published Friday, March 28th, 2014

Biz Bulletin: What to consider when you hire landscapping contractor

By Jim Winsett

Q: We have some grand plans for our yard this year, but we know we will need some professional help to accomplish it. Does the BBB have tips on hiring a landscaping contractor?

A: Despite winter's hold on our area, sunny spring days are coming and have many homeowners thinking about getting their lawns in shape. Some may want to get their lawn mowed while others may be considering a major landscaping project, such as a patio, deck or fence. An attractive yard adds value to a home, and to assist in designing a functional, inviting landscape, many people enlist the services of a professional.

If you are hiring a lawn service company for the season, make sure you and the lawn service have clear, written expectations for what the company will provide for the agreed-upon fees. Consumers can save themselves a lot of hassle by considering their budget and any deadlines they have for completing a project. Before you call any landscape professional, it is a good idea to conceive your own basic design for your yard space and make a list of questions you would like to ask the contractor.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips when deciding on hiring a landscaping contractor:

Ask for suggestions. Talk to friends, family members, or neighbors whose landscape you admire for recommendations. Check out landscapers at bbb.org to find one in the area that is accredited, in good standing, and has little to no complaints. Understand the specific landscaping job that must be done and look for landscapers that are well versed or specialized with the type of work needed.

Ask for a lawn inspection and free estimate. Lawn care companies that quote a price without seeing your lawn cannot be sure what you need. A landscaper will need to measure the area where the patio or deck will go and consider access to the yard. Quality companies will offer an estimate only after they see what they are working with.

Get at Least three Estimates. To provide the most accurate estimate, have the different landscapers go to your home to check out what the desired job requires. Do not feel pressured to hire the contractor with the lowest estimate. Landscapers with more experience or higher quality materials may charge more for the job.

Ask for references. Ask the landscaper to provide a list of references from previous jobs. Call a few of the references and ask if you can check out their landscaping. Ask the references about their experience, if the job was done to satisfaction, and if the estimated cost reflected the final cost.

Check for documentation. Check with the state that the landscaper has the proper licenses and insurance and make sure everything is up to date. If the job requires any subcontractors, make sure they are also licensed and insured, and if the landscaper will be on hand to direct the work. Ask how long the company has been in business, what kind of work experience and training the crew has, and if the contractor is willing to stand behind the work and service provided.

Question what procedures are in place to handle problems if they should arise. Ask for copies of licensing, if required, and insurance certificates for workers' compensation and liability. If the company is not properly insured, you could be liable for any accidents that occur on your property. Also, ask if the contractor will enlist licensed electricians and plumbers for jobs such as irrigation pump installation, which may necessitate special hook-ups.

Discuss a payment plan. A landscaper will typically ask for a 30 percent deposit before the project is started which usually goes towards the initial materials. Be cautious if the landscaper is asking for a 50 percent or higher deposit. In most cases, the payment plan will have homeowners pay roughly 30 percent down, 30 percent once the materials or products are delivered, and the rest when the project is completed to your satisfaction, according to what was agreed upon in the contract.

Get everything in writing. Once you hire a landscaper, make sure all of the details of the job are included in a written contract. The contract should include the start and completion date of the project, the materials being used, all of the costs and fees broken down, and any guarantees or warranties. Ask the contractor to provide a lien waiver, especially for larger projects, to prevent you from being held responsible to pay the supplier when you have already paid the landscaper in full.

Read everything thoroughly and be sure you understand everything before signing and never sign a contract that is partially blank. It may be a good idea to get the contractor's cell phone number and home number in case of an emergency, and beware of contractors who are repeatedly difficult to reach.

Be sure to do a final walk through. Ask for instructions on how to maintain and care for the landscaping if you wish to do the work yourself. If you have any questions, call the landscaper before you begin. If you fail to maintain the yard and garden work properly, the landscaper may not be able to fix the damage and may not be liable for the damages.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
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