Don’t be fooled. Picking the wrong landscaper can be just as risky as hiring an inept general contractor.
While hiring a landscaper may seem like a low-risk endeavor to the casual observer, experienced property managers know better. After all not having to worry about maintenance is one of the primary benefits of having an HOA and landscaping is the most visible indicator of how well a property manager is doing their job.
A seemingly straightforward beautification project or maintenance contract can become nightmare if you don’t take the time up front to find a reliable contractor and negotiate a clear contract.
How complicated can it be? All the vendor has to do is tend the lawn, weed and mulch the garden beds, whack the weeds, edge the walkways and maintain the irrigation system, right? Sure, landscaping is the first thing people see when they visit your community, and yes, it affects curb appeal and even property values. But if the grass gets too high, or the newly planted shrubbery dies, it’s hardly going to jeopardize the structural integrity of a building. Given everything else a property manager is responsible for, hiring a landscaper is relatively low risk, right?
Well, yes and no.
It’s true that landscaping projects and maintenance pose fewer risks to a building’s structural integrity than construction projects, but they still pose substantial, and potentially, enormous risks. An inexperienced contractor, for instance, might not know how to treat iron-laden well water to prevent staining of exterior walls. Worse, they might not know the importance of salting walkways to prevent potentially costly slip-and-fall lawsuits.
There is always the chance of a freak accident or poorly maintained equipment could lead to bodily harm that a contractor might not insure for if not for your insistence.
5 key questions
There are plenty of contractors eager to win your business. Your job is to find the one who checks off all your boxes before talking price. On top of being eager to win your business, they must prove they deserve it.
Give your search for a commercial landscaping company the same attention you would to hiring an employee or hiring any other vendor. It’s imperative that you’re comfortable not only with their work ethic and level of expertise, but also their professionalism, communication skills and reliability.
The only way to approach that level of comfort is by conducting a background check to answer at least the following five questions.
- Has the contractor produced verifiable professional references and/or customer reviews?
- Do they have all appropriate licenses and insurance?
- Have they been certified by vendors or other organizations in sod management, organic lawn care or how to use and handle fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other hazardous chemicals?
- Do I have access to – and a full understanding of – their insurance coverage and any policy endorsements?
- Have the company’s owners ever been sued, charged or convicted of fraud? If so, what were the circumstances and disposition of the case?
Answering yes to the first four questions and no to the fifth will greatly improve your chances of entering a successful and relatively stress-free business relationship. But it’s only half the work.
On the dotted line
Once you’ve found a worthy candidate, it’s time to draw up a clearly defined and legally enforceable contract to protect both parties and the property owners. A mutually agreed upon document outlining expectations for both parties can ensure issues are identified and resolved before they develop into problems visible to residents, owners and potentially regulators. Such contracts should address the following items.
- The full scope of services to be provided, including how often they will be provided, when they will be provided, how long they will take and how the contractor will charge for materials. A maintenance contract should specify how often the lawn is fertilized, aerated and cut and what hours the contractors crews will be working.
- Payment schedule and terms. If you are hiring a contractor for a one-off beautification project, you may want to specify completion dates.
- Point of contact for both parties.
- A specific course of action in the event of a dispute.
- A termination clause specifying under what conditions either party is in breach of the contract.
- Terms for renewal or contract completion.
- Insurance coverage information with clearly defined liability and an attached Certificate of Insurance from the vendor.
Beware of any unclear terms, vague definitions, or any areas that leave room for interpretation. Also, make sure that the proposed contract is compatible with the governing documents of the homeowner association. Common prohibitions include contracts with a term of more than one year or a self-renewal clause, and certain contracts may require owner approval.
Have an attorney experienced in such matters review any prospective contract and identify potential pitfalls before committing to a vendor.
Your success as a property manager hinges on selecting the right vendors, establishing a clear mutual understanding of expectations, and maintaining an open line of communication. Finding good help isn’t all that difficult once you have your search criteria. Taking the time upfront to find the right professional landscaper for your maintenance or project needs can reduce stress and limit liability.
Or you could just let us do the work