How to Hire a Landscaper | A Unique Garden Article by Amy Ridgway
Hiring a landscaper, or any contractor for that matter, can be a daunting task. The best place to start is with a personal referral. Knowing someone who has first-hand experience working with the contractor-for-hire is priceless. Another good way to find a landscaper is to search the internet. Try to locate recent customer reviews, picture gallery portfolios, and a generally current web presence indicating a relevant approach to the business. A third and possibly less obvious way is by inquiring at a local nursery or materials yard. Suppliers know their customers and should be able to offer a few names of contractors who they would recommend for your job. However, no matter where you locate a landscaper – whether from a referral, online search, or otherwise – here are some basic tips to consider before beginning any project.
Location – does the contractor specifically service your area? Finding a landscaper that frequently works in your area is a great idea to consider. He/she is familiar with customary landscaping styles and common issues that may arise such as sloping yards, drainage problems, and utility interference. In addition, those who work in your community also have access to local vendors for easy purchase and delivery of materials. Furthermore, locally-hired landscapers should be more available to contact if any problems were to crop up after completion of the project. Logistically, guaranteeing their work is much easier and they have a vested interest in your satisfaction in order to maintain a positive reputation within the community.
Subcontractors – How much of the work will the landscaper be doing him/herself versus subcontracting? It’s always comforting to know that the person you are paying is the person doing the work. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Expect landscapers to hire sub-contractors to do specific, skilled work such as installing irrigation, grading an incline, or veneering hand-chiseled stone. Contractors who know their strengths, and don’t claim to be “jack-of-all-trades,” are probably the best at creativity, vision, and project management.
Experience – Most of us like to hire someone with experience. It’s generally a wise decision, but let’s consider further. Someone who has over 20 years of experience designing and installing residential landscapes may present an impressive portfolio, but are they addressing your specific wants and needs? Do they take a customized approach to each project, or do they have a one-size-fits-all method of landscaping? A handful of plant materials are very common to our geographic region because they are “proven winners” – resilient under almost any condition and aesthetically pleasing coupled with our natural landscape. But are they overused – a lazy attempt at design? When hiring with experience, pay attention to the details of a portfolio. Do the projects vary, or are they carbon copies of each other? Are modern materials being used or will the project look dated?
Budget – After a plan of action has been agreed upon, the landscaper will provide a project estimate. This estimate is a general idea of how much the project will cost including the price of materials, labor, overhead, and margin. At this point, expect to fork out a deposit. This initial investment on your part usually covers a portion of the materials and gives the landscaper a sense of confidence in your commitment. Assuming that all expenses have been calculated correctly, the final invoice should reflect the initial estimate, less any deposit. However, sometimes unforeseen expenses may arise such as an invasive root system that needs to be removed, hidden utilities that are damaged and need repair, or a joint decision by both parties to expand the project beyond the initial design.
Creativity – Allowing a landscaper some creative freedom with a design plan can be uncomfortable for some. However, in many cases, it is necessary. Often times a design may include a plant material that is unavailable or a specimen tree that needs to be shopped. A certain amount of trust should be established on both parties whenever a contractor is hired. Reviewing a portfolio to identify the landscaper’s style can offer a better sense of comfort day one.
Communication – One of the most important things to consider when hiring a landscaper is communication. What is the best way to contact them – in person, over the phone, text, email? What time of day is most convenient to review ideas or ask questions – during the day, in the evening, weekdays, or weekends? Do they truly understand the intent of my project, my design style, and the type of care I will provide to the landscape after the work has been completed? Have they taken the time to explain the varied phases of how the project will be completed and how long it will take? Have they offered more than one suggestion when addressing my concerns? In order to achieve complete satisfaction, it is vital to create and invest in a relationship with anyone who has a direct impact on the value and look of your home.
The next time you are in the market to hire a landscaper, consider these valuable tips when making your decision.