As a landscaping contractor, I continually try to see things from the homeowner’s point of view. Being a homeowner myself – a farm owner, actually, but that’s another story - I ask myself, if I were in the market to hire a landscaper, who would I choose to hire to maintain my landscape investment, and why.

Insurance

For starters I would make sure that the contractor or maintenance company has insurance that is current and up to date. You can do this by simply asking them for a certificate of insurance that is dated for the calendar year, then call to confirm that they are still paid up.

As a responsible homeowner, most likely you will meet with and interview or discuss your potential projects with many different companies and individuals. What should you be looking for?

Licensure

Next I would find out if they are a licensed contractor with the Landscape Contractor’s Board of Oregon. They do not have to be licensed with the LCB to do maintenance, but if they are doing business in Oregon they must operate as an independent contractor with a business license, and pay taxes. A guy who is making change with cash out of his pocket most likely does not have a license, is not paying taxes and probably doesn’t have insurance.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t differentiate between kids making a little extra money, and a small operation of adults doing far more than simply mowing a lawn (but who may not have any more expertise.)

The following are just some of the pitfalls of going with a small one man operation with no license, bond or insurance:

  • You are potentially putting your yard into the hands of someone who may be on a steep learning curve;
  • If the guy disappears with your money, you have virtually no legal recourse;
  • An unlicensed and uninsured contractor has no accountability to you, the customer, if you are unsatisfied.

We have done a number of jobs that were started by unlicensed contractors, most of whom walked off the job. I would say, without exception, the designs and executions were a mess. Of the bids, both verbal and on paper, I have seen, most were unprofessional, and very few if any, would benefit you, the customer.

Well, their trucks look nice: A Contractor's Image

Image is important, but the bottom line is that the job has to get done. Nothing could be worse than seeing a contractor’s bright, shiny, clean trucks driving around, while your project –the project that you contracted for on this date for said amount, and in a timely manner - languishes in neglect from that same contractor. Hmm… well let’s see they sure have nice trucks, don’t they? All I can say is did your contactor do what they said they would do, nice truck or not? (In case you're wondering, yes, we do have nice, clean, shiny trucks.)

Don't shortchange yourself: It pays to Check References

I believe that the number one way to find a good contractor is to check their references. This can be done in a variety of ways, but best of all is to schedule an appointment to look at work at one of their completed clients homes. Good contractors will go out of their way to show off their work and so will the client and you will be on site at the job that you know that they installed.

Many web sites feature jobs that contractors may or may not have done. Check for before and after pictures. If there are no before pictures, the completed job may not be theirs. Again, do your homework.

There are other factors to look at when looking for a contractor. It’s really not much different than when looking at any business. How do their people sound when they answer the phone? Do they even answer the phone? Do they call back in a timely manner? If so did they book an appointment and keep their word about the meeting time? ( Ok, full disclosure. This is probably the most difficult part of the business for me to keep up with. Sometimes things come up with a job, or I run over with other meetings. Still, I am able to be close to on time for about 90% of my schedule.)

For more information on your legal rights as a consumer please visit the LCB Landscape Contractors Board of Oregon web site here it is spelled out in black and white along with much educational information.

Well, there you go. My hope is that this will help you in selecting a contractor for your next project. Please feel free to e-mail me with ideas or corrections.

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