Updated: Nov 19, 2021
Meeting new people can bring up all sorts of emotions, It can even be unsettling. Lets take the worry out of the first meeting. Like a professional, you need to come prepared with some questions. After meeting hundreds of families to discuss their landscape problems and ambitions, i have compiled five questions that every homeowner should ask their future contractor. These questions will help alleviate the situation. Let the class begin...
What is my problem & how are we going to solve it?
Is this a design/Build. Make a list of things you don't like about your landscape, simple right. How does this current landscape make you feel? Now, make a list of things you want in your landscape. How do you want to feel in your future landscape, for example you want to enjoy the evening reading a book in your outdoor space. Some projects are easier to understand then others so something to keep in mind is that not every question has an answer, immediately at least. Don't expect your contractor to know exactly what you need at the first meeting. If it's a design/build, the investigation process could take anywhere from a day to a few months depending on the contractors experience, contractors other obligations, the scope of your project, the forthcoming weather, etc. So be kind and appreciate of the contractor and his time and he should reciprocate. A good contractor will always respond to a question he doesn't know by stating 'I don't know now, but I'll find out.'
If it's not a design build, the contractor should have a price and solution to your project problem within a week. Any longer, then i would highly consider finding someone else. This is usally a sign that their too swamped with other work, they don't have their p's and q's in order, just all around not a good fit for you.
The most important thing to note after the first meeting is the contractor is the lead. Look at the whole situation as tango. One person leads while the other follows, but it still takes two to tango. The contractor will make a promise to return with a price and or another meeting. Make sure the contractor keeps his word with you. Any hiccups or late call backs are bad signs.
2. Do you have references or pictures of other completed projects.
As noted in the other question its good to come prepared with pictures of landscapes you like or want yours to look like. Its also a good thing to ask your contractor if they have pictures of other projects they completed. If your close friend or family member (that you like) did not give you the contractors number personally, then you have to see other completed projects through any means necessary. It could be a website, pictures from the contractors phone. Visting the projects the contractor completed, etc. I would be hesitant working with any contractor who can't provide this.
3. When can you start?
Some contractors can start right away, this is not always a bad sign. Maybe another project fell through or maybe your the first project of the season. A contractor should know exaclty were they will be in a week, two week, a month from the date. They should always know their schedule. However, they may ask to get back with you on this information. If they don't get back to you at agreed upon time, move on to another contractor. Another thing to note is all landscape projects are at the whim of Weather, suprises from underground, etc. A good contractor is responsible and should be upfront with an honest date. So personaly, if i actually had my first opening in two weeks. I would normally say three weeks is my earliest just in case my other projects had suprises.
To sum up a good contractor knows their schedule and keeps their promises and is responsible for good communciation when things come up.
4. How long will this take?
If a contractor can't give you their best guess on a completion date then they don't deserve you. in fact you should run. A contractor should know this because they did their due diligince.
5. How much will it cost?
You would be suprised how many people don't have an idea how much things cost. I have come to terms with this but something you can do is figure out your budget before the first meeting. Please do your best before your first meeting to talk with your spouse, financial advisor about your budget, the amount of money you can spend on a landscape. Landscapes are an investment and are not inexpensive. As a contractor my least expenseive projects are $5,000 and this would only get your a small landscape (rip out, a few plants, fabric, edging and ornamental stones). My average projects are from $15,000 - $45,000. The project on the homepage of this website was in excess of $100,000. With these numbers in mind you should have a grasp of your best guess.
Now its the contractors turn. A good contractor will usally not have an exact price for you at that first meeting. They should at least provide you with a ball park to see if its even worth the contractor going home and figuring out the concrete price. A ball park price is an on the spot price that contractor gathers from comparing other projects hes completed to yours. A ball park price is good so neither party is wasting each others time. As mentioned earlier, if this is not a design/build the the contractor should have a concrete price within a week or you should move on and find another one, Red flag.
6. Do you have insurance?
Yes, well that's the only answer you should expect. Ask your contractor for a copy of insurance before any work to begin. If they can't, then move on. Insurance protects you and the contractor from any accident's or suprises that comes up.