There a several common mistakes that homeowners make when they are looking to hire a landscape company. This article is here to help you find a contractor that is the right fit for you and your project and to give you the warning signals that they may not be the best person to do the work. This applies to hiring all contractors, not just landscapers.
There are many ways to find a contractor. One of the best is by referral. Asking a friend, a neighbor or someone from the baseball field; finding someone who has already worked with that contractor will put you ahead of the game. Other ways to locate a contractor are by seeing their trucks, searching the internet or via advertisements like billboards, mailings, or social media. Learning about a contractor before you call them will put you in place to ask the right questions and allow you to know who they are as a company before they even start the job. Read along to find out the top ten 10 mistakes that many homeowners make.
Deceptive Customer Reviews
You want to build a patio and start searching Google for a hardscape company. You find a company with all FIVE-STAR reviews and are so impressed and decide to hire them. When they show up at your house, you are shocked and discover they are driving a beat-up pickup truck, wearing cut-off jeans shorts, sneakers, a ratty t-shirt and are smoking or spitting chewing tobacco everywhere. Were those 5-stars too good to be true? YES! So, what happened? If the contractor only has one review and it’s a five star, then the overall rating will be five stars. That one excellent review may have been submitted by a friend, a family member, an employee or the contractor himself! It’s so important to look for contractors with a lot of reviews with an overall rating between 4 and 5 stars. Having a few imperfect ratings are a good indication that the reviews are most likely genuine. Some bad reviews are unavoidable, and no business can please all the customers all the time. What DOES matter is how the business handles those issues. Take a closer look at the negative reviews to see if the complaints are reasonable and if and how the business responds to make things right.
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No Active Social Media Presence
If a contractor is active on social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc it shows that they are interested in keeping up with technology and staying present and engaged with their customers. If they are behind the times on technology, you have to wonder if they are behind the times on techniques and technology that they use for their core work? Companies that use social media platforms should post regularly to showcase their projects and express pride in their employees. A Company that takes pride in their work and their people, will have happier staff working hard to deliver excellent work. Social media is also a way for companies to introduce their people to their client community. This allows clients to be familiar with the people who working at their home, sometimes when the homeowner is not present. Employees in uniforms exude professionalism even before the step foot on your property. Uniforms also gain trust with your neighbors so they know who is working nearby.
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No Receptionist When you call
Does someone answer the phone? A majority of landscape companies don’t have a receptionist on staff. The owners and field staff are the ones answering calls. When they are on a jobsite, calls can go unanswered and if they do answer, are they taking calls, getting distracted and not working while they are on YOUR project. As a customer you will want to work with a company that has someone to answer your call right away, especially if is something urgent.
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Not Returning Calls on Time
Even when there are receptionists, phone lines may get busy and you may be routed to an answering machine. If that happens you should be able to expect your call to be returned in no more than 24 hours. At New Castle we believe that what we offer is an experience, not just a project or a service. A contractor may know how to do their job however, the project could end up being a miserable experience for the customer if they are constantly waiting for a response.
Startup companies are great. They are the promise of the American dream. Back in 1994, we were a start-up too, so we admire the drive of people who can build companies from the ground up. However, startups are by their very nature risky ventures. It is in your best interests to ask if that risk will extend to your project. If you hire a startup company for a $30,000 hardscape project that is backed by a five year warranty and they’ve only been in business for one year, will they be around to make good on that project, do they build quality projects that will even last that long. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45% of startups will fail within the first 5 years. If they fail in the first two or three years, you are out on your own. It is not just a matter of risk, it is also a question of resources. Startups companies are known to run their operations on a limited budget. So, will they have the people to answer when you call, the experience and expertise to give you the right answers, qualified employees to execute the project and the overall resources to offer a lasting relationship, rather than just a job?
Underquoting and Underdelivering
It may be tempting to focus on price alone. We have had potential customers for whom we have done our due diligence to study the project and present a reasonable proposal with costs, timelines, designs, etc., only to get severely underbid by another company. We would quote the project at $20,000 and the homeowner would then turn around saying someone else can do it for $10,000. It is immediately clear to us that the other company is setting an unrealistic cost just to get the job. They may be using substandard materials, inexperienced labor, poor design and unrealistic timelines. They could set you up for future add on costs that they didn’t include in the original quote. When comparing bids, don’t just go with your gut; ask for a breakdown of the costs, including an itemized list of materials. This will allow you to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the bids. A lot of landscape contractors will skimp on the quality and sometimes quantity of materials used. For instance, on a paving project, if you don’t use a good quality stone base or not enough base, the pavers are going to settle or shift, making the paving look unattractive or worse – a trip hazard. Then the repair costs kick in which will be significantly more than what you saved by going with the cheaper bid, not to mention any type of warranty your may or may not have on the job. In many cases you may find that low bidders will juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet. They may work on your project for a few days and then come back two weeks later and work for another day or two. To have your project completed in one stretch requires a dedicated and experienced team working under the close supervision of an experienced site foreman. If you cut corners on the team, the materials and the time, it might seem like you’re saving money but in the end you’re losing more than money. You lose peace of mind.
Uninsured or Underinsured Contractors
This is one of the areas where smaller companies or self-employed landscapers will cut corners. Suppose you were looking for a tree company to take down a large oak tree by your house. You picked a bid from a person who by all indications is an honest man who knows how to do the work. Unfortunately, he accidentally drops the tree on your house. That is when you find out that he does not have insurance to cover the damage to your house. If he is unable to cover the cost out of pocket, you are on the hook. You will have to pay for the repairs. Your liability does not end there. Did you know that if an uninsured or underinsured contractor is injured on your property, you could be liable for the damages, including medical bills and lost wages. This is one of the ways in which a lower bid could end up costing you significantly more in the end. Before hiring a contractor, ask for a certificate of insurance; ask if they have Workmen’s Compensation. Does the company have a safety committee in place and regularly perform safety training?
Asking for 100% Up front
If you are asked to pay 100% up front it should set off alarm bells in your mind. If you pay the entire fee upfront, it leaves you with no leverage on the contractor. They might show up on the first day but that could be the only day you will see them. Once that money is in the bank, they no longer feel motivated to complete the job. The job may eventually get done but you may find that it is severely delayed or stretched out over time. There is no incentive to do the best job possible for your approval. Some contractors may give you a discount to encourage you to pay 100% of the project cost upfront. Unless it is for a recurring services like lawn mowing or for material costs on a project, don’t be tempted by such discounts. It is more reasonable to expect a payment plan where the total cost is broken up into multiple payments made after project milestones are completed. This gives you some leverage if the project is not completed as specified in the contract.
Contractors Who Don’t Take Care of Their People
A company’s people are the lifeblood of the company. Companies that take care of their people tend to put in that extra effort to take care of their customers as well. Do the contractors that you are considering for your project take care of their people? Happy employees are loyal, take pleasure in their work and deliver good quality work. How can you tell if a company takes care of it’s people? Their social media and website are good places to research them. Look for photos of the team at work, in training, or having fun at company social events, etc. You will see if a company is one that invests in keeping their employees happy and take pride in posting their accomplishments. Do they provide training so employees can improve their skills, advance and get paid more. This should factor into how you evaluate contractors before you choose one.
Contractors Who Don’t Give Back To Their Community
Good companies make the effort to give back to their community. The community is where a company’s employees come from, as well as, their customers. A contractor who feels vested in your community will benefit you even beyond the good outcome of your project. Good companies sponsor community events, give to charity, and engage in community activities. They will encourage their employees to be involved in their community like coaching little league or volunteering their time to help the less fortunate. All in all, a company’s involvement in the community shows how rooted they are in the community; it matters to them how the community sees them. Your opinion of them matters to them. This will reflect in the quality of work as well as long term support that they offer you.
At New Castle Lawn and Landscape, we have built a company with a strong work ethic and company culture that avoids these 10 mistakes. Our commitment to avoiding them shows how we see ourselves, how important it is to us that we deliver high quality work, how we take care of our people and our customers and how we believe in delivering good value not just for the duration of a project but over a lifetime of good relationships with our clients, our people and our community as a whole.