Common Area Lighting

Common area lighting for clubhouse exteriors, swimming pools, and tennis courts should be switched using a photovoltaic sensor rather than a time-clock.

A photocell can sense when it is dark and light…and switch the lighting on and off accordingly.

The homeowners or the HOA maintenance person then does not need to periodically change the time-clock setting to match the seasonal and daylight savings changes in exterior natural lighting.

Project Direction Map

For larger condominium and apartment projects…the builder should consider installing a direction map board at the main entrance into the project.

This activity should be completed about the same time as the sales models grand opening…installed concurrent with the sales models complex landscaping.

On a particular 282-unit condominium project…the u-shaped buildings had their entry doors and address numbers on the outside perimeter of each 12-unit building…one floor level above a central motor courtyard and above street level.

People driving into the project had no way of finding the house address numbers without getting out of their cars and walking around the buildings.

Not only was it difficult for visitors to find their way around the project, but delivery companies had problems as well.

Landscaping Contingencies

When composing the landscaping maintenance contract for the sales models complex…the builder should include the possibility of contingencies difficult to predict…such as snails, ants, and gophers.

Activities such as fertilizing and trimming, however, should be included within the landscape contract rather than spelled out as extras…because these activities are predictable.

Gopher abatement is less arbitrary to anticipate and plan for…than ants or snails…and can be handled through an agreed-upon fixed monthly amount.  The builder can budget some dollar amount for this landscaping activity.

Snail and ant problems are more difficult to predict…with ants being completely unpredictable from one year to the next.  One year no ants are on the project, and the next year the sales models complex can be overrun with ants.

The builder should be aware of these potential abatement costs, and have some money set aside as a contingency line-item based upon discussions with the landscaping contractor.

Contract for Landscape Maintenance

For large condominium projects…sometimes called planned unit developments (PUDs)…there are two phases to the common area landscaping…the installation toward the end of the building construction and the maintenance phase after the homebuyers move-in and occupy the project.

It is sometimes better to give the contract for landscaping and maintenance to the same company.  The installer of the landscaping material can then safeguard the warranty aspects of the landscaping during the first months of the planting by controlling watering, fertilizing, etc.

If any plants or trees die during this period, at least the builder is not caught in the middle between the original landscape contractor and the landscape maintenance contractor.  If the homeowner’s association wants a cheaper landscape maintenance company later, the original ground cover and other plantings have had time to fill-in completely…thus offering the opportunity for a final landscape walkthrough and clean break from one company to another.

A second issue to consider in the landscape maintenance contract is that the amount of work…and therefore the cost…varies depending upon the length of time after the initial planting.  Landscape maintenance costs are different for the first month, sixth month, and twelfth after planting…because of the different requirements for trimming, plant removal, fertilizing, weeding, disease control, and repair of irrigation.

The builder must study the requirements for each type of plant and tree to determine the amount of work being purchased in the maintenance contract.

What sometimes happens in a landscape maintenance contract is that the builder is enticed by a low-ball, minimum cut-and-trim contract bid…with such things as tree trimming, disease control, plant removal, and fertilizing billed as extras to the contract.  This type of contract can create problems for the builder and the homeowner’s association…as no cap exists on landscape maintenance costs in this type of arrangement.

A better method is to research the planting and maintenance requirements for each type of plant or tree in a standard gardening manual…and then formulate a maintenance contract scope of work section with the help of the landscape architect (or include this task in the landscape architect’s scope of work).

The builder can then spell out the landscape maintenance requirements in detail for the project…so that landscaping contractors are bidding apples-to-apples…instead of hiding certain maintenance costs as extras.

A third consideration is the time period that the original landscaper maintains the landscaping until it is inspected and turned over to the homeowner’s association (HOA).  If the builder makes this date 30 days after planting, for example, the builder economizes on the landscaping installation contract because the landscaping is covered by the HOA common area financial dues earlier.

If the original landscaper must maintain the newly planted landscaping for 90 days…this defers the point in time at which the expense of maintaining the landscaping is passed to the HOA…therefore remaining as a construction cost to the builder.

Issues other than costs to the builder affect this decision.  If the builder simply wants to save money by getting the landscaping maintenance tab picked up by the HOA as soon as possible…few people will be sophisticated to recognize this…or have the opportunity to do anything about it.  After all, the landscape installation contract is part of the construction purchasing phase, so the contract and its scope of work are negotiated long before any homebuyers or an HOA management company exist for the project.

On the other hand…the builder must sometimes play the role of an arbitrator between the landscape installer, the landscape maintenance company, the homebuyers, and the HOA management company.

This situation can occur when the landscape inspection walkthrough and acceptance transition is too close in time to the original planting date…especially when the landscape installation and the landscape maintenance are to be performed by two different companies.

At this early date…ground cover has not had enough time to fill-in…it is too early to tell whether some trees or plants will die…and the original installer has no control over the proper care of the landscaping once the project is handed over to the HOA…although a warranty period could still be in effect.

To avoid these issues…the original landscape contractor should maintain the landscaping for at least 60 to 90 days past the planting date.  The original contractor can then control the survival of the plants and trees…and this length of time allows the planting to fill-in so that a clean transition can occur should another landscaping company be selected by the HOA for landscape maintenance.