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Selecting a Landscape Contractor

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

One thing we hear from our clients is that selecting a landscape contractor can be an overwhelming and confusing process. 

During the Pandemic, many families have decided to invest money in their backyards, but choosing a contractor during Covid has raised its own set of challenges. Making the decision about who to hire is now based on social distanced meetings with all parties wearing masks, video meetings, and even emails or phone calls. This context changes how we perceive and understand the social aspect of the hiring process. It goes without saying that you have to like the team you will be investing your money and time with over the course of your project. Once you have a great design and are ready to move forward with construction, the next step of collecting bids can get confusing for many. It is not uncommon to hear that bids/proposals to construct a landscape design are coming back in a wide range of prices.

Why are bids for the same project/design work coming back at such varying costs? Here are some of the most common reasons:

- Design-Build, Design Only, Build Only… These options affect how the pricing process is presented

- Contractors have different ways of presenting bids and line items in proposals

- Licensed vs. Unlicensed work (Yes, some people hire unlicensed contractors)

- High overhead companies vs. low overhead companies

In addition to all of the above, most contractors do not take the time to educate clients about the construction process and some clients do not investigate the contractors they are hiring. Some clients have horror stories about previous landscape projects gone wrong and these individuals have low trust in the industry. Another complicating factor is that some professionals in our industry have chosen not to be transparent about pricing in their proposal layouts, since many feel that this ambiguity could favor them. Lastly, many families have never embarked on a landscape transformation before and therefore have no prior experience in hiring a team for this purpose

Brooks and I got to thinking- Knowing what we know about our industry, if we were asked by a friend or family member how to choose a landscape contractor what advice would we give them? 

These are the top three priorities that clients are interested in considering when selecting a team to work with:

We believe that realistic expectations = better client experiences. If you are searching for a landscape contractor with all three qualities in a high demand market - you are probably searching for a unicorn (might not exist). It is okay to prioritize any of the three: Affordability, Quality or Availability. What we have learned as insiders in this trade is that most commonly only two of the above will be met when you hire a contractor. Therefore, you should consider which two priorities are the most important to you and which one you are willing to "sacrifice" to get your project across the finish line.

Typically, if you like the quality of a landscape contractors previous work (as seen in person or portfolio) and they are available for you to hire them immediately the cost of your project will likely be more expensive. If you want a quality landscape built now and a contractor is ready to start in the next week, it is usually because the project is very profitable for them. There are exceptions, but in general we have found this to be accurate.

If you are in a position to wait, you will likely find landscape contractors that are affordable and have quality work. Lead times for a build project during high demand are typically at least 6 months out to start date. However, quality landscape contractors have lead management systems in place and can give you a close idea of when they will likely be able to begin your project, especially now that there is a better understanding of the impacts of Covid on our industry. 

If a landscape contractor is available to start your project next week and they are affordable, it is likely because they have weak workmanship. They might be new to the industry and are in the process of learning and building their brand. Perhaps, the company is growing and is in need of work to keep new hires busy and they are less trained and skilled. Perhaps, their company is unlicensed. Another thing we commonly see is that the contractor has many projects drop out of their timeline due to issues during the design/proposal process. This creates open spaces for new projects to get squeezed in, but might suggest that the company has leadership or management issues at the top level. 

Before embarking on hiring a landscape contractor be realistic with your priorities and understand what you are likely “sacrificing” with the selection you make. At different points in our lives different priorities will take precedence and that is okay! Know what you are willing to sacrifice and make a well-informed decision based on that knowledge. It will be a better experience for you and your landscape contractor. 

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