PLEASE NOTE: Hiring an unlicensed landscape contractor in California is illegal! Not only that, if the unlicensed contractor walks off the job before completing it, you have NO recourse. No way to get your money back or getting the job completed. DO NOT give them a large payment up front. A licensed contractor down payment should never exceed 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less (check exceptions to this rule at the Contractor's State License Board website.)
We understand the estimate from an unlicensed contractor may be WAY under an estimate given by a licensed contractor, but unlicensed contractors typically use substandard materials that will come apart, deteriorate, and break easily, don't have bonds or insurance, and can walk away with no warning.
ALWAYS check the license, general liability insurance, and worker's compensation insurance through the Contractor's State License Board (CSLB). If the contractor has even just one employee, they MUST carry worker's compensation insurance. If they don't, the liability can fall on YOU!
CLASSIFICATION: Please check the class of license for the contractor. A contractor may hold one or more of the license classes, but a California Landscape Contractor is Licensed as a C-27 classification. If the contractor holds any other classification, including a General Contractor B license, they can't do the landscape work unless they also have the C-27 class license as well. There is one exception to this law and more information can be found on the Contractor's State License Board website.
The CSLB does random sting operations throughout the state to help end the unlicensed activity that is ruining the livelihood of those who abide by the law.
Before agreeing to any landscape design or signing a contract, homeowners should think about how they might answer a few basic questions, such as:
- What activities will you use landscaped areas for? For example, entertaining, playing, gardening, dining, cooking, etc.
- Which activities are your priorities?
How long do you expect to stay in the home? If it is long term, how do you see those priorities changing in 5, 10, or 15 years?
- With those changes, what would the landscaped area look like? Here’s a scenario; your children are little and enjoy playing outside, so you landscape your back yard with installed playground equipment (slide, bars, etc.) and a large sand box. In five to 10 years when those children move on to other activities, who will be using the playground equipment and how much will cost to take it out and replace it?
- And the really big question, how much time do you want to spend maintaining the landscaped area?
- How about drought resistant landscapes and saving water, too.
There is a lot to think about!
Here are some Do's and Don'ts of hiring a contractor
Do check a Contractor's license online to ensure that it is active and is a C-27 Landscaping License. Go to www2.cslb.ca.gov
Do ask for ideas and suggestions from the contractor. You'll be able to tell if they know the business well.
Do get bids from at least three contractors.
Do ask for multiple versions of the bid. For example, what if I want pavers instead of concrete, what is the price difference?
Do get references and do contact them and see the work they had done.
Do use the contractor as the only point of contact throughout the project. Subcontractors and employees do not always have the big picture of the project and are focused on specific pieces of the project, they receive their information from the contractor. Requesting changes from anyone other than the contractor can cause confusion and delays the project.
Do negotiate! Ask for the sun, you may get the moon! Not saying to be difficult here, but don't let an opportunity go by.
Do ask the contractor if the bid/estimate is the final price with no hidden or additional fees or charges to come.
Don't hire an unlicensed contractor. Unlicensed contractors are not always insured, do not carry a bond, can walk out on a project at any time, may not warranty their work, may provide substandard material and labor, and much more.
Don't disclose your budget to any of the contractors until after you receive all of their first bids. And don't disclose a contractor's bid to another contractor until after the first bids. This way you can tell if they are normally extremely high priced and now undercutting to get the job.
Don't take the lowest bid without completely understanding all materials and work to be provided. The lowest bid is not always the best value. Consider the contractor's experience, previous work, insurance carried, quality of materials, licenses, etc.
Don't start a project without signing a contract. Verbal agreements and "He said, She said" rarely holds up in court.
Don't forget to ask for any incentives. Free maintenance for a couple months, free planting labor, discount or something for referring someone.
Don't let the contractor add fees and charges after the contract is signed and the project has begun, unless there is a change order requested by you and you pay for it.