How to Select a Landscape Contractor

October 20, 2012   Who Do You Pick?

For over 20 years, InVision Landscape has worked 90% of the time from referrals.  So we believe that the referral process is a valid starting point in your contractor selection.

Referrals are as simple as asking friends if they have any experience working with a landscape contractor.

Been to a yard you like? Seen a landscape in the neighborhood that appeals to you? Talked to a friend or co-worker who has recently been through a landscape installation?

These are all valid ways to start the contractor selection process.

Before you even talk to one contractor [or several], the first step is to outline and define the scope of work for your project: is it a new installation requiring patios, irrigation, drainage and planting? Are you just renovating an old landscape in a home that is new to you? Are you looking just to update irrigation? Defining what you want to have done when talking to contractors helps both of you decided if he/she is right for the job. Having specific ideas such as magazine photos, books or a neighbor’s example is extremely helpful to the design process. “A picture is worth a thousand words” does more to show what you want than any words can express.

There are many contractors to fit any level of landscape work; it may take meeting several to find the  right fit for your project.

Let’s work off the idea that you have a new home and need a complete landscape design and installation. Now you need to decide if you want to work with an architect or a landscape contractor/designer. Perhaps the fees involved or the extent of construction that needs to be done will determine this selection. Let’s assume you are meeting with a design-build firm, similar to InVision Landscape.

Make several appointments and allow several hours between appointments so that two contractors don’t end up meeting at the front door. Maybe even schedule one a day over several days. From the contractor’s perspective, we want to meet with both husband and wife, or both partners if applicable. Which might mean on a Saturday or late afternoon to accommodate work schedules. And, it’s great if there can be 45 minutes or so without interruptions [hungry kids, active dogs, telephones...]

Walk the property with the contractor, showing him/her your ideas and listening for their input. If they have a portfolio of ideas, point out things you like and don’t like.  Knowing dislikes are every bit as important as knowing “the likes” and helps the contractor get a clearer picture of the landscape that you have in your mind. From the contractor’s side, apathy/no opinion/no direction is the toughest design project of all!

Most contractors will either want to bid a landscape plan or offer to design a plan for you. Here’s the catch: Many contractors who do design/install will provide a cost estimate based on what they have in mind for your property.  Ideas can differ contractor to contractor which means that cost estimates may not be comparable. And, contractors are not going to provide an in-depth design for free but may give you general ideas that correspond to their specific cost estimate. You may feel at this stage the information is adequate and you can use the ‘rough plan+bid’ to select the contractor you want to work with. The contractor should then firm up the design to a point where everyone agrees on the work to be done; then a contract can be drafted.

An alternative idea is to work with an architect or designer to get a complete plan that you like which means that all the contractors you talk with can bid apples-to-apples. I have done this many times for a plan fee; InVision Landscape submits our bid as well. If we get the job, we discount back the cost of the design fee.

Even with a landscape plan, the actual 3-dimensional project will require adjustments – it always does. Make sure you and the contractor are clear when changes require adjustments to the price: get the change in writing along with a written cost.

The old adage of 3 bids is a good place to start: if one bid seems extremely low compared to the others – be aware that something isn’t right, ask them to double check the numbers….AND, maybe steer clear of the low bid – lots of factors can account for this such as overhead, insurance, labor rates, are they leaving things out only to add them in later after the job starts?  Same works on the high side: if 3 contractors are bidding fairly like-to-like projects [or one design], the numbers should not be outrageously divergent.

A final point, personality has a lot to do with being comfortable with who you select. Is someone home all day to interact with the contractor and his/her crew; how comfortable are they with daily interactions? Do you have the sense the contractor is respectful and listening to your ideas; explaining the course of construction, willing to keep you up to date on progress, available at reasonable hours via phone or email?

The contractor will present you with a contract before starting work. Next Blog will discuss how the contract is to be laid out and what you should look for before signing a contract and starting work.

REMEMBER! Do not give a deposit to a contractor for more than 10% of the cost of the job OR $1,000 whichever is less. That’s the law. No legitimate contractor should need a large some of money from you before they start the job: no work has been done and no materials have been paid for. If you have any reservations, hold back. Call the Contractor’s Board in Sacrament and ask questions.

Next post will be November 1, 2012.


What is a landscape contractor?

October 14, 2012

Welcome to the InVision Landscape Blog.

Our goal is to provide landscape services of the highest caliber to all our projects.

Perhaps you are reading this blog because you are interested in hiring a landscape contractor and are investigating local contractors’ web sites. Thanks for visiting our site and taking a few extra moments to read our blog!

Over the next few posts I’d like to review the process for selecting a contractor as well as some of the important contractor laws as they pertain to you, the consumer.

Our first Blog is discusses the types of businesses in the landscape contracting field so that as you begin your design project you are able to select the right contractor for your job.

BEFORE you start any project understand this VERY IMPORTANT piece of information:

DO NOT under any pressure from a contractor sign a contract and give them any more than 10% down or $1,000 whichever is less.  This is The Law!

There is no reason for a solvent, legitimate contractor to ask for more than that: it’s easy for unscrupulous contractors to take a large deposit and then…adios…!

Let’s start with the type of contractors in California.

Working within California, there are several tiers of landscape professionals.

  1. Licensed Landscape Architect.  These professiongals are the top rung in the landscape industry, providing landscape plans of the highest quality. Architects have had at least 4 years of college, a degree in landscape architecture and served an apprenticeship before taking a test for the license. Many landscape architects focus on commercial projects and large scale residential designs. If your project has site difficulties or lots of special requirements for engineering, then a landscape architect could be right for you. Their fees can be quite expensive.
  2. Licensed Landscape Contractors.  A landscape contractor is licensed by the state after passing a contractor’s test [about the laws and construction]  and required to have workers’s compensation insurance, liability insurance, a bond, and a certain dollar solvency. Landscape contractors may specialize in maintenance or construction. Many contractors, including InVision Landscape, are also capable of excellent landscape designs and can provide working drawing, finished plans, irrigation plans and sketches for your project. A licensed contractor may be one that strictly works for commercial projects and in conjunction with a landscape architect; or likes custom residential homes in urban neighborhoods; or is comfortable with large estate design, such as InVision Landscape.
  3. Landscape Designer. A designer is unlicensed, but many time works for a landscape contractor to provide the design work for that company; or is a contractor/designer. Many designers have some type of additional education, such as a junior college degree. They are capable of designing planting plans, and may defer to an architect  for doing structural designs. I, Karla, do the landscape designs for InVision Landscape.
  4. Swimming Pools. This is a license unto itself. Many pool companies strictly do pools: many times a custom landscape contractor or architect can add to the pool design in terms of it’s unification into the entire site location and it may be worth consulting with a landscape contractor about integrating your pool into your backyard.
  5. Unlicensed “contractors”. They are out there, a dime a dozen.  By law, any job over $500 requires a licensed contractor.  In these tough economic times, there are more and more unlicensed contractors willing to work cheaply and undercut the licensed contractor who is operating fully within the scope of the law. If you know what you may be liable for legally, then perhaps you are willing to chance an unlicensed contractor. We can’t compete and as reputable contractors ask that you NOT use someone who is not licensed.

It is wise to check with the Contractor’s License Board to verify the active status of a contractor before you sign a contract. The contractor should have a credit-card sized wallet copy of his license number and you can verify a contractor’s license through the Contractors’ License Board via a computer by cutting/pasting this URL address:

It is against the law to provide contracting services without a license.

The October 20th Post will discuss how to select a contractor for your landscape project.

And, remember you can always contact InVision Landscape through the Contact page on this website.