Top 5 Questions to Landscape Contractors – Client Behavior

We get asked many questions, naturally enough. Honestly, the range of queries to us is fairly wide, generally depending on the scope of the specific work. But there are a few pertinent and reliable questions which almost always can be expected. After all, when a place is supposed to go from this:

to this:

Then some questions might well be in order. Seeing the devastation of early-process landscaping can be a jarring experience. It is total and it is sometimes time-consuming.

It can’t be easy watching a once-nice lawn or area be devastated. When we redo work, I always insist on some patience, instilling it early on in any project. It is actually the same with new projects as well. We create havoc and dust and, sometimes, incredibly loud noise. The drone of a Bobcat working every day, all day, can get to someone. I get this and so do all contractors. We are working in someone else’s small, personal space. Add to that the fact that they are seeing dollar signs in every movement in this ballet of financial porn and you have the makings of an occasional meltdown. It happens.

In an effort to provide a homeowner or commercial property owner with some preparation, I would have a potential client educate themselves at least a little by asking these questions, right up front:

1. How much will it cost? If the price is set, then the only worries for a client are potential over-runs owing to unforseen circumstances – which are not all that common, believe it or not. (Most landscape contractors look for a smooth-running project as well because, if they are good, they have clients waiting.) Things which should NOT be over runs are any materials or lines running underneath the property. This should have been ascertained by hooking up with “Locators”, whose work is to locate all these potential problems and to mark them out prior to the job’s commencement. Having a set price relieves everyone, in many ways. In the end, the only issue will be the professionalism of the finished product. If you have someone you really trust, then a lesser-proscribed set of prices can live with a “cost-plus” project, but I would definitely set an upper limit.

2. How long will it take? The best guess is always fairly accurate if the contractor knows his business. In fact, unless something really weird happens, chances are he will finish within days of the target date. Bear in mind also, any principle which penalizes someone financially for being late, must also contain a cause which rewards finishing early. This is the law. Bear in mind as well, once again, the conditions. Weather can play a role and some understanding is required on the contractor’s behalf if foul weather occurs.


3. Workers. It is legitimate to ask who is in the crew. It is also legitimate to insist on good behavior. In fact, it is to be expected. Having said that, on long projects, either the contractor or the client should rent a Porta Potty. This is for obvious reasons. Another thing – yes, they take breaks. Or at least they’d better. Refreshment breaks twice a day of 15 minutes or so are good for a crew’s morale and they keep them fresher. By all means, never hesitate to make them feel welcome, if you should desire. They will not expect it, which, frankly, makes it even nicer. You don’t have to study their life stories, but a client who brings out some ice water when it is 95 degrees outside will simply get a better project than one who does not – it’s just how life operates. Building a rapport is easy and smart. Most contractors are very concerned with crew behavior. It is often a subject of conversation among them. Professionalism is enjoyed by those who practice it as well as those who pay for it. Know this.


4. Payment Schedules. These are done differently by different companies. It also depends on the size of the project. On larger work, I used to insist on one third down, a third at the halfway point and then the rest on completion. Smaller projects, most landscapers ask for one half up front.

A factor to bear in mind which is strictly landscape-oriented are that most of the rentals, the staging of equipment and supplies are done so right at the origins of any project. After that, they earn their money by professionally installing what they have on hand. Landscaping is therefore hugely up-front, in terms of expenses.

On commercial projects we often carry clients for as much as 60 days – a perilous existence, fraught with danger and angst. I hated that. And yes, I once got stiffed for a bundle doing things that way.

5. The Plan. In a way, of course, this probably should have been included first. This is the entire ball of wax, anyway. This is the dream scheme thought up by the contractor in consultation with the client. The most ideal projects are those collaborations that originally hooked everyone up in an exchange of ideas and possibilities – the wish list. Negotiations and what not occur over the extremely detailed items. Everything, in a way, happens up front. The work is nearly easier, frankly, than the acquisition of the contract, from a contractor’s standpoint.


Completion can be elusive simply because landscaping itself is so subjective. It is for this reason I include one more category dealing with Contractor/Client relations: Behavior.

It is more than good asking questions during the construction process. Most contractors worth their salt actually welcome this because it gives them a chance to detail what’s actually occurring on the ground. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions at any point during a project. Sometimes, and I guess I should hate to admit this, a contractor (maybe this is just me  😉 ) can forget about an item or two. Especially those who – like myself – are so hands-on with every item of the business, including the work itself, we can overlook something. I owe some huge debts of gratitude to clients who asked where something which was in the plan was – and I had totally forgotten it. Asking early is also best!

In the end, we are people too.

7 thoughts on “Top 5 Questions to Landscape Contractors – Client Behavior

  1. I think the single best question to ask a contractor is what percentage of the time he/she will be onsite. Most of the problems I’ve seen were when the head didn’t spend enough time on site. If the contractor is heavily involved in the building, usually things go well.

  2. Ballet of financial porn….genius phrase.

    Anyhow, this is an awesome run-down on the atmosphere of any landscaping project; and it’s good for clients to know that they are free to inquire at any point about their project (perhaps certain groups will deal with an inquisitive client differently, but provided s/he is not outright irritating, things should go well). I particularly liked the mentioning of developing good rapport with the workers: if more clients understood that, so many undertakings would be carried out far, far easier.

  3. Ryan, while I personally always used the notion that the clients would see a hands-on working boss/planner/landscaper on the job, I have also played the role of a committed foreman/supervisor/salesperson for other businesses, whose bosses did not get particularly dirty.It really depends on how professional the whole organization is – from top to bottom. I have seen sole owners make messes too, lol.

  4. I can’t agree with you more regarding this. Like you said, contractors should welcome questions from their clients in order to cover their own ass and make sure that they are on the same page. Miscommunications mean problems….

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  5. I just wanted to say that I think you guys do a great job balancing hardscape with landscape. Many designers go overboard on just one concept, but you guys have a great sense of balance.

  6. So agree with you on all that you said. Questions are always welcome and when it’s needed clients should cut us some slack especially when it comes to weather. I also think it would make things smoother if clients also did some homework on their own even before the initial discussions/walkthrough with contractors begin.

    Great post.

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