Selecting A Landscape Contractor
Selecting A Landscape Contractor
In past blog posts I have touched on a lengthy topic of selecting a landscape contractor and getting bids. With modern technology, it’s far more complicated than just going to the yellow pages and calling all 4 or 5 listed. You hire the one you liked the best or with the lowest price. Does anyone actually use the yellow pages anymore? This article will help you understand the steps involved to selecting a landscape contractor to ensure a successful project.
Where do you start when selecting a landscape contractor?
To start we need to point out a few aspects. First, there are over 600 landscaping companies that serve the Twin Cities Metro area. Yes, 600 and that’s probably a low estimate. These range from handyman type services where they will redo the bathroom as well as redo the landscaping, all the way up to companies that focus strictly on pavers or retaining walls or rain gardens. There are plenty of generalists and specialists in between.
Secondly, there is no license required to be landscape installer in Minnesota. General contractors that do construction work like roofing your house or remodeling your bathroom need a contractor’s license. The crew building your neighbors retaining wall right now does not need a license. Landscaping only requires permits under certain circumstances which is rare.
Thirdly, there are too many places to find a landscape contractor to fully discuss in this post. I would be shocked if anyone under the age of 50 used the yellow pages anymore. It would not surprise me if the younger generations knew nothing of the paper printed phone books, let alone ever used one.
Where to look when selecting a landscape contractor
A basic internet search is as good of a place as any to start. Use your favorite search engine and start browsing websites. Don’t hesitate to read reviews on Google and other search engines. You really expect a company to post a review on their website that isn’t over the top glowing?
Look at each company’s Facebook page or other social media sites. Most companies post great information (such as my blog posts) and pictures of current projects. This gives you the opportunity to see projects from start to finish.
Head over the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association website and check out landscapers on there. www.mnla.biz. Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association is the professional association for Minnesota landscape installers. Their website has member directories that will help guide you to the right landscapers for your project. This professional association helps weed out companies that might not be as good for your project.
As I have stated in previous posts – talk to friends, neighbors, family and coworkers. Did they use someone they would recommend? Maybe they used someone that you should avoid. You saw a company down the street doing a paver driveway. Go see how it turned out. Talk to the crew and property owner, and ask how their experience was.
What to look for in your landscape contractor
Make sure the contractors you will be getting bids from have references or pictures for the exact type of work you plan to have them do. This ensures they have done it before and do a quality job. Someone who grumbles about giving pictures or references is either not interested in working with you or has not done this type of work before. Take it as a red flag and move on.
A quote from a February 20th 2016 post
“Avoid smaller, newer start-up companies as the failure rate for new start-ups in the landscape industry is extremely high. In their first five years of business, over 70% of landscape companies fail for one reason or another. Why is that important? A warranty is not worth the paper it’s written on if the company is bankrupt and shut down. This means no one is there to stand behind the work you just paid big money for when something goes wrong. You just spent thousands of dollars on a wall that collapsed. The installer goes broke from too many issues like this and shuts down sticking you with the bill. Going with larger established companies can avoid this nightmare.”
Smaller start-ups are often light on experience as well.
Look at a company’s schedule. You can learn a lot about a company from their schedule. Any decent quality landscaping company will be booked out at least two or three weeks even in the slowest parts of the season. Early season, it’s not uncommon to find higher quality landscaping companies to be booked out five or six weeks. By early to mid-September, your better landscaping companies will be booked for the season. Higher quality landscape companies are never short on work. If a company says they can start your $20,000 range project tomorrow, there is something wrong. If the company is struggling to find projects, and is constantly light on work, you need to question why and how much longer the company will be in business.
There are some general things to look at as well. Is this sales person/designer pushy? Is the company easy to work with or are they impossible to deal with? Are your ideas mixing well with the ideas of the sales person/designer? Don’t forget this is a lengthy and expensive process. You need to have the project done by people you feel comfortable working with. If you have concerns about their ability to work with, find someone else.
Comparing landscape bids
So you found a few companies you like and they sent you bids. Now what? The biggest mistake you could possible make is to look at the bottom total and go with the cheapest. Make sure the bids are itemized so you can better compare each bid and find out why there are price differences. Ask bidders to be descriptive and itemize everything. This helps make sure everyone included the same items. Sometimes one bidder included something crucial another did not causing the cost to be drastically different.
One common cause of drastic cost difference is the materials used. Take 20 minutes or an hour and research the materials to be used. I have lost a fair number of retaining wall projects over the years because I was bidding against companies that were using materials outside of their engineering specifications. Yes, it will save you money today but the project will ultimately fail and there will be trouble. Generally companies that use materials outside of their designed and engineer specifications are companies that will not be around to take of warranty issues. Make sure the materials to be used meet or exceed the specifications of your site. This includes checking plant zone hardiness. Don’t hesitate to ask a bidder to change to a different material so the bids are comparable.
When comparing the final bids consider the warranty. You might be paying a few percent more but getting a longer warranty. Make sure that warranty covers all materials, labor and delivery. Realize if the company goes out of business the warranty is worthless. Ask companies about how they handle warranty issues. Higher quality companies will get them fixed quickly and treat warranty repairs with top priority.
In then end …
You have compared numbers and bids. Everything checks out. Each company checks out and their references speak highly. Make sure you select a landscape contractor that best meets your needs and you feel comfortable working with. You have to be confident that they can do a great job and will be a pleasure to work with. You have to go into it with the knowledge they will make more of the project then you ever dreamed of.
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