Preparing and perfecting your annual budget may not be the most riveting of tasks, but it may the most important one you do all year. Your community's landscape budget is undoubtedly one of your largest costs, with the average HOA (Homeowner Associations) in Florida spending anywhere from 10-50% of their budget on landscaping! And despite the valuable skills and services CAMs and HOA Board Members bring to the table, nothing in their job description requires landscape experience.
Consequently, as the largest line item of your budget is discussed and decided, or as RFP’s and bids are voted on, there probably is not a single landscape professional in the room. With many community professionals basing their landscaping and enhancement budget on previous contracts, many decision-makers do not even know what they are paying for. So, without becoming a landscape professional overnight, here are some tips to keep your landscape budget built for battle.
After 2020, I do not think I have to explain how unpredictable a year can be. While previous annual budgets may or may not have gotten you through the year, they should never be reused. Not only do a variety of costs fluctuate year by year, but your association's needed repairs and replacements will also be variable to change. And while special attention should be given to building your initial annual budget, you will need to pay just as much attention to revisions. You are already aware of what renovations are needed or planned for the upcoming year, but as the year progresses, begin making changes to your budget and to your reserve funds to prepare for upcoming changes and projects.
While those voting on the final budget may not be landscape professionals or have spent time in the industry, they should all understand some of the minimum requirements and standards for the green industry. The largest cost for a landscaping vendor, regardless of anything, is labor. Labor itself is highly volatile, with changes in the minimum wage affecting how much that labor costs the vendor. With recently passed Florida legislation putting in place a gradual increase in the minimum wage, that cost will increase for vendors and you as well. As we get closer to a $15 minimum wage, your budget should expand to match.
In the same vein, understanding how landscape vendors calculate what this labor will cost is invaluable to you as a community professional. The number of green spaces and vegetation your property has, the more time and person-hours are necessary to properly maintain them. Similarly, areas of your property may be more difficult to maintain or have exceptional circumstances such as slopes or waterways, which will take extra time and safety precautions.
Landscape professionals, regardless of the company, are trained to value safety more than anything else. The precautions are taken to uphold this safety, including insurance, protective equipment, and training, add up to affect the labor and time needed to make your property perfect.
We have discussed how landscape budgets are one of the HOA’s largest expenses, but we have not talked about why. The quality of your landscape and the effort used to maintain it has real and lasting effects on property value, and the satisfaction of your residents. While residents never like an increase in HOA fees, the one thing they like less is shoddy work.
Living in a Homeowners Association carries with it the knowledge that a homeowner is paying extra for the inherited benefits of your community, the most important of which is aesthetic. To maintain, or even elevate the beauty of your community, and its value that, special attention must be given to curb appeal, aesthetics, and overall design. While you may save money by only having a quick mow and trim as your maintenance, angry residents will make you think twice about cutting debris removal from the budget.
While previous budgets and solicited RFPs can help give you an idea of prices and costs, nothing can replace a trusted professional. Having someone willing to give you advice without you signing a contract is typically someone to keep around, even if you do not intend to use their company.
Having a landscape professional, be they a business developer or a horticulturist, means having a point of reference for line items, extraordinary circumstances, and planning for future projects and renovations. When you begin soliciting RFP’s and speaking with vendors, having a landscape professional to refer to can help you sort through the fluff and get down to the practical details of what you need and what the vendors are offering.
Landscape companies that are confident in their work will always be willing to share advice without needing a formal RFP (Request for Proposal) or any verbal agreement. While there will be the odd person that is more concerned with prospecting than providing compassionate help, the best landscape professionals care for your property as if it were their own.
Down To Earth treats every property like their own, and delivers the highest quality results, every time. Prepare your budget using accurate numbers with a no-obligation Down To Earth landscape evaluation.