How to Find a Great Contractor for Your Next Outdoor Project
Updated: Feb 15
When you first decide to redo your backyard, the very first step is finding the people who will design and build it. Now, if you’re working with a landscape design company like Water and Earth, once your project is designed, we can help connect you with the best contacts to build it. But let’s say the landscape designer you’re working with isn’t so well connected.
Perhaps you decided to freelance a design from a remote design, or maybe you’ve decided that you’d prefer to work with a design/build company. All three of these scenarios share a similar problem. Where do you find the perfect landscape contractor(s) to help build your dream space? How do you find the right landscape contractor in a town like Richmond, VA?
This might seem like a daunting task. However, between modern technology and classic, age-old strategies, finding the right contractor for your backyard project doesn’t have to be rocket science. Here are our favorite tried and true methods to get connected with the right team for your next outdoor design job.
Word of Mouth
If you’re looking for the best landscape contracting teams in your area, their reputation is likely to precede them. For better or worse, people will remember the experiences they have with the people they hire. As a result, one of the quickest ways to find a great team to build your deck or pool is to ask family, friends, and neighbors who have decks, pools, or patios that you admire.
Personal testimony from somebody in your real life is even better than relying on faceless online reviews. Not only do you get to hear directly from the customer’s mouth, but you can survey the work that was done as well. Next time you’re walking around your Richmond neighborhood, keep your eye out for work you admire and when the opportunity arises, find out who created the space.
Online Resources for Finding a Landscaping Contractor
While we always like to start by recommending word of mouth as your first line of defense, this is the age of the internet. And now more than ever, there are great ways to find the best companies in your area to complete nearly any kind of work you’re getting done.
The internet has made finding craftsmen, contractors, and yes, designs, easier than ever before. From old-school players like Yelp and Angi (Angi’s list), to our favorite options below, your next great hire is probably only a few clicks away. Here are some of our favorite online resources to consult ahead of your construction on your outdoor space.
The go-to of searchers looking for anything from good restaurants to great parks, Google reviews can point you in any direction you ask. Looking for a good contractor is no exception. While most Google reviews are made by real people, we recommend doing a little digging beyond just happily selecting the top result.
Take the time to read through the longer reviews. Determine whether or not negative reviews can be taken with a grain of salt, and take a look at what exactly people are speaking positively about. A general five star review could be indicative of a range of different things. Some people may give a positive review after a great consultation, but have had no real work done by the company. This same philosophy can and should be applied across the board when using online services to vet companies or contractors.
Still, Google is a great jumping off point and will undoubtedly show you the most popular selections in your area. Whether or not they are truly the best contractor for your outdoor living space might take a little more investigation.
Next on the list of great online resources is Houzz. At its core, Houzz is similar to the popular review platform Yelp. Users visit the site and are able to review home service professionals. But unlike Yelp, which is for everything from contractors to fast food restaurant reviews, Houzz is just for home related services.
Because Houzz reviews are targeted at home improvement, including outdoor living, you are going to find more information and a wider selection than on other, more general review platforms. But the main thing that sets Houzz apart are the company profile. Most builders or contractors who appear on Houzz will have registered profiles. On these company profiles, there will be portfolios of work complete with high quality photos.
Additionally, Houzz encourages interactions between customer bases and companies. In fact, contractors can publicly and directly ask contractors questions about specific projects, and everyday users can review the portfolios as well.
Houzz is a giant in home service reviews because it serves a specific consumer base and brings a lot to the table. From reviews, to company interaction, to large portfolios of work readily available for viewing, Houzz is a great place to find quality contractors in your area.
If you’re having trouble talking to your neighbors organically, now you can talk to them online. Nextdoor is essentially a social media hub for all the activity happening in your own neighborhood. Think of a town hall forum where anyone can add their two cents, so long as they live in your zip code.
Nextdoor makes it possible to find out what is good close to home from people who live right around the block. Simply create an account, verify your address and neighborhood, and start asking questions. You’ll find that most people are happy to share the name of the person who did that great concrete work out front, or built them the new pergola they’re loving. Nextdoor is available in nearly all neighborhoods, including those right here in Richmond.
With the introduction of social media, your reach for finding professionals to help you with your next outdoor project has expanded even further. Instagram and Facebook are now powerhouses for landscape contractors across the country to showcase their work. Many landscape designers will use social media like Instagram to highlight the local contractors they’re working with. Water and Earth does this often!
Of course, it’s also possible to fall in love with the work of a contracting team who lives across the country. While it’s always fun to browse, it’s hard to engage a contractor who doesn’t live in or serve your area. To find an excellent contractor near you, ensure you define your location. For example, a search for pool contractors in Virginia will open a broad, hard to narrow pool of hundreds of options. Narrowing down to a radius of a few miles of your town will help to simplify your options. Many social media sites will even allow you to search by zip code.
What to Keep In Mind When Researching Reviews
Now that you know where to go to find lists of the best local landscape contractors, we think it’s important to remind our readers of a few useful tips and tricks when hunting through Houzz or Nextdoor. After all, a single positive or negative review rarely tells the whole story. Keep the following points in mind to make sure your next contracting pick is a good one.
Consider Their Catalog
The best contractors maintain public portfolios of their work for a reason. If a company is proud of the jobs they do and are willing to share the outcomes online, it says a lot about them. Less reputable companies are unlikely to show you their work from start to finish. Or, they may require prospective clients to reach out before showing work. In the world of landscape design, this may be a red flag.
The more willing a contractor is to showcase their work publicly, the more they signal that they are proud of what they produce. What you see is what you will get, and a contractor who isn’t trying to hide that is likely to continue to be honest throughout the building process. If you are paying someone a great deal of money to renovate your space, then this honesty is important.
Not only does a public portfolio imply transparency, but it gives you a great idea of what the contractor' preferences and abilities are. If you are looking for a luxury pool renovation but see no prior examples in their gallery, it could be an indication to move on. At the end of the day, the more content a company has to prove the quality of the work, the more confident you can be that you will join the ranks of successful and shareable projects.
Know Your Budget
Knowing what you can afford helps to shape the entirety of your project. From start to finish, money is a factor in every element of backyard renovation, including choosing a contractor.
Understanding what you can afford will promote great communication and transparency between you and your contractor.
Take Reviews With a Grain of Salt
Everything is not as it seems, especially on the internet. Whether you’re viewing a hundred paid positive reviews from faceless bots, or one scathing review from a client who is unreasonably angry, not everything you see online should be trusted. When determining which reviews are and are not trustworthy, consider the following.
Are they written by real accounts? Reviews written by verified users should be trusted over those written by faceless, bot accounts. Sadly, many companies with larger online presences may find it easy to fake good reviews. Alternatively, even great companies have a bad day. Incoherent ranting or a lack of description may indicate an unjustly critical review.
Ultimately, it’s important to take online ratings with a grain of salt. If possible, try to use other barometers when gauging if a contractor is the right fit for your project. Their body of completed work as well as their local reputation say more about how they would perform in your space than anything else.
If you follow your gut and know what you’re looking for, finding the contractor that’s right for your project doesn’t have to be hard.