How do I choose a lawn maintenance contractor?
Updated: May 9, 2022
Hiring a lawn maintenance contractor is a unique experience. Unlike hiring a plumbing contractor to fix your leaky faucet, or hiring an electrical contractor to hang your new light fixture, you're going to see your lawn maintenance contractor for 8 months a year!
The trick in the service contractor industry is NOT to overextend your welcome. Nobody wants a project to take longer than is should, right? Most of us have had the experience, where you feel the contractor is never finishing and the contractor is a permanent fixture in your house. Landscaping is on the other hand not the same, in fact it's much different.
Who doesn't like freshly cut grass, bushes, shrubs or trees that are neatly trimmed? The visit from your landscape contractor is a routine that's anticipated. The amount of productive time your maintenance contractor spends on your property will show in the way the property looks. Too little time spent and the property will look run down, spending too much time is great - but may break the budget. That's why it is so important to choose the right contractor and collaborate how monthly fees will get the most out of your service. Here are a few steps to help you out!
Set Your Priorities
In order to purchase anything, first you need to understand WHY you are buying. Establishing the "why" in the purchase will help you prioritize WHAT is ultimately being purchased.
No longer can you maintain your property because you cannot move around the yard like you used to. For many years you spent hours each week mowing, fertilizing and weeding your property. Every year you edged the planting beds and put down new mulch. Spring flowers, summer flowers and fall mums were planted and watered regularly. You apply fertilizers, grub control, iron treatments, and cared for your trees by applying ornamental fungicide and injection treatments as needed. Weekly hand weeding took more time than cutting the grass! You did it with pride and it showed. Your yard was the envy of the neighborhood, well done!
Your "why" would be this:
I am hiring a maintenance contactor because I can no longer keep up with my beautifully kept yard.
Your "what" would be this:
I need to write a weekly checklist that the contractor completes each week. I don't want the grass cut in the rain or cut after if rains. Weeds need to be hand pulled and dead head all flowers. All grass clippings need to be sucked up and sidewalk edging needs to be completed every week. The list goes on and on...
In this example Service and Quality would be the number one factor. The scope or work would be extensive and detailed, and the monthly pricing would reflect the quality of service needed.
You are the board president or property manager and looking to retain a lawn maintenance contractor for your association. The association is looking to keep the monthly assessments to a minimum and not looking to raise the price on lawn care. The property is in need of new roofs, driveway asphalt and new window in all the townhome units.
Your "why" would be this:
I am hiring a lawn maintenance contractor that will keep my HOA members off my back, so I can focus on all the other improvements that the association needs. Lawn care is important but not a priority until these other big ticket items are completed.
Your "what" would be this:
I need an experienced lawn maintenance contractor who will give me the biggest bang for the buck. I am looking for a limited scope of work that will get the most out of my monthly fees.
In this example price would be the number one factor. The scope of work would need to be carefully written so that you would not receive an steady flow of complaints from your members. Taking the lowest price is a very big risk. However, you can reduce your risk if you have an experience maintenance contractor who understands and can explain how your fees can go further, and with the best results. A good example of this would be the amount of lawn cuttings per year. Lawns do not need to be cut every week, typically after the month of July bi-weekly cutting can be utilized. When reducing the amount of cutting in the contract, you and your contractor can use those budget dollars in other areas; like fertilizer, flowers or spring mulch.
Write a Scope of Work
Once you have established why you are looking to purchase and what you need from the purchase, document the scope of work in a contract that the contractor and owner can follow. Ambiguity and/or lack of information in the contract is only going to benefit the contractor. So make sure the contract clearly identifies the work that is to be performed. Setting a low price and labeling "Lawn Maintenance" is not clear and this will only lead to potential misunderstandings for either party.
How is a scope of work written and how is it formatted? Scope of work can be written in table form (which I prefer) or bullet points. Clearly listing job specific tasks will clarify the expectations for the owner thus giving your contractor a playbook to make the customer satisfied.
Lets say a customer is not getting serviced every week and the complaints are rolling in because the grass is too long. The solution to this problem is easily identified by Table 1.1 below. Weekly mowing's are required and the contractor is clearly not performing the scope required. Another example might be, customers have taken issue with weeds and many calls are coming in because the turf has been overloaded with weeds. Table 1.1 does not require weekly weeding therefore a separate price might need to be worked up by the contractor for additional weeding or chemical applications.
Included (Yes or No)
Weekly Lawn Mowing
Grub Control Treatment
Payment terms can vary from contractor to contractor and the process is usually negotiable. The key here is to make sure the terms are clearly identified within the contract and what happens if the services or payments are not received.
Some contractors require payment before or the same day the services are completed. Owners might not be comfortable paying for services not rendered, because what happens if the contractor doesn't show up? What if the contractor is late? What if the work performed has problems that are not yet identified? What recourse does the owner have if payment has already been made? Getting the work completed timely and per specification might put the owner in a vulnerable position if payments are made in advance. Typically deposits and same day payments are contracted with single family homeowners and are less likely in commercial or multifamily applications. There are situations where deposits would be warranted, such as pre-purchase materials, or project specific materials that cannot be returned, or used on other projects.
Another example might be, contractor invoices for work complete at the end of the month for work completed that month with 30 day payment terms from date of invoice. This scenario puts the contractor out 60 days of expenses without being paid. If you are working with a contractor who is willing to go at risk with these terms, chances are they're an established company who is able to manage its' cashflow. This is a good sign for the owner because poorly run companies are not in a position to extended credit. I am not implying companies who demand deposits or C.O.D. payments are poorly run and have cashflow issues. I am simply saying that contractors who extend credit are financially more secure, and companies that are financially secure, will have the means to get the work done.
Lastly, once the payment terms are established, clear provisions need to be indicated in the contract for payment or services not received. Examples of this would be the contractor has the right to discontinue the work until full and final payments are received. Or, if substandard work is being performed by the contractor full payment may be withheld until the contractor satisfies the delinquencies. Opening the lines of communication about these terms will create a win - win for both parties.
Another important thing to consider when hiring a landscape maintenance professional is to agree upon and understand the cancellation policy. During the course of a contract, unforeseeable events or circumstances may come up and the contract scope of work may be impacted. With a fair cancellation policy in place the impacts for either party are kept to a minimum.
So, how do I choose a lawn maintenance contractor?
Search for a contractor that you feel will help create synergies between owner and contractor; whereas the performance will align with the expectations.
In other words find a contractor that you feel comfortable communicating with and be sure the owners expectations and the contractors services are in alignment. When alignment is out of balance (yes this will happen) communicate and work towards re-alignment. Problems point to something that needs to be corrected or aligned, is this a bad thing? Without problems nothing can change or get better, the problems direct the attention to where it is needed most, creating the synergy we all are looking for.