How to Choose a Landscaper
A beautiful well-kept landscape adds value to your home as well as your immediate neighbor's homes. Well designed landscaping, like a newly remodeled kitchen and bathroom, can increase the value of your home dramatically. When it comes to selling your home, your front yard landscape is at the core of what "curb appeal" is all about - it's the first impression people will have when they see your home.
A landscaping service or landscape contractor can provide a variety of services. Some may just do monthly maintenance, others may do installation of sprinkler systems, walkways and decks, and others may strictly do landscape design or landscape architecture (design/build companies). And many companies provide some combination of these services.
Residential and commercial landscaping maintenance normally includes one or more of the following services:
- General lawn care and lawn treatment including topsoil and lawn fertilizer.
- Leaf removal, weed control and general landscaping tips.
- Hedge and tree trimming; shrub, tree, and ground cover pruning and fertilizing.
- Lawn care programs and plant care programs that cover insect and disease control including, herbicide and pesticide applications.
- Plant bed maintenance; annual flower, bulb and perennial planting, general clean-up for flower beds, grass care and more.
Residential and commercial landscape design and installation normally includes one or more of the following services:
- Installation of new lawns and sprinkler systems.
- Planting of new bushes, shrubs, hedges, flowers and flower beds.
- Tree installation, pruning, and tree removal.
- Installation and design of fences, decks, trellis and lattice work.
- Installation and design of patios, driveways, walkways using brick, stone, concrete and more.
- Installation and design of water gardens, ponds and waterfalls.
- Garden design and garden architecture; landscape design and landscape architecture.
- And for residential applications: General front yard landscaping, landscape design and backyard landscaping, landscape design.
Here are steps that will help you as you move forward in choosing a landscaping service.
- Define Your Needs and Your Budget
Are you looking for someone to just help you with the mowing of your lawn and weeding twice a month or are you looking at replacing a cracked walkway or replace your lawn completely? Or are you ready to act on your latest and greatest landscaping inspiration and totally level your existing yard in favor of your new ideas. Know in advance what you want to do, and "why" you want to do it. Also, clearly define your budget. Unless you're rolling in dough and money is no object, you need to draw a line in the sand and do your absolute best to stick to it. It's very easy to start a project with a certain figure in mind and have that balloon to an astronomical number as you talk with a designer or professional landscaper. Also find out what method of payment they accept.
- Do Some Inspirational Research
If you haven't already done it, spend some time looking through various landscape design books at your library or purchase some to browse through. Take time to drive around your neighborhood and check out what your neighbors have done in their yards. Look at layouts, color combinations, walkway and driveway patterns, types of trees and flowers, etc. You may think you know exactly what you want but the more you see, the more research you do, the more comfortable you will feel with your final decision moving forward.
- Roughly Plan Your Timeline
Once you find a landscaper, they may be busy two weeks out, six weeks out, or six months out. Their schedule needs to coincide with your schedule. If you're using multiple services, i.e. a designer and an installer, and you're doing the sub-contracting, there are multiple schedules you will need to juggle.
Ideally, depending on where you live, you want to have the work done outside the rainy season so plan accordingly and give yourself plenty of time. If you're planting new flower beds and foliage, you may want to find out when the best time of year to plant those items are and consider that in the equation as well. You don't want to rush things unless it's imperative, i.e. you need to sell your house within the next couple of months. That decision alone will will play a part in who you select as your landscaper. While everyone wants their projects finished as quickly as possible, patience and careful planning will clearly cause the least amount of stress.
Lastly, find out how many other outside jobs they'll be working on at the same time they're doing your job. Ideally, you want them on your job from start to finish but sometimes this can't be helped. If they juggle too many jobs at once though, you may see them only a couple of days per week and the job could drag on for weeks, or worse...months. Express your concerns to them regarding delays.
- Research Landscaping Services
There are many ways to research landscapers...from online directories like this one, to the yellow pages, to asking friends and family. Over 40% of landscapers or services are chosen based on referrals. The second largest piece of research pie is done via the Internet (a close second), with the yellow pages and direct mail a distant third. Wherever you begin, it's important that you shop around.
Key Factors in Your Research Include...
- How long has a company been in business
- How many employees do they have and how many of them will be working on your job
- What languages do they speak (very important that you are able to communicate clearly with the lead contractor and/or employees)
- What services do they provide and what are their specialties
- Find out their contact information, hours of business and the best time to reach them.
- What professional affiliations they belong too (i.e. BBB, national or state landscaping associations, etc)
- Are they licensed. Being certified by the state will mean that the service is accountable to you and operating legally. And it normally implies that the employees have passed tests which prove a higher level of education, professionalism, and quality of work.
- Are they insured. VERY important. If not insured properly, you could be liable for accidents or injuries during their time on your property. Make sure you check for proof of insurance (make a photo copy if need be). Make sure the company's name is on the policy, make note of what the policy number is, expiration date, insurance company's phone number, etc. It is wise to call the insurance company ahead of time and verify that the policy is valid.
- What guarantees do they have, what specifically is covered and the length of the guarantee.
- Get at least three references from them. Drive by the locations if at all possible and/or look at photographs of their work. Take notes if necessary. If you feel comfortable, contact the people they did work for and ask questions regarding their overall satisfaction, quality, and if they did what they agreed to do and in a timely manner.
- Make sure the company provides a written contract with details of your project clearly laid out and prices for each detail. If you can get a detailed graphical layout of the work as well, do so. Also get a quote on changes or possible problems or unseen factors that may arise during the job.
- Last But Not Least...
Make sure that you're there for the majority of the work in process. It's important that you constantly examine the quality of work, that they're doing exactly what you asked them to do, and that they are there when they're scheduled to be there. When the job is completed, make one last walkthrough with the lead contractor, possibly with the contract in hand making sure that the job is completed to your satisfaction.
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