How Do I Bid A Large Overgrown Apartment Complex? (tip: this video applies to bidding any large property)


Hey! This is Jonathan Pototschnik. The question is, how do I quote, estimate, or bid an apartment complex that is in dire need of lawn care maintenance? I will address the question as if you already have an understanding of how to bid an apartment complex but, it’s in far worse shape than normal and, as if you’ve never bid an apartment complex before.

Let’s start with bidding a property that is in really bad shape.

What you do, in our opinion, is simply bid the property exactly as you would if it were already manicured. Bid the apartment building as though the bushes are already trimmed and just need to be maintained, the beds are clean and just need to be kept clean, the turf is pretty healthy and doesn’t need to be over-seeded and doesn’t have a significant weed problem. You are just there to maintain their landscape for the next twelve months. Hopefully when you leave a property that you’ve acquired, it’s always in better condition than when you got it.

I would include a separate make-ready bid in the contract so that next year the extra say, two thousand dollars, isn’t included. That will help to prevent you from being unfairly underbid by another lawn care company next year. It will also be clearly stated to property management as there is turnover or as memories lapse.

Produce a proposal for twelve months as though the property’s in good shape and separate out what it’s going to cost to get the property in shape…the make-ready cost.

Now, let’s assume you are asking how we quote an apartment complex that’s in bad shape because you’ve never quoted an apartment complex before. This is the challenging one. If you have hands-on experience, you can project yourself into the position of actually doing the maintenance and you can run through it in your mind’s eye. As you walk the property, you can see that it is going to take say, four hours to maintain the turf. You know that once a month it’s going to take five and a half hours to maintain the bushes. And, so on, and so forth.

If you’ve never done a property this big, the only way you can come close to estimating it is to break down the sections.

Walk the property and look at each section one at a time. Break it down by size, type of equipment to be used, how many trees and other obstacles to weed around, whether or not there will be leaves to be bagged, and how long it will take to clean up the area using a blower. Estimate the time for that one area and then move on to the next section and break it down the same way.

What you’re doing is taking the big property and dividing it into bite-sized chunks so that you can estimate it based on your previous experiences. That’s the easiest way, and again, separate the clean-up from the ongoing maintenance.

Keep in mind that the clean-up is always more difficult than you expect. If it’s really tall, and you don’t normally bag, expect to bag. Expect the extra cost and time there. I’d probably add ten, twenty percent to your estimate just to cover yourself.

If you have built a system in your company, you know on average how long it takes to mow a specific area. You have timed multiple guys, at different times of the day, mowing similar areas, and you know the average from that past experience. You also have the experience to know how long it takes to trim rectangular and round bushes.

When you get to that point, you’ve built time estimates for every task within your company. Then all your estimating is literally measuring…measuring linear footage for energy…measuring square footage for mowing based on the mower type…counting the bushes and trees based on size…then adding it all up, multiplying it by a dollar per hour that recovers your labor cost, your overhead cost and delivers to you a net profit contribution. This is a multi-year process of systemization and building your business. It takes a while to get there. But, when you get to that point, I think you’ve arrived. This is when you’ve really built something where you can send anybody out to do estimating.

How Do I Price Lawn Care Services?

The question is, how do I price a yard? I am going to give you a really fast answer on how you price a yard and this will apply to the maintenance side of both residential and commercial lawns.

Let us just break it down as simple as possible. First know the turf size. You must find the gross square footage of the entire property, then measure the turf square footage. I will give you an example. Let us say you are maintaining a property that is a 20,000 square foot lot but the turf is 5,000 square feet. That means there are a lot of flower beds or has a lot of concrete. It takes time for your workers to walk from the front of the property to the back and it takes time for your staff to blow off all the concrete areas. It takes time to clean up and weed eat the grass that grows up in the cracks of the sidewalks and the concrete areas. That all still takes a lot of time. So, even though the turf is only 5,000 square feet, it is still a larger property. There is time associated with that.

Next, you need to know the relationship of time to money. And, you need to know the relationship of square footage to production speed. I get that when you are starting out, you do not know all of that. I would study the market and comparison shop. I would also have friends and family hire your competitors to find out what they charge. You can start there as you begin to learn your numbers. Then, you can begin to price so that you get the profit margin you want.

To understand your numbers, you have to measure all of your properties and track your production times. How long does it take your crew to mow it? Are you making money? Once you start to understand the relationship between production time and square footage, you start to learn how to price so that you can simply measure a lawn and know exactly what you need to charge.

An easy way to measure a lawn is by using Google Earth Pro. You can also go out and measure it with a wheel or use tax records. We then price lawn mowing, and even fertilization, by per thousand square feet.

When it gets into trimming bushes, we still eyeball a lot of stuff. I hate to admit it because even as big as we are now, we are still having our estimators look at it and eyeball it. That is not really the right way to be doing it. We are trying to move towards a system where you literally know the time it takes to trim the different bush types based on the different sizes. The estimator will simply count the different bushes, at different sizes and shapes and measure the linear square footage, and plug the numbers into a spreadsheet to calculate the time. Then, it will multiply that times your billable man hours.

When you are bidding commercial properties, you need to make sure that you put the most optimal piece of equipment on each part of the property. For example, for the large areas, how big of a rider of zero radius could you get on there? You do not want to mow the big areas with the push mower because you will never be competitive. You want the best equipment on each segment of the property. Then, know your production speed on the different types of equipment. Once you know that, you can measure your properties, apply a time to it, and then apply the man hour rate that you need to achieve your profitability.

You want to move to a systematized approach where you can hire somebody that costs you less to go out to do the counts, do the measurements, and then a computer program puts the whole thing together and spits out a bid. A lot of work is involved in getting to this point. You have to do a lot of measurements and a lot of testing. You have to have multiple personnel trim the same things and mow the same areas so that you can get your timed averages. But, this is how you become efficient and prevent costly mistakes.

In the beginning, you have to start out simple. Begin by looking at how the market is pricing, but only use it as a benchmark to learn from. Then, gain some experience and learn your numbers.