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Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do I hire a good contractor?
Shop around. Do your homework. If saving a buck is your highest priority, then determine how much inattention, aggravation and trouble you are willing to go through. And remember, you usually get what you pay for. The Contractors State License Board of California website offers great tips on this subject. Visit www.cslb.ca.gov.
2. How do I compare prices?
Factory produced, machine made products can be easily compared feature by feature, price to price. This is not the case with landscape construction for several reasons, and therefore it makes comparative shopping much more difficult. First, your home’s condition and size, in addition to your desires, are unique. Therefore, you cannot expect to pay what your friend or neighbor paid. Secondly, there are no set standards or inspections by outside officials. Methods of installation and quality of installation—both aesthetically and physically—vary widely. Finally, the skill and experience of the estimator will affect the final price, depending on the amount of mistakes, oversights and omissions.
3. Does landscaping have a set of industry standards for construction as do other trades such as the Uniform Electrical Code for electricians?
There are no set standards for landscaping. Anyone can rototill or pour a concrete slab any way they like, using pretty much any material they like (or can get away with).
4. How can I shop and find a good value without having these standards?
You need to get a very clear explanation of what you are buying. At Acacia, we do a great deal of “homework” before we give a price. Our proposals are very detailed and clear—often two to ten single-spaced pages long, detailing exactly how we do the work and why we do it that way. We generally require that a plan be provided (by us or by others) so we know exactly what we are bidding on.
5. What does it mean to "have a license"?
Our professional license is issued by the California State Contractors License Board. In California, anyone who contracts for an amount of work over $500 is required to have a State Contractors License. The license number is always six digits long and associated with an A, B or C type. This license means we have years of experience and have passed certain knowledge tests for this field; it means we comply with related laws associated with business practices as set by the state. We have to meet established practices for working with homeowners, writing contracts, receiving payments, meeting employer and insurance requirements and secure bonding. All of these standards and requirements have been developed by the state to protect consumers from being ripped off by contractors. There are many companies in our industry who say they are licensed, but what they mean is they bought a $15 City Business License—which is not a State Contractors License.
6. What does your license allow you to do?
Of all the different types of licenses, the Landscape Contractors License probably allows for the broadest range of product installation and services provided. We are licensed to install not only plants, drains, sprinklers, and grade and soil prep, but also concrete, tile, brick, patio covers, fencing, lighting, water features, walls and any other work “which develops landscape systems and facilities for public and private gardens” and “any architectural, horticultural and decorative treatment and arrangement.”Swimming pool contractors, concrete contractors and other types of contractors are much more limited as to what they can legally contract and install.
7. Do you use subcontractors?
We have pretty much eliminated the use of subcontractors by regularly employing people who can perform a range of skills. Experience has shown that we can control things far more easily by having our own employees perform the work. Broken trucks, missing employees, or failure of equipment are problems far more easily solved if we have full control. Projects can move ahead rapidly. A few areas, such as ornamental iron work, special product installation requiring 120-volt electrical work and the application of certain coating materials, may be subcontracted.
8. What does an estimate involve?
Most projects require a drawing before the bidding process can begin. The home owner may choose to draw up their own plan (we can provide the guidelines). You may also have an outside designer, architect or even Acacia Landscape's designer put this together for you. Once we have a plan, we can figure out whatever drainage or sprinkler systems are needed, as well as other important details. We can then calculate the exact square or linear footage of materials or processes that are involved to do the work. A large project may require as many as 75 different elements to be completed. Each process we perform will be assigned a “unit” cost, reflecting its material, labor, and overhead value. That number is multiplied by the number of units in your plan. Once this is calculated, we can assemble a full description and cost of the work we propose to do.
9. How long do I have to wait to get an estimate?
This can vary. Some items can be priced quickly. When areas are larger and materials, shapes, or placement are not known, more details must be researched before pricing can be established. Once drawn, a complicated plan may then require many hours of calculation and bid-writing to complete a detailed proposal.
10. Once the project starts can I make changes?
The contracts we write are quite specific and written after their details have been thoughtfully discussed and developed. We do, however, recognize and appreciate that a successful landscape is an artful, creative expression and therefore can evolve as it is developed. New ideas occur, and often the client is inspired to add or change things. We are very easy to work with and open to accommodating any changes. The GOAL is always to have a project that pleases everyone.
11. Is your price a firm price?
We don’t change prices once the contract is agreed upon. That is why we do our homework up front, rather than explain our shortcomings and lack of planning after the work has begun. Note, however, that customers in almost every instance add more items to the project once they start working with us. We do charge extra for this additional work.
12. Are permits required for work?
City building permits and approvals are required for some types of work we provide—electrical, gas plumbing, walls, patio covers. There are also limitations due to zoning, setbacks, fire control, minimum yard areas and community association restrictions. These requirements vary by city location and fire district. Acacia can inform you of how these rules may apply to what you want to build and offer workable solutions.
13. Why is a “scaled plan view” type of drawing useful?
This type of drawing is a reduced representation of a property as viewed from the sky—a “bird’s-eye view.” The “scaled” aspect means that a ¼ of an inch on the drawing represents a foot of distance on the property. The advantages of such a drawing are numerous. The shapes and placement of materials can be accurately portrayed and kept in proportion. The requirements for furniture placement and traffic areas can be confidently met as well.