Homeowners can, and do, install their own landscape fences. But it can be one of the biggest DIY landscape projects you'll ever undertake. It's not uncommon to spend the better part of a summer—not to mention the good will of most of your friends—to lay out the fence lines, dig postholes, mix concrete and set posts, install rails and pickets, and finish a fence in a large suburban yard. And while you can save many hundreds of dollars by doing this work yourself, the reality is that a professional fence company can do the entire job in a matter of hours. Fence installation is one of the projects that many people often hand off to professionals, especially if they've installed a fence before and vowed: "never again."
There are dozens of companies who can install a fence for you, ranging from general landscape construction contractors to fence specialty companies to the neighborhood handyman. But finding the right professional is harder than you imagine. Here are some tips to help you hire the right contractor to do the work.
Get Multiple Estimates
The classic advice for anything related to home remodeling is to get three estimates. But who has time for this? True, soliciting estimates for specialized indoor work, such as basement finishing, kitchen remodels, and tile work for showers and bathrooms, can be quite time-consuming, and you may often find that the bids are nearly identical, anyway. But getting estimates for fence installation can be considerably easier and more valuable. For one thing, fence installation is very competitive business, and contractors are often very eager to show up quickly, and whenever you are available. Sometimes, they will even agree to visit the property and work up a bid when you aren't even home.
Hiring a fence installation contractor is one instance when you really do need to resist the urge to go with the first bid you get. Three or more estimates almost always produce a wide spread of cost bids, making it much easier to choose the right combination of cost and quality for your project.
Make the Estimator's Job Easier
When a fencing company visits your property, recognize that you are just one of many addresses he will visit that day. Keep the dogs inside, unlock all gates, clear foliage around problem areas, and stay out of the way as the estimator performs his or her job. The estimator will:
- Check for obstructions such as trees, rocks, etc. that may hinder the fencing or affect costs.
- Look at how the fence will meet other pre-existing fences or your house.
- Evaluate grading. If you are lucky enough to have a level lot, this is not a problem. But if the lot has a significant slope, this will affect how the fence is constructed.
- Ask you questions to determine the type of fence you would like.
- Evaluate access to the job site. If the crew will need to manually carry materials up a hill, for example, this will drive up costs.
Ask the Right Questions
Even though the estimator may be in a hurry, be sure to discuss these important concerns before he or she leaves to work up the precise bid:
- Will the fence company pull permits? Pulling permits is the process of applying for permission from the local government agency to do the work, and receiving the final approval after the work is inspected. Where permits need to be pulled, their cost should be part of the bid.
- Will the company call a utility locator to pinpoint the location of any underground utility lines?
- Discuss any hindrances, such as easements. The estimator may bring this up. If not, you should raise the issue for discussion. Good fencing companies should have a ready knowledge of local zoning and setback regulations affecting fence construction.
- If there is grading (a sloped lot) to deal with, how will the company handle the slope? Will the fence be "stepped" (thus leaving triangular spaces under the fence—a problem if you have pets), or will it be contoured to run close to the ground?
- Will the fence's height vary over the course of its run? Even though you may agree on a 6-foot fence (usually the maximum allowed in many cities), this height may vary based on the grade.
- Are the gates and associated hardware part of the quoted cost? If not, how much will they cost?
- What kind of warranty does the fence company offer? If they offer a guarantee, does this warranty cover just materials, or the labor, too? Ideally, the warranty should cover the cost for the company to return and repair any flaws to the fence.
- What is the company's timeline? Fence companies tend to have big backlogs in spring and summer, and it may take several weeks or longer for them to get to you. Once they start, will they work steadily with a good-sized crew? Or do they envision a more piece-meal approach?