Every summer, countless homeowners incur the expense and hassle of hiring professionals to help beautify their yards. Those services can be quite costly. That's why it's important to hire the right landscaper at the right price. Here are some steps you can take that will help get the best value from your landscaping pros.
Not every homeowner is an expert on lawn, yard and tree care, so it helps to get several pros out to your property to advise you on what needs to be done and what the options are. It's a free education about your property.
"The most important advice is to talk with several firms," said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers' Checkbook, which offers ratings of local service companies to subscribers in seven large U.S. markets. "Use them as your consultants."
To get names of companies for your initial visit, you can use the usual method of asking for referrals from neighbors and local friends and family. But you can also go online to service-review Web sites. A good paid site that features Lexington reviews is Angie's List, which frequently offers special subscription deals. You might also get reviews and comments on some companies from free sites such as Yelp.com.
You can cross-check names of any finalists with the Better Business Bureau, BBB.org, especially noting the number of complaints lodged against the companies.
Get price bids
Once you know what you want, request apples-to-apples estimates from at least three companies. "You'll find big price differences on these things," Krughoff said.
Checkbook used one major metropolitan area as an example and found that the same tree-removal job could cost from $1,935 to $6,300, depending on the company. Prices on a smaller tree job ranged from $375 to $1,100.
But pricey firms do a better job, right? Not really, Krughoff said. His publication found virtually no correlation between price and quality in lawn care and tree services, meaning you don't necessarily get what you pay for. But that's not true in all cases. Pricier garden nurseries were found to generally offer higher quality, Consumers' Checkbook found.
Get it in writing
Especially for bigger jobs, be very clear — in writing — about what a firm is expected to do. In the tree-removal example, will they haul away debris? Will they cut up wood into firewood length and leave it? Will they remove a stump? If so, how: by cutting it to grade level or grinding it? "A lot of times, people just don't get specific," Krughoff said.
If you're hiring a company to install plants, note the replacement policy. Angie's List suggests not hiring a company if it won't promise to replace and replant any plants that die despite proper care.
Make sure the company has liability insurance and workers' compensation insurance. Some yardwork, especially in high trees, is dangerous to people and property. And for some jobs, you might look for certifications and membership in professional organizations, such as the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Angie's List says. For tree service, consider companies with a professional arborist on staff.
Be wary of add-ons
If a landscaper or lawn service recommends various fertilizers, sprayings and treatments, you'll want to hear a compelling case on why it's necessary and see evidence that it will make a difference, Krughoff said.
Ideally, you will pay nothing until the job is done, which gives you the most leverage to ensure it's done right. But some companies will require a deposit. Avoid paying the entire amount upfront. And use a credit card if you can. That allows you to dispute the charge with the credit card company if the service was incomplete or not done right.