Why is one quote higher and should you take the low bid?

by Ben Bowen

Why is this quote so much higher than the others?

A wall is a wall, right?

A wall is a wall, right?

You are a smart consumer. You do your research before a purchase. Check reviews, maybe even do some "show rooming" for a hands on inspection. That's what I do too.

When you decided to improve your landscape you started online. You checked out company websites, reviews, portfolios- maybe you even checked their licenses! Now you have 3 quotes from 3 reputable companies, all for the same basic work.

Why is one proposal so much more expensive?

There are a number of reasons why one may be significantly more. For example:

  • Apples to Oranges. Be absolutely sure that everyone is bidding the same thing. For example, what paver variety is quoted. There are pavers that cost $3/ sq ft and others that are $15! If you have a 200 square foot patio as part of the project then a difference of over $2K would be understandable. Or, what if an irrigation system is being installed? You are dealing with reputable companies so they are not using big box quality heads and valves. But, if one company quotes a high-efficiency or low water use system it will be much more expensive. The lesson: read the quotes carefully. Ask for more information if you need it.
  • Demand. It's simple. You call 3 landscapers in May. Two are scheduled out to the middle of July. The third is scheduled through August. He will probably not be quoting very aggressively- and his price will be higher.
  • Overhead. Every company is different. Growing companies have usually taken on debt to finance growth. Large companies have layers of management, provide more benefits to employees, and larger marketing budgets. All of this overhead. These kinds of companies can be competitive on price- as long as the project is large enough. But smaller jobs- under $10K- can be difficult for them to do profitably. They have no choice but to be expensive on smaller projects.
  • Quality. It can be very hard for most people to know how to compare the quality of work that landscapers do. Some companies design and build beautiful gardens, beautiful gardens that are a train wreck. The drainage, irrigation system, lighting, retaining, etc all start to fail or need repairs way too quickly. But you can't see that in a portfolio picture. Certain types of landscapes are more susceptible to this kind of pricing disparity. For example, custom stone work prices can be all over the map. Why? Details. Ross NW Watergardens installs slate and flagstone in a very specific way. Large pieces are laid out first. Smaller pieces are fit in, without any cutting if possible. When cuts are needed for consistent joints we then chip the cut edge so that it looks natural. The result is fantastic- but time consuming. This is reflected in the price. If a landscaping company gives you a lot more detail about a certain element than the other companies do, they might be trying to tell you something important!

Why do prices for landscaping vary?

It may be the company, the time of year, the project, or just a communication issue- but there is usually a good reason for the difference. Know as much as you can about your project, the companies bidding, and your priorities. This will give you the ability to wade through the proposals, descriptions, designs, and prices to find the right company for your landscape project.

Should you accept the low bid?

Like most contractors, landscape or otherwise, we commonly submit a quote knowing that a couple of our competitors are too. Once all the quotes are in the potential client has a decision to make: who to hire.

Most of us are drawn to a deal. If three companies all promise to provide the same landscape service, why not just hire the cheapest? At times that might be the right decision, but not always.

As a consumer, how can you know if you should hire the low bidder? Here are a couple things to consider that might make the process easier.

Be sure that all the quotes actually offer the same things. Look at specific, not general scope. 

With your landscape quotes consider what is truly being offered. If a low voltage lighting system is included ask: What kind of fixtures? (Home Depot or commercial quality?) What kind of bulbs? (Halogen or LED?) Does the company include a warranty and what does it cover?

Not all water features are created equal.

Maybe a water feature will be the focal point of your yard. Ask: What kind of pump will be installed? How efficient is the pump? Will I need to use chemicals or is bio-filtration part of the design? How is the stream decorated? With river rock loose in the bottom or mortared in place stones that will stay in place?

Two landscape contractors can both offer you a lighting system or a water feature- but what are really getting? Answering that will help you decide in line with your priorities and budget.

How Much Skill Is Required?

For some things the low price just makes sense. Oil changes are pretty simple. If I get a good coupon I am going to use it. When my transmission needs work? Price is not the main concern. I need it done right!

Are you having a french drain installed, a lawn renovated, or a tree removed? It's not that these things take no skill, just not a lot. There is certainly no artistry needed. Price should probably be a big factor in your decision making.

Could the low bidder bring the quality you want?

Could the low bidder bring the quality you want?

Is a water feature, boulder setting, stone work, or custom wood construction part of the plan? Now the decision is not so clear cut. All of these require knowledge, skill, and artistry. What level of craftsmanship does each contractor bring to the table?

What level of artistry are you looking for?

Look at the companies' portfolios. If you are embarking on a large, or especially challenging project, it might be nice to actually visit a completed job. This is really the only way to know what you are going to get.

If you want a "Mercedes" landscape make sure you don't hire someone installing "Toyotas"!

How To Choose A Landscaping Contractor?

There is no "right" answer. Know what you are looking for. Know exactly what is being offered. Know how much skill and artistry is needed. Then you can decide- take the low bidder or not.