1. Know what features are important to you
As we all know, patios have drastically changed in dynamics. The days of plain old flat concrete rectangles that you put a picnic table on are pretty much gone. We now live in an era of ‘Outdoor Living’ where our outdoor spaces are simply an addition of our homes. So when you think of a patio in your back yard, what do you think of? Is it a cozy nook with a fire place, an area where friends and family can gather ’round while you grill up those juicy steaks, or is it the soothing sounds of falling water? What are those features that you are thinking… “Now that would be really nice to have”? All of those ideas are going to be important to the contractor who is attempting to interpret your thoughts and feelings.
2. Know your Budget
If you are planning to finance any portion of the project, I recommend that you get that in order before you begin the planning phase. That way you have a number in mind that you can work with. This will save you a bundle of time as you work through the design process. If you give a designer your wish list that should cost over $60K and you only have $7K to spend, you’re not only wasting your time, but theirs as well. Don’t be afraid to tell them the amount you want to spend. Sharing your budget is vital to customizing your design. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them how they price out a project.
3. Know your Contractor
What is the most important thing to you about the contractor that you plan to hire? Price, quality, craftsmanship warranty? Are they licensed and insured? How about certified and trained in their particular industry? Do they have experience building the type and size of project you have in mind? Can they be reached whenever you have questions, or do you have to wait until they have time for you? How would you like the crew to look when they come to your home? Do you prefer a group of ragamuffins, or nicely dressed professionals in uniforms so that when your friends and neighbors stop in to see the progress, you’re not ashamed to have them around?
4. Know that a patio requires maintenance
Patios and outdoor spaces are fabulous additions to any home. I know that this point may seem a little silly because you really want that patio right? However, as with any portion of your home, there is upkeep and maintenance involved. This is extremely minor compared to many areas of your indoor home, but you need to understand that these spaces are ‘low-maintenance’ not ‘NO-maintenance’.
5. Be aware of the installation process
There are probably a number of you who ask yourself ‘why is this so important’? Reality is that installation is the most critical portion of the project. You could choose the most elaborate and sophisticated design with all the bells and whistles, but if it’s not installed properly, IT WILL FAIL. This element could be the deciding factor in the contractor that you choose so please do your homework. Nobody wants to see a project, that you paid hard earned money for, falling apart in a couple of years…Nobody.
6. Choosing the right contractor
So you’ve made the decision that this is the year that you’re going to invest in that new patio, outdoor kitchen, landscape lighting system, outdoor fireplace, etc. You’ve maybe even decided where the new feature is going to be located. Now you have to choose a contractor… You’ve done a little research, Angie’s List, Google, Better Business Bureau, Service Magic or wherever you choose, but what sets one contractor apart from another?
The biggest thing you want to accomplish is to have your contractor earn your trust. Trust is a very fragile thing in that it is not very easily earned, yet very easily lost. There are really two traits that a contractor should show while earning your trust.
1. Character – qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity, reputation. (Reference from Dictionary.com)
2. Credibility – Do they know what they’re talking about?
I have compiled a list of questions that I think every homeowner should ask any contractor before they ‘sign on the dotted line’. Remember it’s your hard earned money that you’re spending. Mistakes can be very costly!
1. How many patios have you installed?
Is this their first rodeo or have they been at this a while?
2. Do they have a physical place of business?
Is there a place you can stop in during regular business hours for questions you may have, or to take a look at a product sample? Is there a live person at the end of the phone line when you have a question or concern, or do you just get a voicemail? Are they operating out of their basement where they could potentially disappear in a matter of weeks or days?
3. Do they own their own equipment?
Again a good indicator that they are an established company and are going to be there when you need them again.
4. Do they rely heavily on sub-contractors?
Even the best of companies somewhat rely on expertise that they do not personally possess. However, the biggest question is: what percentage of the work subbed out, and how personally is the contractor involved with the supervision and process as a whole?
5. Do they understand your ideas?
This is a great time to collaborate on ideas. You have had time to think and re-think your project, and this is quite possibly the first time your contractor has laid eyes on it. Ask him or her if they have any thoughts or other ideas. Are they creative? Do they see your points of view? Do they understand your needs and wants? If not, you may be just wasting your time and want to keep looking.
6. Are they licensed and insured?
What happens if they’re not? You don’t want to know. Just make sure that you have a really good homeowner’s policy.
7. Do they stand behind their work?
We have a little catch phrase in our industry that always amuses me when I hear it, but in reality, it’s not amusing at all. It’s called the ‘tail light guarantee’. Basically your project is warrantied until you see the last of their tail lights heading down the road. What may sound like a humorous pun could turn out to be your worst nightmare. Do your research. Be Careful!
8. Go with your gut!
How many times have you gotten to the end (or in the middle) of a project and said: Man, I really wish I had gone with my gut on this one. You were given intuition for a reason, use it. Remember, there are a lot of really great contractors out there. Your job is to find them.
No contractor is perfect, we all make mistakes – it is how each one handles those mistakes that set them apart from the rest of the competition that makes the difference.