So you want a new patio or walkway, and you’re doing your research to pick 3 contractors to talk to. After all, it is the smart and responsible way to go about having a project built. All that is great, but do you know how to look for the differences between the bids, installation methods and the services that each one will give you? What information is going to help you make the right choice? This can be very intimidating for anyone, but especially for someone not in the consruction field, familiar with building terms and methods.
Are you comparing apples to apples?
At first glance, those apples – or bids – all look great, but are they the same? Probably not. How do you know that the landscape contractors you’re talking to are giving you pricing for the same thing?
Here are a few things to watch for:
- First off, is everyone bidding on the same design? The only way to guarantee that everyone is bidding on the same project is for you to provide each one with the same drawing. Since that is not always possible, and usually quite unlikely, you at least need to know what each contractor has in mind to build. Have each one give you (or at least show you) the design sketch they’re working off of. Not every contractor gives out drawings with their proposals, and that’s OK. They may have a fee for you to keep the drawing, but they should have a drawing they’re working off of. You should be able to see it and know what they have in mind.
- Are you only interested in the lowest price? If this is the case, you can stop reading right now, because the rest of this article isn’t important. Or is it? There is a saying in the business world that people are looking for 3 things: best price, best quality or best service. It is also a proven fact that you can only have 2 of the 3 at a time. Which 2 are you going to choose?
- The installation process or building method is the next thing to compare. This can actually be broken down into a couple of categories: how they are going to build your project, what equipment they will use and what materials they will build with. They should have some standard building practices and construction details for how they build each type of project. For example, are they digging out the patio by hand or do they have machinery they use for better efficiency? How deep are they going to dig? What kind of base material are they going to use? There is no need to be shy when asking questions about any of this. They should be able to explain it all in a way that you can understand – even if you’re not in the construction industry.
- How long has each company been in business? Do they have the experience, manpower and skill needed to handle your project in a timely fashion? Are they professionally trained? Do they have a reputation for doing good work? These are all very good questions, and may be a little more difficult to find the answers to. Ask to see some of their work and for a list of past customers so that you can talk to some of them.
- Do they stand behind their work? The paver and wall installation industry recommends that each contractor guarantee their work for at least 1 year. Watch out for the ones that have what we call a “Taillight Warranty”… one that lasts only as long as you can see their taillights as they drive away from your finished project.
- Finally, can you communicate with them? This may seem like simple stuff, but don’t take it for granted. This question is multifaceted. First, can you physically call or email them and have them get back to you with answers to your questions in good time? And second, on a more personal note, do you understand each other? Basically, do they get it? Or are they after their own agenda? And do you understand the explanations they give you?
These are just some of the general topics to watch for. Each one has more detail that can be looked into and compared. Most likely each company is going to have their own way of doing things and they will not be or operate the same as the next one.
Your job is to sort through all of this, and come to a decision that you are comfortable with and can live with.