Hiring a Contractor- The 1st Meeting

Being Prepared For the First Consultation Meeting with a Potential Contractor

Here is an insider’s view of some helpful tips for hiring a contractor and questions that you should ask during the first meeting/consultation.

The biggest consideration in my mind, and one that I see prospective clients miss over and over again, is that during this first consultation you are interviewing the contractor. This is much like a job interview- you are trying to make an intelligent choice about a company that you will be trusting to install your project and with whom you will be investing a considerable amount of money and time. While defining your specific project and relaying your needs is important, and will help the contractor address these needs, you also need to be assessing the contractor and whether you want the company to install your prospective project. A successful project is more than the installation itself, or dollars and cents- the experience and relationship you have with your contractor is also very important. With this in mind, a few key tips for starting off the process:

1- Take notes: Frequently, when I talk with prospective clients they do not take written notes of our consultation meeting. In my mind this is a mistake, as the contractor I always take notes of all the projects I go on relating to scope, budget, project background, client preferences etc. When hiring a contractor if you don’t take detailed notes and talk to multiple contractors it may difficult to remember the details.

2- Before the first meeting/consultation discuss the details: Many times when I go on a consultation, the first time a husband and wife discuss their wants and the project scope in depth is when they first talk with me. This is a mistake- the more clarity you can have going into the first meeting, the better the contractor will be able to meet your needs. It often helps to have a list typed out of the elements, key considerations or design details you want for the project. Give a list to each contractor you talk to, it will help them meet your needs, and make their estimate more accurate. If there are disagreements about what type of spaces you want, what you want to spend, or other key considerations, discuss them before you meet with potential contractors, not during the first meeting.

Example- Project Scope
-Remove existing concrete patio- replace with flagstone or new concrete
-Plantings- low maintenance, Mediterranean style
-Install lights on front path
-Remove oak tree in back yard
-Target budget $50-75,000, etc, etc…

3- Ask about the Company’s Resume: When interviewing a job candidate for a position, the key point of reference is their resume. Ask the same type of questions of the contractor- if they have a website use this to do some research as well.

Examples of Some Key Questions

-How long have you been in business? Tell me about the owners, what background do you have in the industry?
-Who will I be working with throughout the project?
-What does your typical job look like?
-How do you handle contracts and change orders?
-Do your crews/employees do the work? Do you use subcontractors?
-How long does a typical project take to install?

4- Do your homework: The more information you have going into hiring your contractor, the more you will be able to make an informed decision on selecting a company that fits your needs.

-Ask neighbors or friends about their landscape projects and how much money they spent
-Read garden magazines or research online to get ideas
-Start to think about materials and styles you want for the project
-Look in the neighborhood for examples of projects, styles, materials or particular detailing that you like.