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In today’s fast paced world we need things to get done and off our mental (or physical) list as quickly and efficiently as possible. Often this requires us to hire contractors to solve our problems. Hiring a contractor can be a daunting task and unfortunately often times it is. My goal is to help you understand how to choose and deal with a contractor. Now in full disclosure, I am a licensed irrigation contractor so my information will revolve around hiring a landscaper for a project.

Look for anyone available!

Just kidding, not a good idea. Do research. Look up a company online and try to identify which companies have employees and which ones are owner operated. While both have their advantages, I believe it’s best to find a company with employees and a good reputation. A company with employees will typically be able to get you in quicker than a small owner operator who will likely have a full schedule.

Call at least three companies?

While this may be a good practice, you don’t have all the time in the world. A good company will provide a good experience for you from the beginning (like from-the-first-phone-call beginning). Often the first phone call is like our front door, it’s the first impression and you can tell a lot about a contractor by this first interaction. Often times you will only delay your project if you meet with a good company first and “get two other opinions” because you’re not sure about the price. Always check with the state agency in charge of contractors. Make sure they have a license for the work they are performing. If you see a negative mark on their profile, ask the contractor about it. Many times they just got themselves in over their head on a project and most will admit it.

Treat your contractor with dignity.

Try to avoid anything that can be taken as talking down to your contractor. Contrary to popular belief, many contractors are good people with good hearts and often this gets them in trouble. Many a contractor just wants to help and does too much for free and this causes a multitude of issues. Most contractors have an ego. If you don’t treat them with respect early on, you likely will not be able to turn the ship around.

Keep things on the Up and Up.

Do not under any circumstances proceed with any part of the process without clear terms and paperwork to match. Ask about scheduling and be open. Such as, ask what will happen if it rains or if an emergency comes up. A good contractor will have an answer that makes sense, a great contractor will have a plan.

“Pay the lady”.

Yes, contractors can make a lot of money, at least it seems that way. Many regulations and insurance requirements make owning a successful landscape company almost impossible. Workers compensation is extremely high, like 30% per employees wages high plus the employer’s payroll tax, perks, and the list goes on and on…even simple liability insurance is extremely high in my state (CA). My point is, a good landscape contracting company will and should be expensive. If they are, you will know they are legitimate and trying to abide by the rules, which in turn contributes to YOUR community being a better place. There should be value with the expense though. In clear terms, make sure you have paperwork and expectations on payments.

You want money before the job starts, are you crazy???

A good contractor with a healthy company will need a deposit before the job starts. They shouldn’t need the money for materials, this is so you have skin in the game. A lot of planning and scheduling goes into a contracting project. There’s a lot behind the scenes. Respect the time involved. Not all companies will refund your deposit if you want to cancel the job, so make sure to check that. They should have terms attached to taking a deposit (remember the paperwork mentioned earlier?). My company, for example, will not refund a deposit if you were to cancel a project within 72 hours of the start date.

Well now you’re ready to start!

You’re excited! My next article will discuss the project process and how you can ensure success with your contractor.