Common homeowner mistakes made in the landscape include all aspects of the landscape process from the initial planning and design, construction, planting, ongoing maintenance and choosing who to hire to perform various tasks.  In general, the landscape mistakes homeowners make stem from a basic misunderstanding and a general  lack of knowledge of how the industry works.

The vast majority of homeowners simply do not regard “landscapers” as professionals. Because of the overlapping services between someone who has a list of credentials and the guy who takes care of your neighbor’s yard, the average homeowner lumps most all services provided in this industry to that of the “landscape guy”. And one of the biggest common homeowner mistakes is not really knowing what you need and who should be the one to do it.

If your needs are to simply do some clean up around the yard, you don’t call a landscape architect. But if you need an entire backyard remodeled, you do not ask your gardener to prepare a design.

Part of the problem is caused by the services offered by these “landscapers”. Many who are not licensed, qualified, skilled nor educated will claim they can do virtually everything a landscape would need from tree trimming to building a retaining wall.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes and misconceptions homeowners have about the landscape industry:

Being your own general contractor and architect

You should have a good handle on big picture thinking and a good sense of design if you intend to be your own general contractor/supervisor of the workers that you hire. Another of the common homeowner mistakes where they have a larger project that may involve several components such as grading, irrigation, lighting, masonry and  plantings — even for a very small area and rely on their gardener to give them design advice and a quote. Here are a couple of common mistakes :

    1. Hiring multiple tradesmen to do work one “project” at a time usually results in a hodgepodge appearance and which may lack cohesiveness after its all completed. Do these individual “projects” fit into an overall plan or are you piecemealing the installation? Piecemeal installations often result in inefficiencies and additional expense.
    2. Asking your regular gardener to perform work and/or design advice beyond their expertise.

Not hiring licensed contractors

Arizona law requires anyone who does work that exceeds $1000 be licensed by the Registrar of Contractors. So as long as the job is less than $1000 they don’t have to be licensed. This is sometimes called the “Handyman’s Exemption” since most handymen do small jobs like repairs and the like.  The law also exempts work that is limited to mowing lawns, tree removal,  and shrub pruning and general clean up work . These are your true landscapers and gardeners.

Thus most ‘gardener-landscapers’ are not licensed but often advertise that they not only do yard clean ups, but also install pavers, do stone work, walls, etc. which all could easily fall into the category of contracting . To read a more thorough article on hiring unlicensed workers, see my blog post

Getting “Free Estimates” to compare different designs

There is nothing wrong with getting several bids if your project is to simply rip out and old ugly concrete driveway and replace it with pavers. If your project is sufficiently complex that warrants a plan being prepared and creative design like a backyard makeover or remodel,  getting multiple bids from people without having a design prepared is a mistake.

Homeowners may feel they do not want to pay for a separate design even though the project may warrant one. Here’s the scenario: Homeowner calls several contractors to give them a free estimate which requires some kind of design to be put on paper, perhaps an entire backyard. Some contractors will not charge a design fee, others will credit the fee towards construction costs, but many will do a free design and proposal in the hopes of getting the work and perhaps present the design but not let the homeowner keep it.

What happens is that these contractors are preparing a design and a cost proposal based on what they think they heard you tell them you wanted. You end up comparing essentially, the “best design for the best price”. With different design variations in terms of material, area and scope of work, you are comparing apples to oranges.

Sacrificing quality of work, expertise, credentials and legal issues for the lowest price

We all want a good deal on our purchases, but some homeowners feel like they should act like the government and get at least three bids” with the inference being getting the best deal. Best deal is not just the lowest price. Its a comparison of price vs. value along with other factors such as trust, experience, knowledge and likeability.  Unless your prospective contractor has a decent website some issues to ask are:

  1. Can you furnish me with references?
  2. Do you have a website where I can read reviews online?
  3. Are you licensed (if the job is big enough to require that they be licensed)?
  4. Do you accept checks or only cash? (if only cash = red flag)

If they answered no to all of the above then they are probably the lowest price, but not the wisest selection. And we all know you get what you pay for. These are just some of the common homeowner mistakes made when engaging someone to help you out with your landscape project.

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