Re: a question about hiring landscapers
From: Wayne Tyson (
Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2012 13:06:22 -0700 (PDT)
CoHo 120720

I can't argue with most of the points made by others, but I do see the whole issue from a different perspective, both as a professional and as a consumer.

Landscaping and gardening is largely full of bs and bsers, and the range of competence is skewed heavily toward the incompetent end of the scale. I will share a few observations off the top of my head that come from many decades in various aspects of the field. I will be glad to answer questions. Many will object, especially those who fear that their ox might be gored with the truth, their pocketbook affected, or who prefer fantasy to reality.

1. Big tends to be bad, but not all bad. Big outfits, by definition, tend to be expediters focused on money.

2. Small can be bad, but not necessarily always so.

3. Licensing sets a minimum standard, but rarely protects the client. Check your location's actual record of enforcement; you might be surprised at how little enforcement is actually done. Licensing is largely a marketing tool.

4. Angie's list aside, word of mouth is likely to be the best insurance against complete incompetence, but it's not foolproof.

5. True professionals always put the work and the client's interests first, and follow the principle of "do no harm." That's very rare.

6. There are lots of ways to drastically cut costs, but the "industry" doesn't want you to know about them.

7. Even the well-intentioned in this industry make mistakes, and some of them are literally time-bombs (e.g., trees that fall years later, rip up foundations and paving, and are general nuisances, and "hardscapes" that break or don't work the way they should or could--the list is endless) . . .

8. Decorators tend to ignore functional aspects.

Again, the list goes on and on . . .


----- Original Message ----- From: "R Philip Dowds" <rpdowds [at]>
To: "Cohousing-L" <cohousing-l [at]>
Cc: "Repair Committee" <repair [at]>
Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2012 2:36 AM
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ a question about hiring landscapers

I'm a practicing architect in Massachusetts. The relevant laws re licensing, bonding and insurance vary greatly from state to state, and I have no way to know how my New England experience applies in Washington. But here are the general concepts:

Public licensing of construction professionals is meant to provide some extra degree of protection (certification of a minimum level of competency and qualification) for both customers and the general public. For certain kinds of jobs and job conditions, licensing is required — but for many others, especially small residential projects, it is not. Licensing is the official public version of Angie's List, and is worth about as much, for the same reasons. A contractor need not forfeit his/her state license merely because s/he has a long history of mediocre projects and grouchy customers. The contractor's insurance covers incidental damage (her ladder falls on your visitor's car) and worker's compensation (her employee falls off her ladder, maybe onto your visitor's car). Recovery of damages basically seeks any available source of money. If your contractor is uninsured and insolvent, then maybe somebody will file a claim against you, the property Owner: You are the one who decided to bring this klutzy contractor onto your property, and you may bear the liability. In many cases, the contractor's insurance policy is what stands between you and the claim — but there are no guarantees. Insurance be tricky. I would be surprised to learn that if both you and your landscaping contractor have chosen to go bare (meaning, no relevant insurance for either of you), then the State of Washington will step in and make everyone whole just because the contractor is "licensed". You should check this out more carefully. If your contractor goes belly up or wigs out, bonding means that some other insurance company may step in to finish the job at little or no extra cost to you. Payment and performance bonds, however, are job-specific. It does you no good to hire a "bonded" contractor unless a special policy covering you, your job, and your property, is written explicitly for your benefit, with you named as the insured. "Bondable" is not at all the same thing as "bonded". Bonding usually adds about 1% to the price of the work, maybe more for small projects. And bonding companies are not your friend, really. If something goes wrong, they will pay as little as possible, as late as possible. Insurance be tricky.

Bottom line: If you want your projects done in a professional and responsible way, look for (a) incorporation (or registered partnership); (b) an insurance certificate; (c) a corporate history longer than a couple of years; (d) a "field super" — the person who will be on your site, every day, directing the work — that you like and trust; and finally (e) recent good references for that specific field super. Licensing will likely come along with this package, but as I said, this will vary according to job and locale. Do not get involved with bonding unless the job is very big relative to your total assets and net worth — which is rarely the case for residential landscape work. But have your own insurance agent review the contractor's certificate of insurance.

All of this, however, comes at a price. Unincorporated handypersons employing their nephews will often quote the job cheaper than a professional-level contractor — and with that lower price, you will also get a higher level of risk. Homeowners always struggle with challenge of choosing the level of professionalism they want in their construction projects. You want your job done well, fast, and cheap? Pick two.

R Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

PS: I've been to Seattle several times; it's one of my favorite cities. Good luck.

On Jul 18, 2012, at 9:01 PM, S. Kashdan wrote:

Hi all,

The Jackson Place Cohousing community in Seattle, Washington has a question
about whether your cohousing community considers it necessary or
important to hire licensed, bonded and insured landscape
contractors/professional gardeners for the work that community members can't
or won't do.

What requirements do your communities have for determining which
landscapers/gardeners to hire?  Do you always require them to be licensed,
bonded and insured, or do your requirements vary with the nature of the

The JPC landscape team and our coordinating committee have been discussing
this issue because of the difficulty of finding licensed, bonded and insured landscape contractors/professional gardeners to help with the maintenance of
our property. We have 27 units, a bit smaller than most of the licensed,
bonded and insured landscape contractors seem to want to bother with.

From the landscape team's understanding, the most important thing seems to
be the licensing (not bonded or insured) since licensing would result in
Washington State Labor and Industries coverage for on the job injuries.

One of the landscape team members emailed the question to the Washington
state Community Association Institute director and received the response
that they recommend licensed, bonded and insured, but didn't give any
details of the reasoning.   Some members think that this answer may stem
from the fact that most of the communities involved in CAI are very large.
I do know that some of the communities/condos/homeowners associations are
smaller than JPC, some even as small as five units. But, CAI may not be
considering all of the concerns of the smaller communities, and they may
very well
have different landscape challenges and visions than are group.

So, whatever you can tell us will be greatly appreciated.


Sylvie Kashdan
Community Outreach Liaison
Jackson Place Cohousing
800 Hiawatha Place South
Seattle, WA 98144

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