Monday, February 16, 2009

In This Economy . . .


Over a year ago, I posted a photo of our dead front yard. We were planning on having our son help us dig everything up and start fresh, but his work and soccer schedule was pretty full, and before long the rains came and we postponed the work.

Last spring, we decided to call a landscaper acquaintance of ours and get an estimate on how much it would cost to hire someone to do the work we had in mind. Well, we went back and forth with that--the first estimate came in under our budget, so we talked about doing a couple other things, and that came in over our budget. I can't remember what happened after that, but again we postponed the work.

Now we're looking at getting it done again, and we're a bit more serious this time. Hubby went to a home and garden show about a month ago and came home with information from several landscapers. He called three companies and had them out to our house to look at the space and talk about what we had in mind, telling them what our budget was for the job. Each of the three companies was to come back and meet with both of us to discuss what they would do and how much it would cost.

The first company was to come over and meet with us this past Friday night at 7 p.m. Work, errands, bad weather, and traffic prevented me from getting home until 7:05. I arrived to find they had come early, made their presentation to Hubby, and left. Their estimate was $800 over our budget.

The second guy--the president of his company--was to come over Saturday between 1 and 1:30 p.m. He called to say he had another stop to make, and he arrived at 2 p.m. He was wearing a button down shirt that was unbuttoned one button too many, Levis, and dress shoes. He kept calling us "you guys." When talking about workers' compensation insurance, he talked about "the men" that made up his crew. All these things--and a few others--bugged me, but at least his plan for our yard was a little more workable; still, he still came in at about $400 over budget. Well, actually it was $1,400 over budget, but he said he'd knock $1,000 off the price. Seriously, I felt like I was buying a car from Mr. Slick; not getting a front yard landscaped.

I think the third company comes over tomorrow night with their proposal, and I believe this is a husband and wife team. We'll see what they have in mind.

The two most important criteria for our landscaping is (1) that it be low maintenance and (2) that it be within our budget. We would like a small patio outside the front door, and we have about half the bricks that would be required. There's a natural drainage depression that will require something--we thought perhaps a dry creek bed, but we're open to ideas--we aren't looking to turn it into a "feature," but we need to make sure water can run off.

It puzzles me that in this economy, companies aren't making more of an effort to satisfy their customers' needs. Why did neither of the first two companies arrive to meet with us when they said they would? Why did they both come with plans that were over our budget? And yes, I can understand that when they priced out what they believed we wanted done, the work may have been more expensive than we planned, but why didn't they come with ideas for changes that might better fit our budget?

The second guy, Mr. Slick, advised us to book the job quickly because his company is starting to get busy with all the leads they picked up from the home and garden show, so maybe the economy isn't affecting him. Maybe it's not as bad out there as everyone tells us. But I know our pocketbook has been affected, and I'm a bit leary of even spending this money now to have the work done, let alone committing to go over our budget.

I hope this third company has something better to offer us. If not, then we'll need to look at other alternatives. Have you had any similar experiences? Hired a landscaper? Found companies more appreciative of your business? I'd be interested in any tips and suggestions you may have.

20 comments:

Ila said...

Hi, Kim. I'm with you on the customer service thing.

We had a landscaper come 3 years ago. A young man just starting out was more affordable than an established business. He came with cards, photos of the plants, and sketches. The established business had none of that. Of course I should have put in plastic plants, I could have kept them alive!

Do you have a public university with a landscape architecture program nearby?

Caryn said...

Keep in mind that most self employed contractors are self employed for one of two reasons 1) they can't hold down a job or 2) they crave the freedom of being their own boss, not answering to anyone, etc. Neither makes for great customer service. I've found over the years that the kind of contractor you are looking for is a very rare breed - and in my experience when I did find that rare breed, they were mucho more expensive than the others because they know what a rare breed they are! Good luck!

Beth said...

I'll send you my husband on loan. He liked puttering in the yard, and it would get him out of my hair for a while. LOL

Carol said...

I haven't had that kind of experience because my husband is so handy with that kind of stuff. He always does it himself and he does a great job. I'm hoping the third landscaper husband and wife team work out for you.

MichelleB said...

Ugh. Landscapers and contractors. There are good ones out there, I know. But I hate looking for them. If you don't like the third team, be sure to keep looking. And don't pay them all up front!

Jeanne said...

I haven't had that experience because we live out in the country and we just do it all ourselves. I have however watched a show on HGTV called Curb Appeal and I think that since you live in California you could be a house for the show. I know they edit things but it seems that they pay attention to your budget and I think the end result is very nice. Good luck!

Sandy said...

I'd be leary of Mr. Slick too. Red flag ~ his comment about getting busy from the home and garden show leads. Last year we went to one of these shows and of course hubby was registering for all the free drawings. That only led to sales people on our door step trying to sell their products and some were a bit pushy. One for a basement remodel job was very pushy to the extent of calling his manager and lowering the price multiple times. Told them no each time - still not within our budget - and they were not too happy. Whenever they get this pressing I am not comfortable, and therefore will not do business with them. Hang in there, you will find a reasonable offer.

Pieceful Afternoon said...

I agree - contractors of any sort are hard to find. We asked on our local freecycle and craigslist for recommendations for contractors and handymen that were reasonable and did good work - and we found two amazingly good ones - and got a lot of good work from them, from taking out a garbage disposal to remodeling all the closet doors in the house - to bids on painting the house and bids on building a deck (both projects are on hold for now, but soon).

I agree - you'd think that this economy would put people in a position to offer the best service so they could get the job. If someone tells me that I must book the job now or lose it to those who are going to be booking - I figure it is a false attempt to scare me into booking and the contractor is actually desperate for jobs - so I never book with that contractor, just on principle as I feel they are not telling me the truth and I don't want them working for me.

Mary on Lake Pulaski said...

This is a headache from all aspects. We ended up getting a plan, getting the heavy work done by a contractor (actually did what he said he would do and when he said he would do it) and did the rest ourselves. Agree with other comment about not paying up front (or only for supplies) and also check out all the references. Good luck.

Judy said...

Ah, you have hit on something that makes my blood boil every time. Promising something and NOT delivering. I remember maybe 20 years ago when our oil furnace went out one day in winter, I called around and the first thing I said was I need someone today...if you can't come today tell me now and I'll move down the list. Most were honest and said no. Then one lady said sure, we'll be there by 3:00pm. 3pm came and went, 5pm, 6pm! I called back and said where are you? Oh we're done for the day, we'll have to come tomorrow. I lost it, but calmly and firmly said Nope you'll come TODAY,as promised. I specifically asked the gal, she said yes, or I would have moved on to someone else. He was at my house at 8:30PM!!and I did not feel bad one bit.

I'd call some of the smaller landscapers and see the prices for the big work, maybe doing some of the smaller stuff yourselves. If they can get the big stuff done, you can do the other in spurts.

paula, the quilter said...

I have been experiencing some GOOD customer service lately! Our forced air furnace has been making horrendous noises in the Recovery mode at 4:30am. It was not just noises because it would make the house shudder. Not good. Called the company that installed it (7 years ago) & they came out looked at the furnace, said there was nothing wrong, charged us $90.00 and left. The bad things continued and the original company kept blowing us off. We called someone else who came out and we have been swapping out thermostats, motherboards, and blower motor hubs. This whole time, the technician was in constant contact with the manufacturer of the furnace. It is finally fixed, YAY! This guy went above and beyond the call of duty and I have nothing but praise for him and his company. The original company is not going to get any referrals from me.

Gran said...

I like Jeanne's idea about contacting the TV program sounds like fun.

debijeanm said...

Because my husband and I are both union, we contact the local trades union building reps and get referrals. We pay union wages and get quality work. If that's not an option, I'd "network" it. Ask around a lot until you find someone people love. It's weird-I've noticed that those who have the money to get work done are being taken advantage of by those who do the work. You would think they'd be more appreciative.

Sandy from Thimbleberries said...

Kim,
My upstairs neighbor is a landscaper. If you interested I could give you her number. She has done work around the area. I haven't seen her work, but she might be what you and your husband are looking for. Let me know.

Nan said...

We did hire a landscaper for the front yard, and he was a very nice man who did the job we asked him to in the time he said he would and under budget. We saved up our pennies for the backyard and got a different landscaper, who knew how to create a water feature. The job was much more expensive than we were originally quoted, but it wasn't the landscaper, it was the company he hired to bring in and set the huge rocks for our walls. It took the rock company a LOT longer than they said it would, and it was a bit of a nightmare for awhile, but it's been done for many years now, and I still love it. Having said all that, I wish you luck with finding a good landscaper, and "Mr. Slick" sounds very slick to me.

Sherry said...

Hi Kim. I hate that you have to go thru this BS, hoping the third team is better. I'm like Carol, my hubby is the guy that does it all. He does electrical, plumbing, landscaping, etc. Actually, he did most of the work when we built our home. :) Hang in there, you'll make the right decision.

Cheryl said...

We just had to have our forced air heating replaced and went through the same ordeal with different companies...it's frustrating to say the least!

Sew Create It - Jane said...

We had that when we were looking for a builder last year. In the end we enie meenie moed in the yellow pages and chose the guy who had "honest and reliable" in his ad. You'll know when it's right...you'll feel it in your bones.

Cathy said...

I feel for you. Last year, we were getting ready to have our kitchen re-modeled. The first designer I consulted told me our budget was ample then came back with a design that cost almost 3X our budget. She couldn't understand why I was unhappy because it was such a wonderful design that addressed all our needs!

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