You have decided to make the plunge and improve your home’s landscape. Congratulations! Not only will your home look even more beautiful, you will most likely be improving the value of your home as well (quality landscaping and outdoor living spaces can potentially add 15% or more to the value of your home!). But where to start? How do you know which company to hire? Which company can you trust to design and install the landscape of your dreams?

Here are some important questions to consider before a shovel ever goes into the ground.

How long has the company been in business?

There is nothing wrong working with a new and young company. It is always nice to help someone get their business off the ground. That being said, there is certainly comfort in knowing that the company you are hiring to work around your home has “been there, done that”. Sometimes experience matters. Some landscape projects are simple, but some are very complex.  Make sure the company you are considering has the experience to complete the project correctly.

How many employees does the business have?

Again, nothing against small companies here. It is important to make sure the company has enough employees to efficiently complete your project in a timely manner. Otherwise, the project may drag out for longer than you had planned. One caveat to this is the use of subcontractors. Many landscape companies use subcontractors who specialize in different scopes of work such as masonry or carpentry. There is nothing wrong with this as long as this information is known upfront and the company is responsible for the subcontractor’s work.

Does the company have good references?

This seems like a no brainer. It is always great to have a company referred to you by a friend or neighbor, but what if the company you want to use wasn’t referred? How do you know how they will perform? Ask for references. Preferably, ask for at least three references of customers who have had projects of similar scope and size completed. This way, you will have a pretty good sense of how the company will perform for you.

Does the company have liability and worker’s compensation insurance?

Did you know that if a landscape company does not have Worker’s Compensation Insurance and an employee (even the owner) gets hurt on your property, you could be held liable? It is the law in most states that companies must carry Worker’s Compensation Insurance, and for good reason. Likewise, if a company does not carry liability insurance, or enough liability insurance, and causes damage to your property, good luck getting it taken care of financially. Ask for a certificate of insurance reflecting active general liability and workers compensation insurance to make sure your potential contractor has enough of the right kinds of insurance. “Every Homeowner should request a certificate of insurance from a contractor hired to perform a job. This not only protects you on the off-chance that a claim occurs but helps you confirm the legitimacy of the business hired to perform the work,” adds Ben Warnquist of  Bogart & Brownell, an insurance agency in Rockville, Maryland.

Is the company licensed?

Most states require some kind of business license or home improvement contractor license. This is just one more step towards proving a company is capable of performing their work properly. Licensure helps assure legitimacy. Find out what kind of licensure your state requires of landscape contractors and ask for the company’s license numbers. Most states also have an online database that can be checked to make sure the company is in good standing.

What is the company’s guarantee?

Lastly, what is the company’s guarantee if something does go wrong. Even the best companies occasionally have something go wrong down the road. A strong guarantee is the company’s commitment to standing behind their work. Most landscape companies guarantee their plants for a minimum of two years and their hardscape work for at least five years. If the landscape company you are considering does not have guarantees like this, be concerned. One more tip, the guarantee should be in writing.

Fortunately, there are a lot of really good and very honorable landscape companies out there. These guidelines are simply to help you make sure that you are working with one of them and that your landscape project comes out the way you hoped it would.

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