Hiring a Landscaper

It has been estimated that homeowners can recover as much as 150% of the money that they put into landscaping when they go to sale their house. Hiring a professional to help you with your landscaping needs will help you avoid landscaping faux pas and problems that could actually lower the value of your home. The following are some tips listed on how to hire a landscaper who is reputable, therefore, making your landscaping experience more enjoyable and worry free.

Know What You Want

Because every household has needs which are unique, it helps to know and understand your wants and needs before you call in a contractor. When you are able to help your contractor know what you have in mind, it will help him/her to be better able to meet your expectations. Do you want the entire landscape cleared and redone? Will you need a place for the kids to play? Do you need plants that are not hazardous to children and pets? Do you need plants and trees which are low maintenance? All of these questions refer to “softscape” needs which tend to focus on plants and greenery. But keep in mind that many landscapers today are professionally trained in the installation of "hardscapes” and outdoor living spaces such as outdoor kitchens, patios, retaining walls, gazebos, outdoor lighting, and irrigation systems. Finding a landscaper who has professional training and knowledge with both “softscape” and “hardscape” services will help you to get the very most out of your landscape and outdoor living spaces as a whole. Foremost, be sure to choose a landscaper who will listen and understand what you want to achieve with your home’s landscape.

Hiring a True Professional

Landscaping is much more than laying sod and planting flowers. A landscaper must know which plants work best in your yard based on its soil type, exposure to the sun, and other climate/environmental conditions. In addition to botanical expertise, landscapers also have skills in painting, carpentry, metal working, aquatics engineering, masonry, and much more. Check that the contractor you contact is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America in the U.S. If required by local law, the company should also be licensed or certified. These endorsements ensure that the contractor is fully accountable to clients and only employs staff which has passed the necessary professional examinations.

Keep in mind that the level and area of expertise of individual landscapers varies and depending on your home or landscape wishes, you may need someone with specialized knowledge in certain areas. For example, if your yard slopes and you want a retaining wall, look for a landscaper with some masonry expertise who can also provide you with photos and references from past work projects.

Insurance and guarantees

Your contractor should have general liability insurance. About one million dollars is a reasonable amount of coverage to cover any accidental damage to your property. This general liability insurance should also include workers compensation insurance to cover work-related injuries that may occur on your property. Proof of insurance for workers' compensation, liability, and vehicles should be available to you. Check the company's limits and the policy’s expiration date. If you're offered a guarantee, ask exactly what is and is not covered and how long the guarantee remains in effect.

Get references

Find out how long the company has been in business and go out and look at some finished projects or at least ask for some photos. If possible, visit a job in progress. When given a reference to contact, talk to the past customer to find out if the job was done on schedule and within the contract terms. Ask if it was easy to get in contact with the contractor while the work was in progress. If there were any problems, did the contractor listen and seem concerned about resolving it? Ask if the workers performed and behaved in a professional manner.

Taking bids

Economic efficiency is important, but if you opt for the cheapest you may find yourself paying for it in the future. Experienced landscapers can often avoid potential problems that less experienced landscapers might not even know exist. This may raise the initial price, but it could save you from such mishaps like getting plants that require expensive maintenance, tree roots cracking your home's foundation, an irrigation system that kills your lawn or drains into your basement, and other landscaping nightmares.

Any bid significantly lower than the others could indicate that the contractor has a less than ideal reputation, is not including all the work quoted by the other contractors, or is planning to surprise you with additional charges once the work begins. It could also mean that the company has low overhead or other legitimate reasons for the low price. To get the best value, ask questions.

Beware

While they may be few and far between, unscrupulous and lazy contractors are out there. The short cuts they take can do lasting damage to your landscape. For example, fast-growing bushes may be less expensive and offer quicker results, but they will later require more care. Non disease-resistant plants are cheaper but can also quickly become covered with fungus or insects. Ask questions about the types of plants and materials used by the contractor.

Writing Up the Contract

The contract should be in writing and cover as specifically as possible everything you have agreed upon. A contract should contain

  • A project outline which contains a clear definition of all work that is to be done
  • Acknowledgement of the types of insurance held by the contactor and the name of his/her insurance company
  • Written copies of all warranties provided for workmanship
  • A payment amount and schedule- The contract should include the final cost and payment dates. It is normal for contractors to require some payment before work begins. Some expect half down to start work and purchase materials and the other half to be paid upon completion. Others may take smaller payments throughout the duration of the project.
  • Some other specific issues to address in the contract may include the equipment on the lawn, damaged household items, cleaning up, and special working hours.

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