A lot of value can be found in small, locally owned landscaping companies for your home improvement project. In many cases, you will find that the smaller, family owned firm is more flexible, more responsive to your specific needs, and less expensive than the large national brands.
Unfortunately, there is another side of this coin. Mixed in with the excellent small firms are some bad apples that you definitely want to avoid. Reports of scams, shabby work, and accidents are all too common. So you must do your homework if you want to go with the small business instead of the national brand.
The best place to start when checking out any contractor is with insurance. Insurance is the easiest thing to check, yet the most overlooked part of a landscaper’s credentials. It is the easiest thing to check because all you have to do is tell the landscaper to have his insurance company certificate of insurance moving send you a certificate. They can do this by email, snail mail, or fax. It must come from the insurance company in order to be valid, and it should contain your information as well. If you get any resistance to this request, cross this landscaper off of your list and move on; they’re not insured. It is not acceptable to have a copy of the insurance certificate tucked into the estimate package.
- Special note: if you are having tree work done by the landscaper (tree removal, tree cutting, tree trimming, etc.), the insurance certificate must specify it or the work will not be covered.
Insurance is the most overlooked part of landscaper credentials because we as consumers are over-assured by false claims of coverage. Just because there is a sticker on a truck or billboard advertisement proclaiming “fully licensed and insured” does not mean that the insurance will cover what you need it to.
- Example: a worker fell from a ladder in New York in 2009. His employer did not have a workers compensation insurance policy, only a general liability policy which does not cover workers’ injuries. The homeowner was sued and held responsible for all of the worker’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering – a seven figure settlement!
- Example: Service Magic proclaimed a landscaper to be pre-screened, so the homeowner assumed that he had all of the insurance coverage needed. The fact is that insurance coverage is not part of the Service Magic pre-screening process. You could be (and most likely are) hiring somebody with no insurance. Contractors without insurance are attracted to sites like Service Magic because of Service Magic’s screening process which does not include insurance. Avoid Service Magic and sites like it altogether.
- Example: a landscaping company in Northern Virginia agreed to remove a hazardous tree from a property in Arlington. A worker was electrocuted by high voltage lines while working. The insurance company would not cover the damages because the landscaper was working outside of the parameters of coverage.