It’s that time of year, gearing up as we speak…………..
Let’s review what we expect from a contractor, shall we?
To be late?
LOL, it’s almost a sad expectation there, but it does happen and I am not about to forgive it. Bottom line – A good contractor either makes his date or gives a great explanation of why not. Time management is everyone’s problem, not just the contractor’s. But it is such a truism that they arrive late, it is almost, but not quite funny. Contractor jokes run the risk of becoming as popular, and as dismissive, as lawyer jokes. Now that would be a sad state of affairs!
OK, then let’s say you are wanting to have your property landscaped. You have a budget in mind and want to find a good, honest hardworking contractor to do the work. Below, I lay out some items to think about, prior to the project and then, during it.
Stalking The Elusive Contractors
(apologies to Ewell Gibbons)
First things first – where did you get the names of those you might want to contact? If they came from friends or compatriots who recommend someone owing to a good experience, you are about 50% “up” on the rest of the field. And so should the contractor be, as well. Real references from real people are the single most solid recommendation ever in selecting someone to remake your gardens. Ask around, if nothing else. Typically, a good contractor leaves a trail as wide and as substantial as a bad one. Oh – and consider the “bad ones” too. Just don’t use them.
(most images enlarge by left- clicking)
My recommendations are that anyone seek out 3 separate bids for any home – or commercial – project. Not only will this give an accurate read of what the value of the project is, in the professional trades, but it can also separate the more absurd bids which are ridiculously high or ridiculously low. Believe me when I say that an absurdly low bid compared to others can be an absolute nightmare. It is either inexperience or else desperation supplying motivations for low prices – both of which can see a project half-finished and a client holding the bag for all sorts of stuff we don’t want to talk about.
There is nothing wrong with using the Yellow Pages, either. But if one does, make sure of the “3 bid rule”.
One caveat I always use is to be aware of the fact that the person you speak with may “just” be a salesperson. Now this is not a bad thing whatsoever, in itself. But a client is wise to probe as much as he wants as to the amount of investment this guy or gal might feel towards the project. Just sayin’…….
The First Meeting
So, finally, a contractor – or, and this is important – a salesperson shows up and you discuss a project. Whether large or small, one should always try and ascertain the following before going further: (Note, I refer to “he” in every case below which does not mean I believe there are not some absolutely excellent female contractors out there. I know some and they are marvelous, if not a lot more particular and caring. Please excuse this usage in the name of brevity.) Once again:
1. Is he licensed? (Note, some states do not require a contractor’s license. In this case, a quick check at the Better Business Bureau is in order, prior to his coming. Inasmuch as the Bureau typically only records negative information, a clean slate there is a good thing.)
2. Will he give a list of references? (This should be a no brainer. And checking these references is merely smart.)
3. Does he seem competent to you? (Develop a few questions about your place or about gardening or landscaping. See how he does.)
4. Does he have enthusiasm about his work? (This may seem irrelevant, but I disagree. The chores in landscaping require motivation. There is hard work aplenty in the trade and it is all outdoor, complete with heat, cold, rain, and all. A motivated person simply gets things done, in inclement or questionable circumstances, as well.)
5. Does he have a portfolio or examples of his work? (A quick perusal of this may be in order and is not particularly time-consuming.)
6. Does he insist on using his own ideas and plans? (Many contractors suffer from a particular bias: they want to do things the way they want it, in terms of design and even construction processes. Sometimes, this is a good thing, but more often, this particular type can try and browbeat a client into accepting his particular vision of what a place needs. A smart and creative contractor will be more than glad to get input from a homeowner. Frankly, it saves him time and provides a base from which to continue.)
7. What is his schedule?
8. Once again – – How many contractors did you interview and acquaint with your project? (I advocate meeting with 3 contractors. This way you get a cross sectional view of, not only personalities but of price. By the way, personality is of less importance than about any of the factors. A good salesperson may not put 5 minutes into the project on the ground and the larger operations have salespeople for just this purpose: sales.)
The Second Meeting
On larger projects, there will of necessity be a second meeting. Here you will discuss the fact that you chose a particular firm, owing to price or confidence in their professionalism.
1. Do they have a plan and, if so, does it meet your criterion for your own wants? (The plan should indeed reflect your own tastes and requests, with the caveat that some can be impossible or maybe impractical. Your contractor should explain in detail why this would be the case. You also tweak the plans at this time, to result in contract-signing at the third meeting, when satisfied.)
2. Does his estimate really meet your budgetary expectations?
3. You may be asked for a deposit at this time. You should expect to pay at least for time spent, meaning the plan and the estimate and, if the plan is to your satisfaction, then commit to the project.
1. In plain words, read the contract, complete with the fine print. If it is too obtuse, then reject signing something which does not make sense. There are sometimes qualifications concerning “Acts of God” relating to problems later. These are acceptable and understandable, especially inasmuch as this work takes place outdoors. Floods, hurricanes, incredibly unique developments in weather such as intense and abnormal conditions of freezing, winds or snowfall are understandable caveats, frankly. He is protecting himself from disaster and rightfully so. It’s a rather compelling reason for the project to take place during good weather.
2. Make sure there is a warranty clause which should be for at least a year for all products, plants and structures.
3. Have the contractor insert his best estimate of the time it should take to complete the project. Naturally, weather and other conditions pertain, yet a reasonable expectation is worth asking for. If it is violated severely, this item can be used in court. “Reasonable completion time” is a judicial and a trade standard.
4. Make him commit to a starting time, give or take intangibles, once again.
There are many ways to go about this. I prefer getting one half up front and then 25% at the half way mark, the remainder on satisfactory completion. Now, bear in mind, this is for mid range projects. Larger projects require money up front, but not necessarily 50%. A “progress draw” scenario would be recommended on larger work, with money still up front, but pro-rated according to what get’s installed and purchased by the contractor, first.
Some contractors ask for 1/3 up front, 1/3 at the half way point and the final 1/3 on completion. These are the two typical scenario’s and there must be many others.
Typically, if the contractor is good, expect to be more than surprised at the result. These guys specialize in their work and their detailing at the finish should lead to some huge satisfaction on the part of any client. I have heard many wonderful things while standing with a client at the end of projects. They do not have to be painful at all. “I hoped it would look good, but I had no idea it would be this beautiful!”, is a quote I absolutely live for and have heard. This motivates everyone, believe me. This is the goal.
Be Patient – Be Happy
Don’t expect bad things. Clients can make new friends, respect new people, even enjoy life more from watching the science, the professionalism and even the faces of the workers who perform on their land. Prepare to enjoy a somewhat nerve-wracking process, lol, as your dirt transforms into a gorgeous butterfly. When these guys leaves – it’s all yours.