Last week we received a client referral to take over landscape services for a mismanaged local property. It’s always hard to see the results of a contractor who didn’t care enough or was unable to provide a needed service. From property damage to poor installation and even unsafe conditions, as a leader in the landscape industry in New Hampshire for over 30 years, we’ve seen a thing or two. We’d like to help you, our neighbors and community members, know how to protect yourselves from this type of situation.
Choosing a landscape company can appear deceivingly easy. Not understanding a few things can cost you time, money, and peace of mind. So, what should you know? In general, when hiring any type of landscape contractor, it’s helpful to do the research and ask them directly if their website or materials are not clear.
Here’s what you need to know.
Is the contractor insured?
Someone working on your property should have you, their customer, as well as their own company’s and employees protection in mind. As a good practice, they should carry commercial coverage in the following types at the following limits:
- Commercial General Liability of at least $1,000,000 for each occurrence and $2,000,000 general aggregate coverage
- Commercial Auto Liability of at least $1,000,000 combined single limit. Some small businesses assume their personal auto insurance is enough, but if they are using a personal vehicle to do business, their personal policy will not cover them in the event of an incident.
- Workers Compensation Insurance of at least $500,000 because if they do not have it, and something happens, the customer may become liable. Even a sole proprietor should carry this, even though the state of NH does not require them to have it.
- To cover any higher claims in any of these areas, it is a good idea to carry Commercial Umbrella Liability coverage of at least $1,000,000.
A customer can ask the contractor for a certificate of insurance from their insurance company, and it can be faxed or emailed to them so they can be sure the contractor has the proper insurance. It comes directly from their insurance agent.
Is the contractor certified?
Proper green industry certifications help you know that your contractor understands how to accomplish the tasks for which they will be hired. Improper mowing, pruning, or mulching can be detrimental to your plants. Incorrect installation of landscape features such as patios, walls, and perennials will severely reduce the lifespan of the investment.
Are they licensed?
New Hampshire requires licensure for a variety of landscape activities. For example, many methods used to control pests may require several applicable licenses, whereas the purchase of materials is not governed. This means an unlicensed, unknowledgeable worker may apply products to your property in levels that are unsafe, or illegal. In the Lakes Region, this can have especially detrimental effects on our lakes and waterways, not to mention wildlife or even your own personal health.
Are they members of professional organizations?
Membership in the National Association of Landscape Professionals, or the New Hampshire Landscape Association, enable members access to continued education or professional development. This helps clients know their provider maintains knowledge of current practices and industry trends.
Are they drug-free and do they complete drug testing?
This company will be sending employees to your property. You should have confidence that these employees are the type of person you’re comfortable with working and operating machinery on your property.
Do they have a safety program?
Landscaping activity often requires the use of equipment which could be hazardous. Landscape firms are obligated to ensure the safety of their employees, clients, and the general public. In NH companies with 15+ employees are required to have a written safety program. The absence of a safety program is a serious red flag.
How long have they been in operation?
Unfortunately, the landscape industry has been plagued by ill-prepared or unscrupulous operators. Longevity is a good indicator of ethical and viable business practices.
Do they have existing relationships with other contracting firms and suppliers?
A good contractor will have a strong network of supporting partners who provide them with materials or services. Lack of partnerships, or the ability to give examples, may indicate they are not a reliable partner or may not have adequate support to overcome unexpected challenges.
Do they utilize professional grade equipment?
This is an indication that a company not only takes their profession seriously, but it also increases the likelihood they are capable of completing their tasks efficiently and accurately. Additionally, professional equipment is more durable, ensuring reliability.
Are they well-reviewed?
Online reviews can be a good indicator of how a company treats its clientele and the quality of their work. Houzz.com is an excellent resource to get reviews on contractors.
Are they responsive?
If a contractor is slow to respond to you before you’re a client, it’s unusual that will improve once you have become a client.
Do they answer your questions directly?
While many of the questions above can be answered through your own research, some of them you’ll need to ask the contractor. If they seem unable or unwilling to answer your questions, that is a problem. This indicates they either cannot provide you with adequate, safe, and consistent service; or they may be unwilling or unpracticed in providing good initial customer care.
Other considerations when choosing a contractor should include the type of service you need. Are you looking for someone to maintain your property by mowing, mulching, weeding, and other reoccurring activities, or are you looking for someone to improve your property through the addition of patios, walls, drainage, and perennial installations? While many companies offer “full-service,” few companies do all aspects well.
If you’re looking for someone to maintain your property:
Do they have someone who is dedicated to ensuring the satisfactory completion of the hired tasks? An owner, account manager, or supervisor should regularly check the quality of work, and follow up with the homeowner. You shouldn’t be the only one making sure your property is being cared for correctly.
Can they explain to you their processes and why the methods they use are essential? Proper mowing isn’t just making sure the grass is trimmed, just as pruning isn’t just cutting off parts of a plant. Having an awareness of horticultural best practices will ensure the health of the plants you own while minimizing damages and loss to your property.
Do they have a plan? What if their mower breaks down, their staff calls out, or it rains for 6 days straight? How do they ensure they still provide you with the services you are paying for?
If you’re looking for someone to improve your property:
Do they have experience and a portfolio of work they’ve completed that they can share with you? While every company has a beginning, your property and the investment you’re making are valuable, and the best indicator of future success is past performance.
Can they complete all the steps your project requires? From design to procurement, and through installation, there are many variables in this process. If not, whose responsibility is it to complete these tasks, and are they certified, licensed, insured, and well-recommended?
Who handles permitting? In many cases, you will need a state or local permit. If your landscaper is comfortable working without a permit, that’s a problem. If your landscaper isn’t involved in the permitting process, that could also be a problem. Permitting ensures work is done correctly, safely, and legally. The legal penalties of unpermitted work typically fall on the landowner. This can and often does prove costly.
Will you have a dedicated project manager? The project manager ensures quality, the fulfillment of the scope of work, and timeliness of completion. They are also your liaison for the process, keeping you informed, and answering your questions. Not utilizing a project manager could lead to frustration as your project may go over budget, over time, or not achieve your intended purpose.