IN a previous column, I discussed some of the things homeowners should not ask their landscape contractor to do.
This time I am offering advice on good habits for landscape contractors and issues that your landscape contractor should tell you before entering a contract.
The basic work habits a good landscape contractor should have are respectful, professional and generally expected by most clients.
Showing up on time seems obvious and not including weather delays or other uncontrollable supply issues, every contractor should show up when they say they will, as a matter of integrity and respect.
Cleaning up any mess or debris accumulated that is part of the project is also a minimum good habit requirement but it frequently happens that debris is left onsite, the road is left dirty or the lawn or walkways have not been cleaned. And blowing debris onto the road is not cleaning up the mess, it's just passing the mess onto the city and the rest of neighbourhood.
Keeping the neighbours happy to the best degree possible is also a good habit and part of a professional contractor's responsibility that is good for business and a matter of respect. Not including neighbourly disputes, contractors must prevent and manage all conflicts with surrounding neighbours.
When it comes to doing the actual work of the project, smart contractors will only build or do work that complies with provincial and municipal laws.
Landscape contractors are required to know and comply with all building code bylaws and ignorance of the law is no defence in court.
A good contractor will also obtain the client's preapproval before substituting a product, plant or construction design that was previously agreed upon. Preapproval authority on all substitutions allows the client to control changes to the contract and final outcomes that may not be desirable.
As for written contracts, I am not going to get into the legal aspects of Canadian contract law; however, every landscape contractor should be able to provide a detailed, fixed-price contract in writing for review before the contract is signed.
Simple contract details should include what specific work is being done, the specific materials being supplied, any related construction specifications, a general timeline for completion along with applicable warranties and any financial arrangements.
There are instances where a pay-by-the-hour contact may be required if the variables are unknown or impossible to determine but it is in the homeowner's best interest to request a fixed-price contract so if there are problems or delays, the contractor will be financially responsible which protects the homeowner from cost overruns.
From my point of view, if a contractor cannot quantify and price any given project by providing a written, fixed-price contract for the client, then the contractor obviously does not have the required training, skill and experience to complete the work.
Before obtaining multiple prices for a given project, homeowners should write down a detailed description of what exactly is to be constructed and give that description to each of the companies providing pricing.
Detailed project descriptions that are given to all competing bidders will provide the homeowner with the ability to accurately compare pricing, a so-called "apples to apples" comparison. Otherwise the bidding process becomes unreliable and impossible to evaluate comparatively.
For me the most important service any professional landscape contractor can offer is honest, informed and innovative advice that will solve any given problem. Especially if the contractor's advice and ideas have not been thought of by the client and even if the advice is something the homeowner may not want to hear.
Many landscape contractors will simply say yes to whatever a homeowner requests and install something that may not be functional, may create future problems or not provide value and durability.
Landscape contractors are obviously hired to complete the physical, technical and supply aspects of construction or maintenance projects but the single most important service a professional landscaper can offer is creative solutions that solve problems.
Sometimes creative solutions will not be accepted due to budget limitation and I regularly see homeowners spend thousands of dollars on bathroom or kitchen improvements but question or dismiss pricing for landscape improvements that create valuable outdoor living space or artistic plantings.
Notwithstanding those discrepancies in evaluating landscape work versus other home improvements, contractors must work within a budget and good contractors should be knowledgeable and experienced enough to provide ideas, alternatives and solutions to address the requirements of any given project. Saying yes to anything the homeowner requests just to get the work seems to me to be uncaring and unprofessional. Perhaps I am old fashioned or idealistic, but I believe landscape contractors are hired because they are trained, knowledgeable and experienced enough to complete the work competently and able to offer constructive ideas that will solve problems.