Hiring a landscaper? Avoid pain with this checklist

Large lots are hard to find and very expensive in South Tampa, but Stacey Whidden and Kurt Handwerker lucked out when they found a neglected waterfront home on a half-acre of prime waterfront real estate. But they weren’t so lucky when they hired a landscaper — and another and another — to execute their vision of a tropical backyard paradise.

They went through several and Stacey learned a lot along the way. She created a terrific checklist for anyone hiring a landscaper or any other company to work on your yard or home. (Check out the fruits of her labors in this tour of her garden.)

backyard of Florida mansion, cerulean blue tiled hot tub in foreground, matching couches, swimming pool in background, christmas palms, bright, sunnyHiring a contractor? Avoid losing money, and your temper,      by using Stacey’s terrific checklist.

Stacey Whidden’s hiring checklist

Interview your builder/subcontractor. 

That’s right, just like any relationship you enter into, you     need to talk and exchange information. Be informed!   Choose the best one for you! Some conversation topics for   you to ask for suitor contractor/builders:

  • What other businesses do you own?
  • Who are your partners and/or investors? (Get names!)
  • What businesses do your spouses and children own?
  • What is your license number?
  • Are you insured? Do you have workers compensation?
  • How long have you been doing business in my county?
  • Do they have any pending lawsuits judgments or liens? If so, explain.
  • How is your credit?
  • Are you okay with me calling some of your previous clients from the last 10 years?  (Ask for names and numbers, then call some randomly. See 3b. below)
  • Are you a member of the Better Business Bureau?
  • Are you current with your taxes or have any IRS liens?
  • I’d like to see a sample of a bill: What is the billing cycle? How do you bill?  If you have subcontractors, how often do you bill them, How do they get paid?
  • How do you handle complaints from customers?
  • How are things to be handled if one of your subs does a bad job?       orange and purple orchid blooms, plants tied to Christmas palms with fishing line, close-up of blooms with palm trunks
  • Do your get lien waivers from your subs?
  • When I pay, will I get a lien payment from you?
  • Please show me a sample contract.

Search the state license registration. 

Search each partner/investor and individual family members. In Florida, visit Sunbiz.org. Document every name listed on the business registration.

Conduct a “public record” search.

Search for the government website for your city or county, not only for the business name, but for every person listed on the registration.

Clerk of the Circuit Court, Hillsborough County, Florida

http://www.netronline.com: The data presented on this website was gathered from a variety of government sources and allows you to look up county websites across the country.

Check with the Better Business Bureau. 

http://www.bbb.org.  Is the business you are considering hiring accredited by the BBB?

Use a private investigator and/or background check/criminal records search.

There are a number of online resources to allow you to do background checks.  Here are a couple:

If this is a sizable project, use a private investigator.

Hire an attorney.

Building a new home or remodeling your existing home may be one of the largest investments you will make.  Protect your rights and assets and have an attorney look at the contract before signing.

Ask for photos of other completed projects. 

Beware of website picture galleries.  Yes, some people use stock photos to “represent” their work – beautiful pictures of homes they never worked on. Ideally, the homeowner of the sample photos is also a reference willing to speak to other clients about their experience.