Money is always an issue when it comes to building. But the price isn’t the only thing to look for when you shop for landscape help.
Remember that everyone in business needs to make some kind of a profit in order to stay in business. Remember, also, that most folks are not trying to ‘rip you off’. But keep in mind that quality and knowledge vary drastically no matter how good or bad the intent may be. A bid that is too low will often produce substandard work and/or materials, or a professional/worker who has underbid and is taking a loss. Either is undesirable. Substandard work may not show up at first but is likely to cost you much more in the long run than spending more to get the job done right in the first place. On the other hand, the highest bid may not necessarily buy you the best job either. If the person you are paying top prices to has a good reputation for giving quality, experience and knowledge, then you are likely getting your money’s worth. If it is simply the highest bid, you may be paying for padding. Shopping for your landscape expert will require more than a superficial look.
With landscaping, as with most construction jobs, it is vital that the preparation job is done thoroughly. Prep is without doubt the most tedious and time consuming part of any job of building. But invariably, when short cuts are taken, the project goes wrong in the future, usually costing many times more to tear it out and put it right, than it would have cost to do the job right in the first place. Landscapes that look lovely when put in can grow into tangled messes if the mature sizes were not considered in the original planting. Hardscapes – and even your house – can be endangered by mistakes in soil levels or invasive roots. Misplaced hardscape features may turn into disasters in the future if they were not properly thought out or built with adequate preparation. If you shop for landscape help from a person with knowledge, experience and integrity you are likely to avoid such mistakes.
The same warnings go for shopping for landscape designers, landscape architects and plant experts as well as for contractors and maintenance workers. There are all degrees of talent and knowledge involved in these fields. Once again, check into each person’s experience. Make sure references are unbiased. Look at pictures or jobs that have been done. Do your homework. There are many talented, reputable and comfortable-to-work-with people out there. You can use them on your team as anything from advisers to do-it-all experts. Consider price, but don’t let that alone prejudice you. Consider experience, knowledge and talent. Consider how you feel when you talk to your experts. Do you feel you are being lectured to or listened to? Which style best fits your needs and personality? Does the individual seem knowledgeable? Responsible? Doing research will increase your odds of success. Careful communication is essential. If you aren’t comfortable with the way a job is preceding, express your concerns. Sometimes better communication can fix the problem. If that doesn’t work, consider shopping for someone else before you throw good money after bad. The people working on your landscape are your team. You both take responsibility for the result. And a good working relationship with a knowledgeable, caring professional can bring the best of your dreams to life in your garden. Shop carefully for your landscape experts.
If you have a new landscape to do or an old one to renovate, it’s time to get to work . If you’re going to hire help, make sure you hire the right person. Please be aware that you rarely get more than you pay for, but you can certainly get less. Do some serious research before hiring help. Make sure the lowest bid isn’t giving you the lowest quality that will lead, eventually, to the highest expense. Grill the “salesman” because a good “salesman” (and you are not getting “free consultations” – you are getting free “sales calls”) will be focused on impressing you. Ask questions. Listen carefully. No one’s going to tell you he or she needs to cut corners in order to come in with a competitive bid though it may cost you dearly in the future. If you want something personal, you need to find someone who is capable of listening to your needs (and doesn’t just tell you what to do).
Most (but not all) landscapers have minimal horticultural knowledge and depend on a limited group of plants. It’s cost efficient for them to use plants that are easily attainable with large mark-up margins (grown in bulk). They want to impress you with a nice hardscape and a pretty planting right away. In some situations, this might be perfect. But keep in mind that factoring in the colors, shapes or favorite plants you personally want may be impractical when bidding against other landscapers. Considering individual needs such as avoiding poisonous plants, planting for allergies, pest or fire resistance requires specialized knowledge. Few landscapers or nursery people have a design or artistic background. Fewer are imaginative. And fewer still, can take the time to design with safety in mind or to be concerned with the disasters these same pretty plants may become to your home or yard in the future when they reach mature size.
Make sure the person you select has what you need. Do your homework. If you know you want more than just the basics but you’re not sure exactly what you do need, call in a consultant, designer or landscape architect. This person is being paid to focus on your needs, not any other part of the job. He/she has nothing to gain by giving advice that isn’t to your advantage. And be careful not to negate what you have learned from an expert if someone later promises to fulfil all your wishes for the price you want. If the expert quoted high, there is usually a reason for it. I have seen too many jobs where regrets far exceeded the initial savings.
Be aware that most landscapers are not experts in all areas, even if they believe themselves to be so. It is confusing out there. It’s easy for someone else to claim to know what is right for you, but you’re the one who will own the results. I repeat. You rarely get more than you pay for, but you can certainly get less. Just like everything else in life, taking the time to do something right at the beginning will usually be the most economically sound choice. The average small landscape starts at about $25,000 — depending on what part of the country you are in and can cost hundreds of thousands depending on size and taste. Isn’t it worth a fraction more to make sure it’s done right?
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