I’m in the process of selling my house and the landscaping needed a quick refresh before putting it on the market — curb appeal is no joke! I contacted a small, local landscaping company run by a young couple just starting the business. They did a great job and even had a handwritten document to show the scope and cost of the job.
So, what could have made the experience better for me and for them?
First, while I was impressed with the handwritten, itemized breakdown of costs (on their letterhead no less), it was handwritten and a little less “professional” looking than some of the bigger lawn care companies. (Although more professional than the off the cuff single over numbers I’d gotten from other small outfits.) They also sat in my driveway to put the estimate together and then came back to the door to deliver it. What if they could have sent me an electronic agreement with the itemized list of costs, start date, etc.? Yeah, that would have been better.
Second, we added a couple of things to the list of things for them to do. We did it verbally and in passing — “Want me to take these small trees down while I’m here?” “Sure.” “How about $50?” “Sounds good!” — but what if my expectation was to take the couple of small trees down for $50 total and his was $50 per tree? Again, a quick electronic exchange with terms that captures both parties agreement would be much, much less likely to result in a misunderstanding. That would have been better, too.
Third, the starting date was flexible and got moved because of weather, scheduling and mulch availability (more on that in a second), but I did have showings scheduled and an open house. It would have been better for both of us to have captured the various communications on the date moves into the overall agreement. Everything worked out timing wise, but I could easily have seen that causing an issue. The flexibility they needed and the timing I required could have been addressed in the agreement beforehand (when there is less emotion). If their original agreement had included some simple verbiage around timing — “landscaping is an outdoor activity and scheduling is therefore subject to change” — and been pointed that out to me, that would lessen the chance for disagreement. Better.
Fourth, they agreed to purchase the mulch for me at a set price. It’s late in the season, so their normal source was out of mulch. Their secondary source cost more. While they were able to negotiate a better price, they would have been better protected if the agreement addressed sourcing. I would have been ok with a clause like that during estimating. I would not have been so happy to hear that I needed to pay more for mulch after the fact — it would have felt like a ripoff. Again, better to have thought it out up front and gotten it in writing (templates are great for ensuring that these kinds of items get addressed).
Finally, payment became kind of a hassle in that I had to write a couple of checks. The first one covered one set of work and the second for the completion. The second one in particular caused them to have to come back to my house to get it since I had been away (remember the scheduling changes?). If they had been able to accept an electronic payment from me, that would have saved them a trip to my house and then a trip to the bank. Knowing their busy schedules (and assuming the cash flow needs of any small business), I’m betting they would have loved to simply get the money in their account automatically. So…better, too.
So there are five ways that by all measures was a successful conclusion to an agreement could have been better: a more professional look, a living document with modifications and agreements captured, inevitable schedule changes addressed early, possible term changes addressed beforehand through templates and electronic payments.
Brian Montgomery, Marketing