Generally speaking, we all like to think that people are generally good-hearted and well-intentioned in approaching you about your landscaping project. Unfortunately, hubris has taught us that this is not necessarily true. While we always hope that you have the best experience possible in planning your landscaping project, we want you to know how to best avoid the scams and devious “contractors” on the market today. Let’s get started!
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR
Poor landscaping contractors often given themselves away easily if you know what to look for. An informed client is the best weapon against a low-life contractor. When planning your next landscaping project, whether it’s an outdoor living space or xeriscaping your existing grass, beware of contractors who
- Ask for cash upfront.
Any reliable landscape designer who has been in this business for awhile knows better than to ask for any kind of cash payment upfront. Some are even so bold as to ask you for a cash deposit without any paperwork whatsoever; these guys should really come with red flags sticking out all over them.
Reputable landscaping contractors stake their reputations on the security guaranteed them by their contracts, and for good reason: these documents protect them as well as their clients.
If you don’t have a contract in place with a landscaping contractor and they take your money, you have no way to enforce the promises they give you. They can just walk away with your money and never appear again. They should always be happy to take your credit card, too, as it creates a safe paper trail for both you and your contractor.
- Don’t have very many referrals.
If nobody else can recommend their business, do you really want them performing essentially an outdoor remodel of your home or commercial space? Sure, they may be a new company in the industry and still building their client base, but they should have apprenticeships and work at other landscaping companies to recommend them if this is the case. Beware of the landscaping contractor who cannot provide you with any referrals whatsoever. They’re either brand-new or fraudulent, and you don’t want either of those companies taking on a considerable landscaping project.
- Don’t have proper documentation.
Landscaping in Northern California is a highly regulated industry with requirements for permits, identifying documents, and other types of legal paperwork to attest to the validity of the company’s operations. If a contractor doesn’t have the proper permits to build what you would like them to, you may be responsible for any violations, fines, fees, re-remodeling, etc.
Any company worth its salt will also have a portfolio of previous projects to demonstrate their experience and expertise. They’ll be happy to brag on past designs and projects in order to better showcase what they can do for you.
- Push you or put pressure on you.
Any honest contractor knows that their suggestions are limited to just that: suggestions. They’ll tell you if what you want is impossible or extremely expensive, but otherwise they should be working to fulfill your dream.
Make sure you know what you want when you start working with a landscaper. You don’t have to have all of the plans and designs drawn out — that’s their job — but a general idea of what you envision is extremely helpful. Then, they’ll be able to work with you to get as close to that vision as possible. Be especially wary of contractors promising extra services you don’t need at discounted rates, pushing for improvements you don’t want or need, or otherwise trying to manipulate you. Stick to your guns. A good contractor will know they are limited in their input on your project.
TACTICS THEY USE
Crummy contractors have a number of scare tactics they use to try to get you into their grasp, steal from you, and take off with your money. Here are a few of them:
- Posing as “natural disaster specialists”.
After a natural disaster affects your dwelling, homeowners are especially keen to get landscape projects underway as quickly as possible, and we get more than our fair share of natural disasters in Northern California.
Unfortunately, that leaves you vulnerable to door-to-door contractors offering their services quickly if you put down a cash deposit or “sign a contract today!” No matter how sweet their talk may be or how much they promise, these contractors are scam artists with nothing in mind but taking your money and leaving you high and dry.
The fact of the matter is, honest contractors don’t have to hoof it door-to-door begging for work. They have plenty of it, and if they can take on your project as well you’ll find out when you call them. If you need landscaping work done after a natural disaster, you should be the one reaching out to the contractor, not the other way around.
- Offering to do the work you need at a discount using “leftover supplies” from a neighbor’s project.
This way, they say, you can get a great deal on a project you were already thinking about, and the landscaper can get rid of their “extra supplies”. It’s a win-win situation, right?
The problem is, landscaping supplies are expensive. Nobody reputable orders an extra ton of gravel or sod or mulch or lumber if they don’t need it. Moreover, reputable landscapers are able to accurately project their materials’ costs for the project, and get their clients’ approval on those materials before they purchase them. Well-executed landscaping projects simply don’t have “leftover supplies”.
Furthermore, reputable contractors don’t have time to scour neighborhoods with their trucks full of “leftover supplies” and go knocking on doors to ask if you need a new deck built or a hardscape or anything else. They’re busy. They have work to do. If you decide to employ a contractor using this scam, the best deal you’ll probably get is a bad job that you’re going to have to tear down and replace anyway due to the lousy craftsmanship.
- Pretty much anyone who comes to you.
Now if you’re at a drinks party and the person you’re conversing with happens to be a contractor and you happen to need some xeriscaping done and they present you with a business card and maybe an extremely rough idea of what that is going to possibly look like for you, that guy is probably an honest contractor and you met by happenstance.
Quality contractors, though, are busy. They have projects lined up. That doesn’t mean they’re averse to taking on more, but it does mean that they aren’t showing up in your Ring camera looking to give you a great deal on “extra supplies” or “disaster recovery” or “moving-in discounts” or whatever else they’re peddling. If a contractor is going door-to-door they have too much time on their hands because they don’t have enough work to do, and that is the sign of a contractor who is failing. Feel free to close the door or otherwise make it quite clear that you’re not interested in any way.
TACTICS THEY USE
We know it can seem overwhelming to meet with a contractor if you don’t know what to ask. Here are 10 of the top questions you should ask your contractor (and the appropriate responses)
- Do you carry general liability insurance for your work on-site?
Liability insurance guarantees that if your property is damaged by their work, their insurance company will pay for it.
- What is your guarantee?
A guarantee is only as good as the company that stands behind it. Their guarantee may cover anything from workmanship to materials and more.
- Are you a licensed contractor?
In California, you must be licensed by the Contractors State Licensing Board to provide any services as a contractor. Steer clear of anyone whose answer to this one isn’t a resounding yes.
- Who will be completing the work?
Your contractor should be able to give you their employees’ names, association with the company and a brief sketch of their skill set.
- How does this work from start to finish?
Your contractor should always be able to explain the process of your landscaping project from start to finish, including expectations for payment, any hard-and-fast deadlines, and a reasonable end timeframe.
- Do you have references?
Any reputable contractor will have references from previous projects and will gladly furnish them.
- Do you carry workers’ compensation coverage?
Without workers’ compensation insurance coverage written into the landscaping project’s contract, you may be held liable for medical expenses if anyone gets injured on the job.
- Do you belong to any professional organizations?
Contractors who belong to professional organizations hold themselves to higher standards than those who don’t.
- Will you pull all permits as required?
Pulling permits should be in the hands of your contractor. Depending on the nature of the work, they may need your assistance or outside assistance in this matter. They should however take the reins on this process in terms of building permits, inspections and regulations.
- What documentation will you provide?
An organized contractor will keep and provide good documentation throughout the project. They’ll also keep better tabs on the project’s progress and transaction history.
LIVING ELEMENTS LANDSCAPE CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
Living Elements Landscape is a landscaping contractor serving the Sacramento area. We are licensed, bonded, insured and excited to get started on your project. We offer a 1-year service warranty as well as financing options for your project. We specialize in owning the entire process from concept to construction. Our particular area of expertise lies in drought-tolerant xeriscaping, landscaping and hardscape design, and outdoor living spaces. Whatever your vision for your landscape, we can help you achieve it. Contact us today