The Villages Voice - April 2013

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Seniors VS Crime - Don’t Get Cleaned Out at Spring Cleanup

by Brian Lifsey

SENIORS Vs. CRIME - DON’T GET CLEANED OUT DURING SPRING CLEAN-UP

February’s “Blizzard of the Century” dumped lots of snow throughout the USA.  While snowfall in The Villages was right on average (at 0.0 inches!) that doesn’t mean we didn’t have our share of cold winter weather.

Cold weather and tropical plants are not a good mixture.  Most Villagers have some winter lawn damage.  Many of us are looking for landscapers to remediate that damage, do our spring clean-up, and spruce up our yards.  For newer residents south of 466-A, this spring may be their first opportunity to really put in their own landscaping. 

Big demand equals big opportunities – especially for the unscrupulous landscapers out there.  This is a largely unregulated industry.  Seniors Vs. Crime wants to remind all Villagers to exercise special care and caution when choosing a landscaper.

For most landscaping projects, contractors are not required to have a state license.  If they claim to be licensed, ask to see the license!  The term “licensed and insured” may only mean they have license tags and insurance on their pick-up truck.  The exception is for those landscapers who apply fertilizers or pesticides to your yard.  They must have a license issued by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Agricultural Environmental Services.  Any landscaper should have business liability insurance to cover damages and workers compensation insurance to cover their workers.  Ask to see proof of both!

Villagers, on the other hand, do need Architectural Review Committee (ARC) approval for many landscape projects.  You or your landscaper should obtain that before work starts.

To avoid scams as well as simple misunderstandings, there are a few basic things you can do to avoid or minimize problems with your landscaper.

When selecting your landscaper, talk to several – get multiple estimates for your work.  Check with the local Better Business Bureau and with Seniors Vs. Crime before signing a contract.  Ask for references and check them out.

To insure everyone understands what is to be done, be sure you have a clear definition of the job IN WRITING, including diagrams, pictures if possible, and a complete description of what you expect from the contractor.  Be sure to include start and end dates.  This is called a Written Contract.

Next inquire about the guarantee or warranty.  Ask for it in writing, but know that many guarantees are only as good as the contractor who stands behind it.

Avoid paying in advance, even a little bit.  Often the contractor will explain that he or she needs the money to buy supplies or equipment.  Established, reliable contractors should have lines of credit with suppliers, and do not need advance payments.  Small or newer businesses may not have such lines of credit, and may not be financially stable enough to buy supplies on credit.  If you must pay in advance, ask to pay the supplier directly (not the contractor), and have the contractor pick up the material when the job is begun.  Then if the contractor “goes south”, you will at least have the material, and not a lien on your property.

A big “red flag” is being asked to make your check payable to an individual rather than a company name.  This often indicates there is no real company or work is being done “off the books”.

Be sure to get receipts for all payments.

If the work is protracted, it is reasonable to pay progress payments.  A representative payment schedule might look something like this.

  • 10% up front deposit at contract signing
  • 15% the day the work starts
  • 25% after all new plants are put in ground
  • 25% after mulch / gravel is put in place
  • 25% final payment after all cleanup is finished, the trash hauled away, your “punch list” is corrected, all subcontractors/suppliers are paid, and you are completely satisfied

When selecting a landscaper, be smart, be aware and be wary.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!  When in doubt as to what else you can to do, you can always contact your nearest Seniors Vs. Crime office for advice.  They can be reached at 352-753-7775 in the Marion County Sheriff’s Office or at 352-689-4600, Extension 4606 in the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.  Volunteers at both offices are ready, willing and able to assist you.

Bryan Lifsey, Office Manager

Seniors Vs.Crime