to a lot of homeowners who are trying to hire contractors. They are not seeing flexibility in contracts.

I talk to a lot of contractors about how their business is going. Their biggest problem is not getting jobs, but getting paid and keeping from spending ahead of progress payments because of it. There is a lot of caution on their part. Labor is still quite expensive on the east coast even if they use immigrants. Suplliers are not extending credit as freely as they used to either. The contractors simply can't carry the labor and materials even if they want to.

Paleblue is in New Jersey which is typically a similar market to the one that I work in. I don't know if your home is in Hawaii or you just like to use the lingo, but it may be quite a different market.

I hope she will find that your scenario plays out, but I would caution her not to expect it.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 9:10PM
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Your input has been great...........scares me. But I will
give it a go in the next week or two. I so much appreciate
the time and consideration you have given my question.
Thanks to ALL of you.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 10:41PM
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They qualify both parties and the professional pays for the opportunity to bid on your project. It has been a number of years since I have dealt with them but they only allow you access to a small number of pre-qualified professionals as too many bids is not the best thing either and a professional isn't going to pay them for an opportunity they sold to a thousand other people. They are/were very selective. I've known a few businesses and homeowners that they have sent away. They do check references.

Too many proposals gets too confusing unless you know exactly what everything is and know that you're comparing apples to apples. Decide what you want and if someone says they can provide a different material/brand for less let the others have the opportunity to bid on the same. Some may have a good reason they didn't offer it. The best craftsmen in the world can't do anything about flimsy, poor quality or inherently ugly products. I have a whole list of products and materials that were never allowed on my projects no matter how popular or "in demand" they were. I warrantee my work and guaranteed garbage. Garbage in garbage out. It is what it is. If the manufacturer isn't going to stand behind their product and pay me to replace it when it fails why would I even consider it.

If you do hire a landscape architect/designer by all means use their people as otherwise you have just wasted your money. I't not a conspiracy out to get you. It is a collection of professionals looking to minimize the hassles while trying to produce a quality experience and product. A good architect will usually have good tradespeople capable of getting the job done. No point in hiring someone who is going to redesign the project every step of the way.

I would have to agree with laag for the most part about the finances. Dealing with others in the business is one thing but I don't know any worthwhile contractors who will deliver materials to a homeowner when they haven't been paid for in full. At the very least COD at the time they are delivered. Once they are on your property they are yours. Labor is a trickier subject and the least I've ever agreed to is to deposit the money for the entire balance into a joint account for the progress payments so that if their is a dispute along the line you know they haven't just spent the money elsewhere. Sometimes in business you take a hit and don't get paid for your work but it is worse when you actually have to pay to take the hit. Likewise on the homeowners side. Do not let anything be delivered without someone to inspect it and if it's not what you ordered let them keep it on the truck and move along. If something doesn't seem right during installation address it immediately. The person who came to the house to give the estimate often isn't the person doing the actual work. Daily progress inspections are very worth your while.

good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2010 at 1:57AM
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Very good points from everyone and solid reality checks. No problem paying for supplies at the work site and maybe purchasing them yourself(save contractor overhead markup cost) and have them furnished to the contractor when needed. I guess the west coast is sucking unemployment wind worse than the east coast. Appreciate the dialogue. Aloha

    Bookmark   July 29, 2010 at 9:42PM
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I found this discussion both valuable and interesting as I hired a designer and landscape contractor last year - not a good experience - so now I am starting over and hope to not make another $15K mistake.

Lehua13 you made a comment that caught my eye: "...maybe purchasing them yourself(save contractor overhead markup cost)" I had thought of this myself but was told by numerous nurserymen that I would void or limit any plant warranty from them as the contractor would be responsible for the warranty, therefore to let him/her pay for and pick up the plants. Can you elucidate?

Good luck Paleblue. Somehow I feel if you follow the advice given here, especially that given by Lehua13, you will be okay. I'd love to hear how it turns out for you. My best. Aloha.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 4:04AM
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P.S. Paleblue my biggest mistake was being in a hurry and only getting one bid for the installation - and I knew better even though he did come recommended.

You are checking things out and that is good.
Placing money in escrow as suggested by jey 1 is not a bad idea as both parties are protected. Good tips and insight from everyone above.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 3:26PM
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