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Hiring a landscape contractor – can you chance the new kid?

Remember when you first went out on the job market? No one wanted to hire you without experience and you couldn’t get experience because no one would hire you. Not only has that not changed for young kids on the job market, now they have to listen to us older people complain online about “those awful Millennials”. Good times. Anyone who decides to hang out her shingle as small business owner and avoid that mess is in for a surprise. Everyone would still rather hire a contractor with a proven track record of success, which makes it hard for the new kid.

"I thought we agreed, no checky no mowy. You're busting my chops, pal. This ain't Romper Room"
“I thought we agreed, no checky no mowy. You’re busting my chops, pal. This ain’t Romper Room”

So if you’re hiring a landscape contractor, how do you know if it’s ok to hire someone with a brand new business? After all, sometimes that enthusiasm, that desire to show how good he is, means you’re getting a great value for your landscape dollar. The danger is that enthusiasm without skill to back it up can mean you’re redoing a job down the road. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to hire a landscape contractor new to the business.

Bad signs when hiring a landscape contractor rookie

Let’s start with the bad signs. After all, they’re often funnier and this way we can end on a positive note.

References – Zero references is a bad sign. So is a list of references who all have the same last name as the contractor.

Portfolio – No photos is always bad. When hiring a landscape contractor you also want to make sure he or she has done the work being proposed. Do you want to be that person’s first ever paver job?

Now that’s not to say that you can’t get a good project if you’re their first. After all, everyone starts somewhere. If I was looking to have a project done at my place, and it was a new contractor who had never done it before, here are the questions I would ask:

  • What have you done that’s similar to what we’re discussing today?
  • What materials are you specifying and from where? Will the supplier or the manufacturer help make sure you’ve thought of everything? Some manufacturers have area reps who can check in with you on site, will you be taking advantage of that?
  • Can you show me how you’ve researched this project so you’ll know what’s needed at each step?
  • What’s my warranty? What’s my recourse if you close shop in a month and my patio’s messed up?
  • How does what you’re charging me jive with the going rate from an experienced contractor in the area?

I think that if you’re considering hiring a rookie for your project it’s on you to do some due diligence, whether you’re doing it to give the neighbor kid a hand or to save a few bucks. Had these homeowners in Connecticut done any research into how a paver walk should be built, they’d have known to throw this kid off the property:

hiring a landscape contractor

Sadly, he installed the walk and probably patted himself on the back for a job well done. And after one or two New England winters they’ll have something that looks like this:


Good signs when hiring a landscape contractor rookie

I promised we’d end on a happy note so let’s do it! Here are good signs to look for when hiring a landscape contractor who may be new to the business.

References – I’m happy to get references from old employers or other people who can speak to her character and work ethic. Lacrosse coach? Don’t care. But if she worked for a landscape company for three summers before going out on her own and her old boss says “man, I wish I could clone her, and not just so I’d always have someone to play doubles tennis with” – that rocks.

Portfolio – Same thing, if his portfolio pics are from jobs he did with a prior company – and he can convincingly talk about his role as a key employee in executing that work – I’m all in.

Presentation – If someone is up front with me that this is a new type of project for him but these are the steps he’s taking and this is the plan should something not go as planned, I may roll the dice. At the end of the day I love finding developing new talent, and if I can be a part of that why not? After all, these kids used to rehearse in the garage across the street and now we buy tickets to every show we can:

Hiring a landscape contractor always has some inherent risk, as there’s always the human element. Hiring a rookie landscape contractor can be a bit more risky, but if you’re smart about it you can mitigate that risk. Think long and hard and do your due diligence and you may just catch a rising star.

One Comment

    November 1, 2017 REPLY

    Recently, I’ve moved to a new home, and I was planning to get a contractor to landscape my property. My friends told me that I should hire only an experienced contractor to work on my yard, but I feel otherwise. I like how you said that as long as they can present to you their plans, and back up plans in case something goes wrong, then you’ll be okay with a newbie. Aside from that, I love seeing new talents and new ideas. Maybe he can make my yard prettier than older contractors can. Thanks for this article. I love it!

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