Landscaping Project Survival Check List

Seven things I recommend to make sure any landscaping project ends with smiles all around:

1. Hire someone you are comfortable with

Depending on the size of your landscaping project, your landscaper and his/her crew will be hanging around your yard and talking to your kids for anywhere from two days to two months. It takes a lot of trust to have someone coming onto your property like that. So, as much as you want to hire experienced people who are creative and technically competent, you also want people that you trust and, even better than that, people you legitimately enjoy being around. If you pick a friendly and respectful crew, you might even be a little sad to see them go when the project is over.

2. Have a plan

If all you want is a simple rectangular patio at the bottom of your deck stairs then you might get by with a quick sketch on the back of an envelope, but for anything more than that, an accurately scaled, detailed drawing is your best assurance that you and your contractor both now what you want. It can be a challenge to visualize clearly and a professional drawing really helps, and it keeps everyone on the same page as far as expectations go.

3. Sign a detailed contract

So you have a detailed landscape plan, and your designer has provided some 3D renderings of the plan (ideally). Now its time to get the details in writing. I'm not suggesting you need to get the lawyers involved to draw up an exquisitely detailed and exquisitely expensive detailing of each element of the plan, but you do need more than:

Install deck, patio, and plantings: $15,000.00

A useful patio contract should specify:

  • depth of stone base under a the patio
  • paver style and color
  • size of patio in square feet
  • price

If plantings are part of the plan, then the contract should specify the numbers of plants along with their size and type.

The proper level of detail protects both you and your contractor. You know what you are getting and your contractor knows exactly what is expected. So much of the success of a project is just making sure that everyone has the same expectations. No one likes to feel nickle and dimed.

4. Establish a payment schedule

Most reputable contractors will require a deposit of 20% to 50% of the total project cost to hold your place in their summer schedule. The balance may be divided into two or more progress payments depending how long the work is expected to take. Milestones should be clearly defined so you and the contractor both know when payments are due. To give you an idea of what's typical over here at Earthworks, a mid-sized job that will take us 1 ½ to 2 weeks to complete would have the following payment schedule:

  • 25% deposit due when we schedule the work
  • 20% due after the first full day of work
  • 30% after the first week of work or at a pre-determined milestone in the project
  • The final 25% would be due on completion

At this point we would do a walk-through to review the project and make sure everything is done to your satisfaction. If there are more than 1 or 2 small deficiencies that still need work it would be reasonable for you to hold back 5% or 10% until all details have been resolved.

5. Be an active participant

While every contractor is happy to be left alone to do what they do best, this is your project, so you have every right to ask as many questions as you want as the work progresses. If anything is not what you expected or you are feeling uneasy about something, we definitely want to hear about it. When working with a smaller company like us, you can take comfort in knowing you can direct your questions to – and get real answers from – a single person from first contact to final details. No handing your account from salesman to designer to project manager. The buck stops with one person (me), the same person you'll deal with from start to finish and I always welcome your input.

6. Keep track of changes

If all goes well, your detailed plan and contract will flawlessly guide the construction process, but as your new landscape takes shape you may want to make small changes to the plan. Be sure to document all changes and know how they will affect your budget. Surprise charges at the end of an otherwise successful landscaping project are no fun for either side.

7. Take lots of pictures

Daily pictures of your developing yard make for a record of what has been done. And, when all the equipment is gone and you're enjoy your first fire in your new fire pit, you'll be glad for the before and after pictures to share!

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