As witnessed by the exponential growth of television shows like “Yard Crashers,” “Curb Appeal” and “Desperate Landscapes,” a growing number of folks are extending their living areas from the inside to the great outdoors.
Long gone are the days of a simple concrete patio, a pot of geraniums and petunias and a little charcoal grill in the corner. Today’s homeowners are creating outdoor spaces that include fire and water features, shady retreats and outdoor kitchens. And thus, the need for expert landscape professionals has blossomed. Nonetheless, that may be an entirely new experience for many homeowners. What are five things Indianapolis-area homeowners need to know when hiring a landscaping company?
1) What Do You Want and/or Need?
Like any big project, do your research, starting with you. You may think you know what you want only to discover something totally different … like you’ve been dreaming of a paver patio only to come to the revelation, “HOLY COW! I LOVE NATURAL SLATE!” Fortunately, there are numerous resources for creating your own “wish book” – Pinterest and Houzz are two great resources.
Certainly, another thing to consider is how much will you love working in the yard to maintain the look? Some people find pulling weeds a cathartic exercise at the end of a long day; others just want to pull out a wine cork and gaze lovingly at a bubbling fountain. Your landscape professional can only deliver what he/she is directed. Make it clear from the get-go if you desire low-maintenance. Or, consider having your landscaper continue your lawn maintenance as the best of both worlds!
In addition to your tolerance for maintenance, consider your landscape’s tolerance for your lifestyle. Dogs and kids need a landscape sturdy enough to stand up to lots of little feet and the likelihood of getting trampled from time to time. You don’t want a super delicate plant specimen as a border; you probably don’t want sharp corners on anything. You may want a basketball court right in the middle of it all!
And, finally, check with your Home Owners Association as to the process needed for approving home improvement projects as well as municipal entities that issue permits to ensure a smooth approval that won’t be an issue down the road. Clarify in the contract who is responsible for obtaining permits when required.
2) Money Talks
Let’s be clear: Cost should not drive a landscaping project; there are numerous factors to consider including the fact that you’re often money ahead to pay a little more for expertise versus cleaning up the mess of the “non-expert” … aka #ThatTimeTheYardDudeCutThroughMyFreonLine.
You definitely want to set the parameters of a budget and share that with your landscaper so they can create a plan that meets both your needs and budget. There’s a difference in planning between an $8,000 project and a $38,000 project. Both can be quite lovely; the difference lies in the materials, the intricacy of design and amount of ground covered.
One way many clients get their “dream landscape” within a comfortable budget is to spread the project out in phases. Maybe one year you do a pergola and patio with some updated landscaped beds; the next year, you tackle that extended deck and outdoor kitchen.
Always, always, always ask your landscaper how he wants to be paid. Some landscapers prefer payments throughout the project while others prefer half up front and half at completion; there are numerous variations of those terms. Along with the anticipated final bill estimate, get the payment expectations in writing as well as receipts of each payment. This protects both you, the homeowner, as well as the landscape professional.
3) Reputation Rules
One of the most important steps in hiring a landscape professional is doing a little digging of your own – into their website, reviews and references.
A landscape professional’s website is a perfect place to begin perusing pictures of their final work product and perhaps see testimonials from happy customers. Likewise, numerous online review services are available for contract professionals including Angie’s List, Google Reviews, social media sites like Facebook. Look for an overall star rating of four or above.
A reputable landscape professional will have two or three past customers who are willing to share their experiences. These are invaluable resources in helping set realistic expectations and gaining insight into the process. They might even let you come by and visit in person!
4) Credentials & Affiliations Do Mean Something
While actual work performance speaks volumes, don’t discount accreditations, certifications, and affiliations in the landscape industry. Many of these require a substantial commitment of time to successfully complete. A certification program like the one offered from the Office of Indiana State Chemist ensures your landscape professional is up-to-date on pesticide and fertilizer best practices – important to the local environment, especially when it comes to plant life and waterways. Landscape Industry Certified is a stamp of approval from industry peers recognizing the completion of professional development programs that advance expertise.
In addition, your landscaper should be bonded and insured protecting you, the client, from potential mishaps along the way and significant pain in the long-run. You can ask a contractor for a bond number and certification, through which you can confirm that he or she is appropriately bonded. You can also ask the landscaper for certificates of insurance to ensure the insurance policies – for both liability and workman’s compensation — are current.
A favorable review of a project is often driven by more than the end result. There are a lot of companies who can install hardscapes and plants, build a pergola or provide landscape and turf maintenance. A client-landscaper connection is imperative to the success of the project – you speak the same language, have the same expectations and respect each other’s input. It is, after all, a relationship between a customer and a trusted contractor. If you’re doing a project, the crew is going to be around for a few days or even several weeks.
Oftentimes, the experience of the client along the way is the discerning factor that will stand out in reviews. You want to see, “The crew cleaned up their mess daily and always arrived promptly when they said they would. We were impressed with the expertise and quality of work.” That is in contrast to, “They said they’d be here on Tuesday, they showed up on Friday, went to lunch and we didn’t see them until the following Tuesday. And they left all their stuff all over our yard.” There is no love there.
In the end, it all comes down to trust. You’ve hired a landscape professional to enhance your biggest, most valuable asset: your home.
When “curb appeal” is the fist impression made by your home, it’s important to have an expert well versed in their field to provide services to improve and maintain your landscape. A qualified landscape professional can bring a homeowner’s wish list to fruition so that it will bloom and grow for years to come.