Landscape maintenance is typically an HOA’s largest expense, and the appearance of the grounds plays a significant role in property value, attracting and retaining buyers, and providing an appealing experience for residents. That said, many HOA property managers do not reserve the time to carefully vet landscape vendors before signing a contract. (Many do not even meet the landscape firms’ representatives in person!)
It seems surprising that budget dollars could be spent without greater scrutiny. But we understand why. Let’s face it, multi-tasking facilities managers are pulled in many directions as they tend to their HOAs’ needs. Landscaping might be the biggest aspect of what they do, but they figure that hiring a professional to handle it means the work will get done correctly.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Hiring the wrong landscape vendor to maintain your HOA can degrade property value and actually cost you more, as you’ll end up replacing plants and fixing problems that could have been prevented.
So, let’s take a moment to talk about what to ask landscape companies so you can hire the best grounds maintenance provider for your Atlanta HOA.
Lack of communication and not being proactive are top reasons why HOA facility managers switch landscape vendors. Their current provider mows, blows and edges, but does not provide additional value like offering suggestions for ways to improve the property.
Property managers feel a disconnect when they see frequent turnover in the landscape team that services their property, not knowing whether those new faces understand their grounds. maintenance goals. It’s equally frustrating when a landscape firm’s salesperson transfers their property’s oversight to a different account manager who might not be clued in about the problems, solutions and services promised.
>>Take-Away: When you hire a landscape provider that adds value to your HOA, the company will offer enhancement services and constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to improve your property. A company with a thorough hiring process and a stable workforce will provide consistency in service. You’ll see the same team on your property—and the crew will really get to know your grounds and treat your landscape like their own.
Whether you’re renewing a contract with an existing landscape vendor or reviewing landscape bids from companies that want to maintain your HOA grounds, here are five questions to ask that will reveal a lot about an organization’s commitment to customer service and quality.
As an HOA property manager, you have a range of responsibilities associated with maintaining the grounds. It goes beyond making sure the grass is cut and edged. When you can rely on a single service provider for all of your grounds needs, this simplifies the process. Find out what other services the landscape company offers.
>>Take-Away: At HighGrove Partners, we offer asphalt repair, curb repair, landscape lighting, snow and ice management, 24-hour tree removal (including emergency tree removal) and irrigation services. Our in-house design department has the capacity to design and execute large-scale master plans for HOA properties. That means we can provide a renovation plan to an HOA board so they can complete phases of the design over a period of years.
The ability to provide this range of services is a convenience for our HOA clients. Many of the services are provided by in-house staff, and we partner with select contractors for specialty services. Because we oversee all of these services, HOA property managers know they can consult with their account manager at any time to get these jobs done.
Find out what services the landscape firm provides in-house, and what services it subcontracts to other professionals. Ask about that subcontractor relationship. How long has the landscape company been working with the contractor? Who is the key point of contact while that person is working on your property?
There’s nothing wrong with hiring subcontractors. It means that a landscape company is sticking to its core competencies and hiring specialists to handle tasks that are not its strength. On the other hand, communication must be solid between subcontractors and the landscape firm, otherwise there can easily be problems related to quality, follow-through on the job, or meeting the goals of the project.
>>Take-Away: Most of the services we offer at HighGrove are performed in-house and we see this as a real value to our clients. We feel this approach increases accountability and enhances relationships with our customers, who depend on our team to handle needs. In a few select cases we do work with longtime subcontractors. That’s mainly for curb repair, asphalt repair and pine straw services. The reason why we subcontract these is because the experts we work with are known professionals in their field. They provide us with special pricing because we help grow their businesses. Therefore, we pass that cost savings along to the customer. And, we know that they are committed to delivering the quality that HighGrove expects.
On the other hand, HighGrove’s irrigation services are all in-house, and this differentiates our firm from other area companies that usually subcontract irrigation. By physically managing all irrigation projects, we can be sure every job is done right.
Always ask the landscape company to give you referrals, and request that the referrals they provide are HOA properties similar to your own. Find out how the landscape vendor handled the size of project and its various service needs. Ask how the firm resolves issues and how they communicate. Find out if the landscape company added value.
>>Take-Away: It’s one thing for a landscape company to share its mission, service offerings and “value added” with you. When a client talks about the company and how it performs, that feedback adds a layer of trust. The reality is, in today’s market our clients are raising their expectations and working with even tighter budgets. We’re challenged to meet their needs on both fronts. It’s a team approach when we work together to meet budgetary goals while delivering the service level they desire.
Many of the HOA properties we service are longtime customers of 10, 15 and even 20 years (and counting!). Longevity speaks volumes about a landscape provider’s ability to deliver on its promises.
The landscape teams working on your HOA property are an extension of your brand. They represent your organization, too, even if they are employed by the landscape company. Be sure to find out fi the landscape vendor you hire conducts pre-employment background checks and drug testing. If not, you could be liable if an accident happens on your property and one of the technicians is under the influence.
>>Take-Away: At HighGrove Partners, we conduct criminal background checks, drug tests and require that all prospects’ applications go through the E-Verify process. E-Verify is a system that confirms a person is authorized to work in the United States. Setting these standards for hiring employees helps ensure a safe, quality workforce. We find that many landscape companies do not drug test or perform background before hiring team members. Don’t assume these are basic hiring practices. Just ask.
Landscape maintenance retains the value of your property by taking good care of the health of turf, trees, flowers and the overall outdoor environment. Landscape enhancements improve the value by ensuring your HOA property stays relevant and attractive.
>>Take-Away: We are crazy about landscaping—it’s our hobby and what we do for a living. But as property managers, your concern is mostly curb appeal: increasing the sales values of homes and providing a great place for people to live and enjoy the outdoors.