By Melissa Brown
These days, it makes sense to invest in and make upgrades to existing properties, given the hot real estate market and the desire to seek relaxation and pleasure from your own backyard. A resort-like experience just steps from the back door can help ease the stresses of daily life without the two-hour drive to the cottage. If you’ve decided it’s time to spruce up your backyard (and add value to your property), you may want to consider bringing in the professionals. Here are a few things to keep in mind on who to hire, and why working with experts can be to your benefit.
Planning and Design
If the project includes a swimming pool, swim spa, or hot tub, consider hiring a landscape designer or architect to help make the most of your space. These professionals can advise where to place the water feature to maximize sunlight exposure, address the need for easy access and traffic flow, and allot space for lounging and dining. Further, they can make suggestions on the optimal location for mechanical equipment, which may include a storage room, change room, outdoor kitchen, bar, and/or barbecue. The last thing you want is to finish building an outdoor kitchen that is nowhere near the plumbing stack inside the house.
Working with a landscape designer and architect has many benefits, including expertise in recommending low-maintenance trees and plants that will enhance your space and provide shade, while allowing the sun to shine on the pool area. In addition, investing in their services can often result in cost savings. A clearly defined scope of work with precise details for the trades will help avoid unanticipated surprises and encourage clever uses of space.
Once the design and a plan for the backyard project is complete, seek out local professionals. The Internet is your first stop in gathering information about location and reputation. Some may offer a showroom or retail store where you can see how they operate, meet the staff, get a sense of their attention to detail, and see examples of their work. Other companies offer in-home consultation, in which case, the pro will usually have a portfolio or digital images of their work to demonstrate their specific design esthetic and skill set. (You can also check out the Backyard Lookbooks.)
If you see a company’s vehicles in your neighbourhood, observe their condition and appearance. Note also the mannerisms and demeanor of employees. You may even consider approaching your neighbour and getting their feedback on the quality of work being provided. It never hurts to ask and you may even save yourself some time by quickly finding a capable company to hire who are servicing your local area.
These days, the Internet makes it so easy to post online reviews, whether they are good or bad, so always do some research beforehand. Of course, there will always be those clients that could not be pleased, so look for the company’s response to these posts. Those that are concerned about meeting client expectations will always address negative reviews in a polite manner that invites a resolution to the issue and demonstrates their interest in customer satisfaction.
Once you meet with them, however, ask questions like how long they’ve been in business, their core competency, and past projects in your area. Consider approaching the meeting as a job interview—give them the opportunity to impress and don’t be afraid to ask questions to get the assurance you need. Keep in mind that in most cases, this will be a long (and possibly intense) working relationship, so you want to ensure it is a good fit from the start. Remember: You are hiring people, not a website—it is critical to have confidence in the person you meet and how they communicate, rather than be impressed with an attractive online presence.
Scope of Work
Once the selection process is narrowed down to a few local professionals, invite them to bid on your scope of work, being fair by giving the same criteria on which to quote. Discuss timelines and budget so they can include these details to suit specific needs. If there are certain features or upgrades you want, provide this information, as the quote needs to be as comprehensive and transparent as possible. Consider who will look after the decking, fencing, mechanical room or cabana, site restoration, electrical, and gas work. Some pool builders work as general contractors, while others are a sub-trade to a landscape contracting company that will complete the planting, stone work, and/or carpentry.
The pool and hot tub professional will know the latest technology available for ease of use and ongoing maintenance. These professionals are committed and involved in the industry, as well as a great source of knowledge regarding what items are fads/gadgets versus well-tested and useful. In addition, they often attend industry events and workshops to learn what is new and how to stay on the cutting edge of available technology.
Automation is available in most applications, although depending on your mechanical equipment, it may not be required. The more elaborate your project, the more automation makes sense in terms of lighting and heating options. If you travel often or own more than one property, you may want to be able to control, lock, or activate certain features from a distance. Numerous companies have created smartphone apps that can interface with the home system to provide this kind of flexibility.