Blog Post

Your next landscape project: Do It Yourself or Hire A Pro?

  • By Phil Grande
  • 29 May, 2014

It may help you with a project if you are a homeowner, or it may help a contractor to understand the customer’s point of view.

This year, we’ve already experienced some changes in business at Soundview Landscape Supply. Increasingly, we see homeowners acting as general contractors on their projects. Acting as a contractor would mean that the individual knows what to expect when it comes to running a project. All too often, problems arise when the homeowner/general contractor doesn’t have experience managing the process. More specifically, a lack of experience can lead to unreasonable expectations in ordering materials, finding and scheduling qualified installers, and coordinating the process from beginning to end.

Today, I think it would be helpful to cover a few of the major issues we observe from a sales point of view. It may help you with a project if you are a homeowner, or it may help a contractor to understand the customer’s point of view.

Preparation & Planning

In speaking with my friend Prisco, who owns an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation Air Conditioning) supply company, he indicated that the HVAC industry is experiencing the very same phenomenon as our Green Industry. Lots of folks want to work and call themselves contractors, but more and more of the end use customers are making selections on products and services directly with the wholesalers. During our conversation, Prisco indicated that when non tradespeople contact his company, he is careful to point out that the heating and cooling products are not always the most critical part of a job. Instead, he stresses, working with the right contractor will help offer a good outcome for your project. It is important to work with a company who will not only show up to work, but one which ensures that responsible, qualified professionals will be working with the products chosen by the consumer.

If you are the customer, do your best to set reasonable, attainable goals. Layout your plans and be able to communicate clearly with your contractor. On the contractor side of the equation, ask customers about their goals and expectations. Don’t just assume that they ‘want the job done’. Everybody wants the job done, most people want it done correctly, once!

Scope of the Project

Before beginning any landscape project, it is important to determine the scope of work. Responsible contractors can identify what needs to be done as well as other important factors. What kind of extra work or charges might occur? What are the limitations of the products chosen by the customer? When will the job be considered complete by both the customer and the contractor? These are all items which need to be nailed down at the onset of even a small project. At Soundview, we can help in all of these cases. We can explain the products we sell. We know the limitations of the block used for patios and hardscapes. We can help you calculate what materials might be needed for a particular pattern or style walkway you might choose. We know what types of plants work in certain conditions, but often times we don’t know what those real world conditions are. We are happy to help customers and contractors answer questions before a project starts. What is difficult from the suppliers’ point of view is a review of conditions at your particular project. Can our delivery trucks and equipment get in and out of the site or will a temporary road be needed? Are there physical limitations on the site like septic systems, buried utilities, overhead wires, etc. Who is responsible for knowing all of these variables? Well, if the homeowner is acting as a general contractor, that responsibility falls on them. If the contractor owns the entire scope of work, this should be specified in the written agreement.

Contractor Qualifications

Many contractors have industry specific licenses and registrations. By and large, landscaping is not regulated by these same rules. In Connecticut, landscape contractors need to have a Home Improvement Contractor’s registration with the Department of Consumer Protection. This is merely a registration that gets paid for annually. It doesn’t really prove any skills or competency, but it is a starting point, and registered companies are required to provide contracts with terms that meet State standards including a timeline for starting and completion. If a landscape company applies lawn care products the Company, Supervisors and Operators all need to be licensed with the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Here is a list of common requirements in Connecticut that most contractors ought to meet:

  • Secretary of State – Business Registration – Annual
  • CT Department of Revenue Services – Multiple Tax Registrations
  • Business Entity Taxes need to be paid
  • Sales Tax needs to be collected for landscaping work and remitted to DRS.
  • Companies with employees need to register and withhold payroll taxes.
  • Companies or Individuals may be subject to income tax requirements
  • United States Treasury – IRS – Multiple Tax Registrations
  • Company Tax Returns must be filed annually
  • Companies with employees need to register and withhold payroll taxes
  • Insurance – Proof of Insurance is generally easy to obtain, for general liability as well as Worker’s Compensation. Workers should not be allowed to perform jobs on your property without it. Ask your homeowner’s insurance carrier what contractors should have for a policy to protect you and your home.
  • CT Department of Labor – If a contractor shows up with more than just himself, the company needs to be registered with the DOL in order to comply with Unemployment compensation regulations.
  • CT Department of Motor Vehicles – Trucks and Trailers require commercial registrations and may even require Commercial Drivers Licenses.

Before you embark upon a project, verify that your contractor has at least the relevant items from this checklist. If the price sounds low, the contractor probably isn’t complying with these basic requirements. Do you really want someone in that position working at your home or business just to save a few bucks?

Payment and Terms

When dealing with a contractor, or acting as a general contractor don’t be afraid to spell out the business terms. How and when will payment be made? Is the job large enough to justify progress payments or is a deposit and payment upon completion enough? What benchmarks determine how much progress has been made? Is there a Warranty or money held as a retainer for a certain period of time? These items need to be sorted out ahead of time, not at the tail end when the contractor is ready to move to the next customer. You’ll notice I mentioned warranty in the payment terms. This is often a question we are asked when selling products. Are your plants guaranteed for a year? Soundview is a re-wholesale nursery, which means we sell primarily to the trade. You don’t have to be a contractor to make purchases, but it is important for you to understand that plant sales are ‘as-is’, no warranty. From our point of view, warranties are the responsibility of the contractor and homeowner. Our plants come from farms, not factories. There is no recourse on our end of the sale in order for us to make claims after the material leaves our yard. Factors like soil conditions, planting technique, watering, etc. all contribute to the success of a planting, and they are out of our control. We recommend to contractors that 30% of the planted cost of an item be added for a warranty if they accept any responsibility. I think that would be prudent for you to plan for as well. It doesn’t mean you’ll use the funds, but you might as well bank it, like insurance, and in a case of damage or loss, you’ll be covered.

I hope some of this insight proves helpful as you consider hiring a contractor, or even if you operate as a contractor. There are so many fly by night operations these days that sometimes my associates and I think that the underground economy has superseded the actual economy. Don’t fall for the perils that we’ve outlined here.

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