Are The New Jersey Landscape Trades Top Search Results for NJ Landscape Architects and New Jersey Landscape Design Legitimate?

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The president of New Jersey's premier luxury landscape and swimming pool design/build firm offers advice to help New Jersey consumers detect and avoid unscrupulous marketing tactics via the Web

When looking for a landscape architect, landscape contractor or swimming pool company, consumers have a powerful tool in the Internet. Within seconds a search engine can deliver hundreds of hits on nearby businesses that provide those services. But finding the right firm isn't as easy as clicking a button. In fact, the old adage, "buyer beware," probably applies now more than ever.

Chris Cipriano, founder and president of Cipriano Landscape Design, New Jersey's premier luxury landscape and swimming pool design/build firm is available to discuss the pitfalls of researching landscape architects and landscape contractors through Internet search engines. The most obvious of these is that unlike the Yellow Pages before them, search engines don't offer disclaimers advising consumers to consult the appropriate state licensing boards and providing them with a phone number to call and check for valid licenses. That information was always found in phone books under the headings "Landscape Contractor" and "Landscape Architect," as well as those of other trades. "A lot of people don't know how to check a contractor's license or even that it's possible to do so," Cipriano says. "Yet licensing is one of the best ways to tell whether a contractor is legitimate and up-to-date on industry requirements, regulations and standard practices."

The only way to be certain that you're hiring the best firm for the job is tried and true: Do your homework. Cipriano provides the following tips to ensure that you're hiring a qualified landscape architect, landscape contractor or pool construction company:

  •      Remember that looks can be deceiving. It doesn't take much to create an aura of credibility on the Internet. "We have seen high-ranking Web sites of unscrupulous firms using stock photography, implying that they completed those projects," Cipriano says. "If you see a picture on the Internet that interests you in a company's services, ask for the address and request to see that job site. There is no greater proof than seeing the work in person. If the company tells you that you are unable to visit one or more sites, then proceed cautiously."

Always look at the entire presentation of a landscape in a photo, especially if the firm claims to be full service. If you're viewing pictures of a swimming pool, patio or walls, how do the plants in the background appear? Are there any plants at all? A full-service provider should be able to demonstrate a well-thought out, balanced and creative environment. Also beware companies that display images only from a single project. A gallery of photos from multiple projects will give you a better feel for their body of work.

  •      Question claims of expertise. Like many other businesses landscape companies are feeling the squeeze of a tightening economy, and many of them are trying to offset lost revenue by expanding into services beyond their niche. For instance, there are large lawn maintenance companies claiming to complete $5 or $6 million in landscape construction annually, if that's true they should be able to showcase 30 to 40 prominent projects. When interviewing companies ask to see design plans and photographs for several projects comparable to your own, then compare the photographs to the plan. Better yet, visit the completed project and be sure to speak with the homeowner. Also, if a company says, "We do it all," ask to have them put that in writing on your contract. Don't be fooled into hiring a contractor that claims to have experience in a particular area, but instead uses low-bid subcontractors.

    "Award-winning" is a buzzword on many contractors' sites. What are the awards for? A reputable company usually will have them listed so you don't have to ask.

  •      Check licensing. Always ask to see copies of the contractor's and landscape architect's license and certificate of insurance when interviewing. Be sure to have contractors list their services on the certificate of insurance to confirm they have proper coverage. If you are hiring a landscape architect, be sure to get his or her state license number, which can be confirmed with your state's Division of Consumer Affairs. New Jersey residents can verify licensees by calling (973) 273-8090 or by visiting the following link:

http://www.state.nj.us/cgi-bin/consumeraffairs/search/searchentry.pl

  •      Ask for references. Let previous customers tell you whether a contractor can get the job done. Some good questions to ask include whether there were unforeseen costs, if the project met all expectations, and if warranty work was needed and provided.         
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  •      Compare apples to apples. Look for projects similar to your needs. If you want a natural stone patio, ask to see previously completed job sites with the same feature. Remember to check on projects that were completed 5 to 10 years ago, as this will give you an indication of how the contractor's work will hold up over time. It also will help eliminate inexperienced firms.
  •      Meet at least three companies. Winter is the best time to begin planning for outdoor projects. By starting now, you'll be able to interview multiple companies, allowing for a great deal of comparison. Plus, you'll be able to do the appropriate research on each firm--beyond what's available on the Web.

    "The Internet should help, not hinder your research gathering," Cipriano says. "Just keep in mind that your custom swimming pool or landscape is going to be a lasting feature of your home. You want to make sure your experience is a pleasurable one day in and day out."

Established in 1989, Cipriano Landscape Design is a recognized industry leader in custom residential landscapes and swimming pools. After a little more than a decade in business, the company catapulted to the top of the state's luxury landscaping and pool design and construction industries when it was awarded a $2.5 million residential landscape project. Today along with the Ramsey, N.J. office, the Cipriano family also owns a 10-acre farm and nursery in Mahwah, N.J., where large caliper specimen trees and other rare plants are grown. With a design office headed by Certified Landscape Architect William Moore, the Cipriano team recently won the Northeast Pool and Spa Association's 2007 Best in Competition swimming pool award. http://www.PlantNJ.com

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Chris Cipriano

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