For many consumers, flowers and trees in spring bloom mean it's time to hire lawn care and landscaping professionals. Better Business Bureau advises consumers to research options thoroughly before choosing a service.
Last year, BBB St. Louis received more than 400 complaints against the landscaping industry. Many of the complaints report dissatisfaction with the quality of the services provided, contracts not honored and on-time completion and billing issues.
Although a lawn care and landscaping specialist may have an impressive green thumb, that talent may not translate into professionalism for some. Consumers can narrow the field and choose a lawn care and landscaping service that fits their needs and budget by consulting BBB Business Profiles.
According to the American Society of Landscaping Architects, a well-maintained lawn and landscaping plan may add as much as 20 percent to a home's property value. Before engaging a landscaping-related service, consumers may want to consider the following tips.
Ask at least three companies for bids based on the same requirements. Discuss the bids in detail with each contractor and ask them about variations in pricing. The lowest-priced bid may not be the best.
Remember the rule of thirds. If you're getting a new patio, deck or major landscaping, consider paying a third of the contract amount to secure the contract, a third when the work is half done and the final third only after the job is completed and you are satisfied with the work.
Ask for a lawn inspection and free estimate. Lawn care companies that quote a price without seeing your lawn cannot be sure of what you need. A landscaper will need to measure the area where the patio or deck will go and consider access to the yard. Quality companies will offer an estimate only after they see the condition of your property.
Ask about the company's insurance. Does it carry workers' compensation, property damage and liability insurance? Ask for proof of insurance or for the name of an insurance agent you can call to verify the coverage.
Check with local authorities to find out whether permits are needed. The contractor should be aware of any permits or inspections that may be required. If digging is required, make sure someone notifies utility authorities by calling "811" at least two to three days in advance so utility workers can mark underground utility lines.
Find out what to do if you are dissatisfied with the service or product. Some providers will replace plants that die within a certain period. Ask about how quickly the company will return to correct problems. Make sure you know who to call for customer service issues.
Ask for a contract and read it. Get any verbal promises in writing. The contract should describe in detail the services and products provided, the billing rate and payment schedule. Make sure the contract includes the start date and expected completion date.
Are you all right with chemical treatments in lawn and landscaping maintenance? If you have young children or pets, you might want to choose a green, pet-friendly lawn care service.
Are you looking for fall and winter outdoor services? If you're thinking of getting help with snow removal and fall and spring cleanup, you may be able to bundle services with the same provider. Many landscaping professionals spend their winters hauling snow and plowing driveways in the off season. A few also provide cleanup services to trim trees and shrubs or haul away fallen branches.
Consumers may obtain BBB Business Profiles and view or post customer reviews by going to bbb.org. Assistance also is available by calling 888-996-3887.
Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.