Hiring a Contractor
Knowing what to look for when hiring a landscape contractor can be confusing. Here are a few tips to help you hire a contractor who is reputable, professional and will be easy to work with, resulting in a finished project that will enhance your enjoyment --as well as the value -- of your home.
Know what you want
Because every household has unique needs, 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.
Landscapers can also install "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.
Hire a 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 outdoor plumbing, carpentry, concrete, irrigation, masonry, low voltage lighting and much more. Check that the contractor you contact is a licensed California State Contractor. This license will help ensure that the contractor is fully accountable to clients and only employs staff who have passed the necessary professional examinations. If the contractor has employees, confirm that a workers compensation insurance policy is held by the contractor.
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.
Price 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 potential landscaping disasters.
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.
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.
- 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.
Visit the Department of Consumer Affairs website for more information on hiring a contractor, including how to make sure a contractor is State Licensed.