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BBB: Be cautious when hiring a lawn care contractor

Looking for that lush, well-manicured lawn?

That can be a challenge. A more cultivated yard can include extended periods of extreme weather, bugs, pests and heavy foot traffic.

But for those who want to maintain that tended turf, the Better Business Bureau advises being careful about those who might want to provide lawn care services toward that goal.

The BBB serving eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula has gotten complaints from consumers attempting to cancel lawn care service but still being charged or paying for uncompleted services.

BBB offers these tips when considering hiring a lawn care professional:

— Research and gather information. Once you have decided what services you need and your budget, get recommendations from friends and neighbors.

— Ask for a lawn inspection. Services that quote a price without seeing the lawn cannot be sure what might be needed. Businesses will sometimes charge to discuss specific landscaping ideas to protect themselves against clients who want to get their ideas and do the work themselves. If you contract with the business, they often will credit back for the initial fee.

— Have a clear scope of work before asking for estimates. This includes defining the area to be worked on and what you want done. When getting bids, don’t compare apples with oranges. Make sure each business has included the same services. Also, be sure that each business breaks the cost down in the same way — per visit, month, year, etc.

— Ask for references and photos of other jobs they installed or maintained. If possible, visit these locations to get a first-hand view of the quality of their work. Ask the references about their experiences before, during and after the work was done.

— Get specifics on prices and be clear on what services are included. Are you paying for a specific project or ongoing maintenance? Do you pay by the mow or by the month? Many businesses allow you to pay after each treatment and may offer a discount if you pay the annual cost up front. What happens if it rains the day someone is supposed to come mow your lawn? Does mowing include edging? Who bags and disposes of the clippings and other refuse? Find out what happens if you have a problem between contracts. Will the service calls be free or is there a charge?

— Check to see if the lawn care provider needs a license to work in your area. In particular, they may need a license to apply pesticides. Does the business provide liability and workman’s compensation insurance to protect you in the event of an accident on the job? Ask for a certificate of insurance from the business’s insurance agent.

— Look for membership in a professional organization. A service’s membership in one or more professional lawn care associations and active participation in the local community is a positive sign. Professional organizations, such as the National Association of Landscape Professionals, keep members informed on new developments in pest control methods, safety, training, research and regulation.

— Get everything in writing and read all agreements and contracts carefully. Make sure the contract contains all topics discussed and promises made. Document the duration and expected results of the lawn care service. Some consumers are unaware that contracts can be open-ended, meaning they renew until the client specifically terminates. Ensure you understand how that works and how you can cancel. The contract should list the quantity, size and types of plants and other materials. Look for guarantees and refund policies.

— Ask about timing and safety. Will the work be done while you are home or away? Are there safety precautions you need to take during or after the work? If pesticides are being used, do you need to protect your family or pets? Is the timing of the application good for the weather conditions?

— Get receipts for any money paid. It’s better to pay by check or credit card, but if you make full payment in cash, be sure to obtain written verification from the business with a list of labor and material charges covered by the payment.

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