Jun 15, 2009

Getting Your Money's Worth

I wrote previously on when and why to take on your own project. In a nutshell: do what you love because you love to do it, not to save money — then hire a pro for the rest.
But if you're inclined to do any of it yourself, you probably are conscious of the money. So whether you work with a designer first or go straight to the contractor, here are a few ways any homeowner can work more efficiently with your landscape professional:
  • Know which professional you need. Landscape designers, architects, contractors and gardeners all have different strengths, and are appropriate for different jobs. Take the time to learn how they differ and decide which is right for you before you invite them out to your site.
  • Know what you're asking for. Do your homework: What's the size of the area to be landscaped? What are some of the ways you envision enjoying your new yard? Have you ever seen any other yards or gardens (public or private) you liked? Take pictures, tear pages out of magazines, photocopy books. Do whatever it takes to clarify, for yourself as well as your pro, what you've got and what you want. And please, do it before we agree on a direction. Sharp turns are painful for everybody.
  • Know what you can spend. You didn't shop for a car without a budget. You didn't look for a house without a budget. So why on earth would you start planning your landscape without a budget? "Well, we want to see how much things cost before we commit to a budget." That's a landscape designer's dream: pay me for idea after idea after idea until we reach that magical place where ideas and budget intersect. But wouldn't you rather spend that money on the actual construction, not the pretty drawings? Just talk it over with your partner (and your financial adviser and your loan officer if necessary) and decide on a figure already. Then let your pro help you figure out how to get the biggest return on whatever you invest.
  • Know when to stay out of the way. We get that you're excited that things are moving forward. We love what we do, too. But looking over our shoulder while we work (either figuratively or literally), designing your yard for us, shopping for plants or hardscape materials before the design concept has been approved, or hooking us up with your friend's cousin who's studying for his contractor's license just is not helpful. Unless, of course, we've agreed beforehand that it is. Which we probably didn't.
  • Know your limitations. If you're at all handy, you probably can do some of the landscaping yourself. And if your contractor agrees that some of the work will be done by you, great! But before you start, consider whether you're really going to save money by doing it yourself versus giving the job to someone who makes their living doing it all day, every day. Are you really that good at staining redwood? Do you know how to put a plant in the ground to keep it from going into shock? What's the worst that can happen if you don't wire your landscape lighting properly? I'm not saying you can't do any of these things; just that if, say, you kill that plant, you're on the hook to replace it. If your deck is splotchy, you have no one to point to but yourself. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
  • Know your pro. Don't, just do not, hire an unlicensed contractor to do the job of a licensed one. Don't hire a landscape designer (unlicensed) to design a hillside deck. Don't hire a gardener (unlicensed) to set your stone. For that matter, don't hire a landscape contractor (C-27 license) to install your gas line (C-36 license). Hell, I'm not even a fan of hiring your gardener to install your irrigation. Check the contractor's license status. Check their insurance. Sure, unlicensed, uninsured contractors are a lot less expensive than licensed/insured ones. Right up until something goes wrong.

Chances are, even in This Economy, your landscaping is going to cost more and take longer than you expect. But there's nothing that says you can't get your money's worth.

What are some ways you've made a project more cost-effective?


Susan aka Miss. R said...

John--This is incredible advice that anyone considering renovating or creating a new garden or landscape should follow. I am called too often to mitigate mistakes--dead plants, sink holes in patios, poor drainage...the list goes on and on and on. A little research will go a long way to saving money and sanity. Thanks.

John said...

Susan, your clientele are lucky to have you to clean up the messes. And, it proves that they're ultimately sensible people who learned from their mistakes. I should add a corollary point to my post, something like "don't throw good money after bad" - e,g, the gardener that totally muffed designing the irrigation system is not the one to call to fix it.

GardenBloggers.Com said...

Hi John,

Just a quick note to let you know I finally got around to adding your entry on the blogroll for www.GardenBloggers.com