Property Management Issues
Working through a Landscape Bid Process
From the CCI Review 2021/2022—November 2021 issue of the CCI London Chapter
At this writing, our City has seen half a dozen landscape companies close their operations since August 1st. The reasons we’re hearing are insurance requirements and policies going through the stratosphere, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish for another time. Let’s assume that each one of these “closed” companies worked for a minimum of five condominium corporations, and that’s a low “guesstimate” in my opinion. That means that a bare minimum of thirty condominium corporations are likely to be scrambling for a replacement company as winter sets in. In a period where it’s already hard to find good, reliable, skilled labour this is an absolute mess.
Now let that sink in.
Many of us directors, owners, contractors and condominium managers may have been affected by this wave of closures. Some were fortunate enough not to be affected. Others were not, but were able to find a replacement company. Still others are scrambling, as both the leaves and temperatures drop.
In a normal year we would all be in the final phase of signing our new fall landscape contracts by early October.
For our sanities, let’s assume we have all signed our November 1st landscape contracts and are moving on with life. But, what about those April 1st landscape contracts which will be here in the blink of an eye? Well, let’s go for a ride.
Understanding the needs of your community – spring, summer and fall
Sure, we can have the age-old debate of if a condo looks the same it must be the same. But we all know that’s not true. We need to understand the wants and the needs of our community - both from a maintenance and from an ownership aspect. Does our ownership notice if the grass is green and weed free as best as legally we can? Do we have a high student population where litter is our biggest enemy? Are we irrigated? Do we want our gardens mulched every other year to help beautify them and reduce evaporation which will promote plant health? Let’s figure out what we want to reasonably have before we ask for any pricing.
Far too often we see communities that have let their spring and summer extras fall away in lieu of other condominium needs. Quickly the turf is filled with weeds, gardens look sad and only the landscape team gets blamed for poor service. What we put into the property, whether it be mulching every spring, creating an annual display in the planters by the lobby, fertilizing four times over the growing season or using broadleaf weed killers such as Fiesta will only better the curb appeal and landscape health of the community.
Understanding the needs of your community - winter
The industry base line for service is snow gets ploughed upon 2” of snow fall and salt is applied when conditions warrant. This goes for roadways, parking lots and walkways. We can look to cut costs by using a sand-salt mixture in lieu of salt which is far less expensive per ton. Yes, we’ll save some money but we’ll have a very messy cleanup in the spring and even an extra spring cleanup invoice from our contractor to cover this work. If we are a high rise with hundreds of footsteps heading into the lobby daily the use of cheaper sand-salt will be a nightmare for our building staff to keep up with, not to mention the beating the vacuums will take and the complaints from owners to deal with. Let’s go the other way and think about the damage that salt causes to our concrete and the discomfort it can cause to our little fury friends. Enter ice-melter. This product will be more expensive than salt, but is not as harsh to hardscapes, softscapes and paws. Ice-melter also has a lower de-icing temperature than salt which will typically stop working around -7C.
Have a heated ramp? A parking deck with a special coating that you don’t want damaged? Access doors that need to be cleared by a certain time? Build these needs into your contracts. Developing a proper scope of work, whether spring, summer, fall or winter is key for your community!
As you can see, whether it’s summer or winter, every community will have variables to be aware of before we seek out pricing.
Term of contract
I believe in multiyear contracts with proper termination clauses of 30, 60 or 90 days. Only use these clauses when you have tried to fix the relationship and cannot, and for no other reason than that. Many of us already know and trust our contractors and will continue to support and lock them into a two or three-year contract. Not only will this assist us in setting the condominium budgets over the coming years with this one known cost, it will also let the contractor know that we want to keep them around to keep the community in tip-top shape for years to come. Good luck predicting the incoming master insurance policy premium for the corporation.
Taking the contract/scope of work to market
We’ve recognized the needs of our community, we’ve set the term of the contract we are happy with, now let’s go to market. Of course, invite your current supplier to the dance, but who else? Do we know directors in other communities with other suppliers they are happy with? Have you seen a nice clean landscape truck with well uniformed staff working on a property? Have we taken to social media to see what’s going on? Have we checked our CCI London Chapter Professional and Business Partner Directory for contractors? Your condominium manager most likely has a short list of contractors they would be happy to work with and trust. Don’t go wild and invite everyone. Make sure you at least vet the contractors first. Contractors talk. If it’s known that many, many companies are bidding some may shy away and some may provide hail-marry pricing which is not fair to anyone involved in the bid process.
Narrow it down – but don’t race to the bottom
Far too often it’s a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing. Cheaper does not mean better. Yes, could one contractor be using wider blades and thus cutting down on plowing time or have better purchasing power when it comes to salt, absolutely. Ask the top couple of bidding contractors how many labour hours they see are needed to weed the gardens, cut the lawn and clear the roads in a typical snow event. They should all be relatively close if they understand their company and your community. Perhaps someone is cutting corners and only budgeting one hour a week for weeding, when we know it’s five hours? Remember to be respectful during this process. If a contractor feels like they are being worked over the coals on their pricing, they will surely make it up somewhere during the length of the contract. This needs to be a win-win. Many us know that a win-lose mentality is not sustainable.
Open dialogue both ways
We’ve locked in our contractor of choice, now what? Don’t stop communicating. Like any partnership we are apt to become complacent with each other once the honeymoon phase is over. If the quality of work is slipping address it in a professional and constructive manner. If the work is on par or better, let the contractor know you appreciate what they are doing. Far too often the contractors are dumped on over and over. As someone who spent over a decade in the landscape maintenance, design and construction industry a simple “thanks to the crew” goes miles. And it’s remembered when the crew rolls in weekly to cut the lawn or plough the snow at 3:00am, I can assure you of that.
We should remember that these contractors didn’t get into the industry to make a quick buck and leave. This is not Bitcoin. They want to build long term lasting relationships with their clients and grow their company and brand. Usually, they will have a point person for the Board and/or manager to communicate with instead of the crew who is sent in there to do the job in a timely and effective manner. Use this touch point person to your full advantage. Meet onsite monthly for 20 minutes to go over any issues or call each other every other week to check in. Whatever the method, keeping clear communication going as this will be the key to a successful business relationship.
Before severing a relationship or going to market, understand your community. Be clear with everyone involved to the best of your abilities. Do we know what we are and what we want? Do we understand the costs? Are we looking for champagne taste on a beer budget? The better educated we are on the subject matter and the process the better for everyone involved. Listen to the owners who share eyes on the property.
And remember …..
this must always be a partnership based on a win-win mentality. Its that simple
Séan Eglinton, ACCI, LCCI, OLCM is a Senior Condominium Manager with Thorne Property Management Ltd. Séan began his career in the landscape industry after graduating from the Landscape Design program at Fanshawe College. In November 2007, he made the career change to condominium management and started working for Thorne Property Management Ltd. Séan completed his RCM and ACCI requirements in January 2011.
Séan was first elected to the CCI-London and Area Chapter Board of Directors in 2018 and re-elected in 2021.
His association with CCI began even before being elected to the Board. He took the lead in CCI’s 1st Annual Golf Tournament and has continued in that role since.
He has participated as a presenter at educational events, as an instructor at the Condominium Course and a writer for the CCI Review.
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