Making the “right choice” and having peace of mind is what we are all after when presented with a Big Decision or Investment….right?
With the click of a mouse you instantly have access to a wealth of information. Sometimes this info can be overwhelming to sort through and weed out the good stuff from the not so good.
We wanted to make it easier, with a Step-by-Step-Guide for you to utilize during your search for the right Paver or Synthetic Turf Contractor to install your project.
When you start surfing the internet, you may type in “Pavers in San Diego,” or “Best Paver Company in [Insert your City]”, or “Artificial Grass Installers in [Insert your City],” etc. and you will receive pages upon pages of companies touting their credentials and why you should select them.
We cannot blame the companies for trying to represent themselves in the best possible light, can we? They should be partial to their own company, and this should be expected.
So what are you to do with all this information?
- Who to believe and not believe?
- Do you select a handful of companies and start setting up appointments?
- Should you ask your friends, family, neighbors if they know anyone?
- Should you post something on facebook, asking for referrals?
- Should you go to the BBB and look up accredited businesses in your area?
- Should you go on Angie’s List or Yelp?
What is the best approach?
The short answer is that there isn’t a “best approach.”
The best approach is going to be the one that makes the most sense to you and for your particular situation. You want this decision to make you feel good inside, and allow you to sleep at night without the worry or fear of doubt lingering in the back of your mind.
Our goal is to help you steer-clear of the things that will keep you up tossing and turning with anxiety.
In this post we will provide you with is a solid foundation that will help guide you in your decision making process.
Let’s face it, redoing your driveway, entryway/walkway, pool deck or backyard patio with pavers OR replacing your lawn with synthetic turf is not going to be cheap. You want to make sure you do all your Due Diligence PRIOR, so that you can have peace of mind knowing that you only have to do this project once……check, all done!
Okay, let’s go ahead and get right into the 10 Steps:
Step #1 Make sure the company is licensed by the CSLB
Seems obvious, however, you would be surprised how many unlicensed or improperly licensed companies are out there(we’ll just give you the answer → there are LOTS!)
Go to this link located here → (CSLB LICENSE CHECK) and type in the company’s license number that you are getting an estimate from and verify that they are in fact licensed to install pavers or synthetic turf.
If you are going to get pavers installed, make sure the company has one of the following licenses: C-27, and/or C-61/D06, and/or C12. They MUST have one of these licenses to legally install pavers.
If you are getting artificial grass installed, check for one of these licenses: C-27 and/or C-61/D12. Again, they MUST have one of these licenses to install artificial turf.
Step #2 Proper Insurance: Workers Comp/GL Polices
In order to be licensed with the CSLB(Contractors State License Board) you must be bonded, so if the company passed on Step #1, and have an Active License, then you don’t need to worry about that here, as they are bonded as well.
If the company has employees, which you hope they do, then they need to have a worker’s comp policy to cover the ENTIRE crew doing the work.
Ask for a copy of their Accord Certificate which will have all their insurance details, including the broker’s name and phone number. You might want to call the broker personally to double check their coverage. A 2-minute phone call is well worth it to ensure you and your home are not at risk.
A common tactic seen here is that the Paver or Synthetic Turf Company will provide you with their Accord Certificate and at first glance, you may think everything looks great; they have worker’s comp and general liability insurance. Check, Check, all good here.
Not so fast, this is most likely not the case so be careful here.
Just because the Accord Certificate states that they have workers comp does not mean that they have adequate coverage for their WHOLE Team, who will be working on your property. The certificate is extremely vague and misleading.
Companies will often get the coverage on 1 team-member, with the hope that at a given time only 1 person would likely get hurt so they will be covered for that one person.
With workers comp, companies do not have to be specific with actual names, all the insurance company cares about on their end is what classification the laborer is classified under (roofer, painter, masonry, etc.) which will determine the rate the company is charged. For pavers, the rate is right around 16-18%. So for each $100 that a paver installer is paid on payroll, $16-$18 is paid out to the insurance company.
Yes, you are probably thinking, WOW, that is expensive, and you are absolutely right, however, this is what ensures that you are safe if that installer were to get seriously hurt.
Never assume anything; a quick phone call to the broker can clear this up and provide you will more clarity as to how much coverage the company actually has.
As you can see, the motivation behind having limited coverage or only covering 1 installer, is that the company can save A LOT of money by being unethical and operating illegally.
It is like buying health or auto insurance for 1 person in your family and changing the coverage depending on who gets into an accident or who gets sick. The health and auto industry do not work that way fortunately, however, the Construction World is a little dated and does allow for loop holes like this to exist.
This is happening A LOT, so be careful and take the time to understand your coverage before the project commences.
If they do not have workers comp listed on their license then this should be an immediate red flag as they are stating that they do not have any employees and are simply subcontracting all the work out. You can read a lot more about this in a previous post here.
If they are subcontracting the work out, find out who they are subing the project to and go directly to them. This will save you quite a bit as you eliminate the “middle man fee” who is just orchestrating the deal and adding his or her margin on top.
If you do go the subcontracting route, make sure that the crew in which the work is being subcontracted out to is fully licensed, and carries the proper worker’s comp policy for the ENTIRE crew. Again, never assume.
Step #3 Are their Salespeople Licensed
Not only does the company have to be licensed, but the salespeople who are coming out to your house, also have to be licensed.
You can think of it like a real estate company. The realtor who is selling you the home has to be a licensed real estate agent and he or she is working under a broker who is also licensed. The same concept holds true here in construction.
According to the CSLB (Contractors State License Board), “a home improvement salesperson (HIS) is defined in the law, Section 7152, as a person who is employed by a licensed contractor to solicit, sell, negotiate or execute contracts under which home improvements may be performed, a swimming pool constructed, or home improvement goods or services installed or furnished.”
If you solicit, sell, negotiate or execute home improvement contracts for a licensed contractor outside the contractor’s normal place of business (regardless of the dollar amount of those contracts) you must obtain your HIS with the CSLB.
The only people who would be exempt from obtaining a HIS License is if they are listed as a part of the CSLB’s official personnel records for the contractor’s license. This includes individual contractors, partners, officers of the corporation and responsible managing employees.
To verify whether the salesperson who is going to be coming to your house is licensed, you will first want to look up their Company License # here → (check company license number here) to see if the individual is an owner, partner, officer of the corporation or responsible managing employee of the company which would supercede the HIS License as the individual has passed all background checks and is legally able to solicit, sell, negotiate or execute home improvement contracts.
If the salesperson is NOT listed as the owner, partner, officer of the corporation or responsible managing employee of the company then they MUST obtain their HIS License to be on your property by law. You can verify whether the individual has obtained their HIS License here → (Check HIS License Number Here).
The CSLB enforces this by law for your safety. They want to ensure that whomever steps foot on your property, has been properly cleared of any criminal or any other wrong doings in which you and your family would not want to be associated with.
Make sure the Sales Rep has their HIS License prior to your Free Estimate. Again, you can do a quick HIS License check here → (Check HIS License Number Here).
Step #4 Do they have In-House Crews or Subcontractors?
It is very important to find out exactly which crew you are going to be getting for your job. You will want to verify that particular crews’ credentials. Here is another post written about what goes on behind the scenes that contractors do not want you to know.
A lot of “salespeople” will state that their company uses in-house crews as a sales tactic; however, don’t be mislead. Verify this information yourself with a little research. Most likely you will find that the crew is really a subcontractor.
The worst case scenario is that they are getting their prices way down by utilizing unlicensed illegal workers. This is very prevalent in the Paver and Synthetic Turf industry, especially in Southern California (more specifically, Orange County and San Diego, Ca).
Imagine if one of the laborers were to get hurt on your property who was not covered. The burden and risk reverts back to YOU and your home-owner’s insurance. This can be a very costly mistake.
Do your own background research and remember that the people coming out to your house to provide you with a Free Estimate are “salespeople,” who are extremely good at what they do, which is to “Sell You!”
Step #5 How much EXPERIENCE do they have?
Find out the longevity of the company and more specifically, how long the crew that is going to be doing your installation has been in the business of exclusively installing pavers or synthetic grass. You want an installer that specializes in the trade with at least 10 years of experience.
A company can showcase that they have been in business for 30 or even 100 years, however, if the crew that you are going to be getting on your job has only been installing for 6 months may sway your thought process on that company.
Years of trade experience and the years a company has been established can be very misleading and is something you will want to be sure to investigate in more detail.
A good rule of thumb is to see how long they have been in business and how many jobs they have installed in YOUR particular area (make sure these installs are backed with an installation list that you can verify and keep for your records).
This should demonstrate the current health of the company, which is what you should be interested in. You shouldn’t really be concerned with how great the company was 10 years ago, if they are on their way out the door today or tomorrow.
For instance, if a company has been in business for 10 years and has installed 1000 jobs, you may think that is quite impressive. You will want to dig a little deeper and find out when those installs took place. It is all relative.
Now if you interview another company and they have only been in business 2 years with 500 installations, what does that tell you?
The 10 year old company has done twice the amount of work as the 2 year old company, however, the 2 year old company is growing at a much faster pace and will soon FLY by the 10 year old company as they are installing 2.5 times as many jobs each year.
The question that should come to mind, is what exactly is going on behind the scenes to have one company install 2.5 times the other company. Might lead some to think that the 2 year company is onto something and is definitely doing something right.
It really comes down to gather the information/numbers and painting an accurate big picture of the health of the company today and tomorrow, not 10 years ago.
Step#6 Are their Salespeople Employees or Independent Contractors
As stated in a previous post, disclosing secrets of the trade, you can have sales reps that are independent contractors and it would be 100% legal just as long as the company is set up to operate with an independent contractor business model.
This would mean that the company and sales reps DO NOT hold meetings, they are not assigned appointments, they are not provided with sales tools, etc..
As far as we know, there is not a single paver or artificial grass company that would fall under the above criterion to legally hire independent contractors as salespeople for their team.
This means that the companies are operating illegally and are skirting the tax law(a.k.a. walking on pins and needles with the IRS who will catch them soon, especially with the amount of technology they have at their fingertips).
The simple fact to note is that the paver or turf company that is operating in this illegal fashion is SAVING a lot on payroll expenses and general taxes. Several companies have already had Class Action Lawsuits Filed against them for such illegal operations. Do a quick Google Search and you will find some of them there.
Step #7 Check their Referrals, Testimonials, Online Reviews, etc.
Ask for testimonials, online reviews and referrals. You will want to see a lot of these. If the company does great work, then people will be talking about them online. On the flip side, if they are not doing great work, people will also being talking about them online in forums and chat rooms.
A great thing to do would be to cross reference some of the testimonials by requesting a phone number or address of the people who wrote the “glowing review(s)” so that you can verify that these were not “doctored” by the company.
Another tip, try doing a Google Search for the company name, the owner(s) name(s) and see what pops up. There are many review sites online that try to expose dishonest contractors that you may want to check out: RipOffReport.com. AngiesList.com, and Yelp.com.
Step#8 Check out their installations in person
Get a substantial list from the company and not just a pre-selected list which unbeknownst to you, includes the company’s friends and family waiting for you to come by so that they can give raving reviews.
Ask them for all the jobs they have completed and then YOU can personally select the ones you want to go see. Try going over the weekend and knocking on the customers door to ask them why they chose the company they chose and how everything turned out.
A great follow-up question to ask is whether they would use the company again and is there anything they would have done differently.
You will learn a lot from these customers, assuming they are non-biased customers. The key is to dig a little and they will open up and tell you the real truth as opposed to the sugar coated version. You still may use the company, however, they may have some great tips in which they learned along the installation process that they passed onto you so you can have a better experience the second go-around.
A great thing to note is how many jobs the company has done in a particular area. If they have installed a substantial amount of projects in one area and more specifically your area, they must be doing something right as neighbors talk and share their experiences. If they were doing something wrong they would not be asked back again and again.
Step#9 Find out whether they have project minimums
This is important to know ahead of time so that you do not waste your time setting up an appointment for a job that is out of their scope or is too small, etc. Most companies have a 300sqft minimum which is very normal and makes a lot of sense.
A great idea to consider if you do have a small area(less than 300sqft) is to see if your neighbors are interested in getting their driveway, patio or lawn redone. That way, the combination of the 2 jobs will meet most companies minimums, and at the same time save you and your neighbor money. The more sqft you do, the less your project will be per sqft.
Step#10a Find out what their average prices & specials are in advance
When you call each company, ASK what their avg. ranges are in terms of price/sqft. Although each paver and synthetic grass project is custom and there are a lot of details which can add or reduce the overall price, the company should be able to provide you with a standard ball-park estimate over the phone for a “typical installation.”
Find out what their specials are and if the prices that were quoted over the phone include the specials or not.
This way you will have a great idea as to what to expect prior to the Salesperson showing up.
Step#10b Finally, please don’t fall for the Salesperson “Closing Tactics”
This is a Big Decision and do not feel pressured to sign the contract on day #1. Take your time. If the salesperson states that they have a special deal going on right now, however, in order to get this special price, you need to sign up today or it is going to go away, just know that this is just NOT true and do not fall for this used car salesman stuff.
If fact, if you feel like you are being sold or feel uncomfortable at any point, then that particular company is probably not the right fit for you.
You want a company that is going to be 100% Transparent and a straight shooter, not one that is going to be artificially inflating the price so that they have room to play games with you.
The Bottom Line
If you follow these 10 Steps as best as you can, you will be well on your way to doing business with a quality Paver or Synthetic Turf Company that prides themselves in doing business with the utmost professionalism and integrity.
Use this as a guide to help weed out the “bad seeds,” and please come back to share how everything turned out. If you have any questions, comments or have any input to add to this list, we would love to hear from you.
Best of Luck with your Estimates & Decision Making Process!