Story by Joe Wilkerson

Undertaking any home renovation can be a bit overwhelming. Marrying your budget and vision with seemingly infinite product and design options can be quite a challenge. Compound these issues with weather, difficult site conditions, schedules, etc. can lead to quite the headache without careful planning. The time you spend planning your project with a qualified builder and designer will make all the difference to ensure you have a positive experience, and a completed project that will provide you with years of enjoyment.

I am Joe Wilkerson, owner of Southside Hardscape & Landscape Co. – builders of fine outdoor living projects in Southern Virginia and Northern North Carolina.Over a series of upcoming articles, I will walk you through the process from design to finish, hopefully ensuring your next project is a pleasant one.

My job as the contractor and designer is to build your outdoor living dreams into reality. I want to build your ideas and dreams, not mine as it is your home. The key is listening. Listening to your ideas and stories almost always leads me down the path we need to go. When you have specific goals and ideas, my job becomes much easier.

The Inspiration

As you live in your home, you become familiar with your routine, how you use your backyard. As we begin to fill in the ideas for your dream backyard, we can start to narrow down on our purpose and goals. Aesthetics, function, and flow all influence our design ideas. As you begin to create a mental picture or even sketch out your ideas we can begin to narrow our focus and work our way towards your ideal backyard.

When a homeowner offers ideas from Houzz, Instagram or Pinterest, my job instantly becomes easier.  As well as we may communicate, there are always things left to interpretation. Pictures, as the old cliché goes, are worth a thousand words, and they give great insight into your preferences.

Additionally, the new catalogs offered by the larger paver manufacturers read more like a stunning picture book than the catalogs of old. Full of inspiring photos from top contractors from around the country, you can see how the many colors and textures can be combined into stunning backyard features.

The Budget

Now that you have plenty of inspiration for your outdoor renovation, it is time to get going. First, you need to declare a budget. All jobs need one, and a budget will help everyone focus the scope of your project. In the end, as previously stated, we want to design your project for you. When a clear budget is defined, a better design can be built.

Often, people do not want to share their budget. Whether it is the embarrassment of not really knowing how much a particular job may cost or fear that the contractor will just bid your budget, it is important to overcome this hesitation in order to best communicate what can be done.

There are resources around the internet to help you guesstimate how much your project will cost, and most contractors with experience can usually tell within reason if a particular job can be done within your budget. I do not want to insult you with a design that is so far beyond your budget it can never be achieved, nor do I want to under deliver if your budget far exceeds my design.

Once a clear budget has been defined, I am much better able to match my design to your final goals. Material choices, layout, etc. can all be chosen to come into your budget. Then there are times that we just cannot do all that is wanted within a desired budget. In such times, I usually plan to break out the job in stages, with the recommendation to perform the most vital first with the anticipation to complete the project over the course of an allotted time. We want you to be excited when your job is completed, not left with buyer’s remorse; so open communication is key.

Meet the Builder

Now that you have done your homework, it is time to find a builder with whom you can build a relationship. Renovations and construction can be an intrusive mess. You must have trust that your contractor will perform, or your job will become a stressful ordeal. There will always be some unforeseen issues arise during construction, it is important to find a contractor that can walk you through the situation and minimize surprises.

Ultimately, it is about the feeling you get when you meet with your contractor whether you decide to hire. There are a few questions you should consider as you begin interviewing potential contractors. As you get to know your future contractor, you will feel more confident that your project can be completed successfully.

In this day and age there is no reason for a professional to not have a website. On their site, you should begin to see the level of professionalism in their work, details, and company culture. A few questions that you may ask to help in your decision are:

  • Do you take on projects of this size?
  • Do you have references?
  • Can I see your previous work?
  • How many other projects would you have going at the same time?
  • Do you self-perform all of your work? If not, who are your sub-contractors?
  • Are you insured?
  • How soon could you begin the project?

When you meet face to face, your contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. It is important that you communicate well with whomever you select because you are entrusting your home, time, and money with them. And, in the end, follow one of my favorite adages, trust but verify. Call supplied references, check online, and ask around.

The Initial Meeting

When you do schedule your initial meeting be prepared to share your ideas and plans. As the conversation progresses and I begin to better understand your desired goals and project, I begin to put the overall picture of the project together in my head.

There are many factors that come into account when pricing your job beyond the obvious materials and labor. As a contractor, we are ultimately selling you our time. The type of project and its location greatly influence the amount of time it will take to complete your project successfully.

As we walk around your property, there are many things that must be taken into account. While there are many factors that ultimately influence my bid, a short list of my concerns are: utilities, water and septic, water drainage, property lines, where is the project located in relation to access points, can we get our trucks into your site, can deliveries be made efficiently, can our machines reach the project, are there any environmentally sensitive areas, etc.

As we move into the design of your project, understanding your taste is critical to delivering a design that will be enjoyed for years to come. The options that are now available are simply amazing considering when I built my first patio we were limited to about three-color options on about three different paver textures and sizes. Now we present the homeowner with a 100 plus page catalog with each product having 5-9 color options. It is easy to be overwhelmed. It is my job to walk you through your options, and to know what will work well together.

The Proposal

Now that we have decided on the scope of our project, the budget, and a few product choices, it is time to put it in writing. We typically offer our clients a computer 3-D design rendering, and a full proposal listing all materials, services to be rendered, and final cost. Often many hours go into a design, and it is customary to pay for designs. If you are unprepared to commit to a full design I can always offer an estimate based on my experience with a job like described.

A full proposal should be detailed and include the entire scope of work agreed upon. Too many horror stories have been told about surprises in the final bill. I do not believe in surprises. It leads to conflict, and we want you to be pleased with our final project. While there are many forms of contracts, I prefer a Not To Exceed (NTE) contract. With a NTE contract, there should be no surprises in the end. The stated price is it, and only approved change orders will be in addition to the agreed upon price.  Insisting on a clear contract is not about mistrust, it is about insuring a successful renovation.

Now that we have an agreed upon project scope, design, and price it Is time to build. In the next issue of Hyco Lake Magazine, I will discuss common issues that we face every day and help prepare you for a successful build.

I am Joe Wilkerson, owner of Maplehurst Outdoor Living, previously named Southside Hardscape & Landscape Co. My passion is building your dream outdoor living area, and we recently changed our name to better reflect our purpose and mission. We are dedicated to building fine outdoor living projects in Southern Virginia and Northern North Carolina, so you can Unplug & Relax. (434) 579-5625

Continue reading the next story in this series, “Do you want fries with that?”
Here is a link to the 3rd in this series, “Retaining Walls”