Stephanie Garland: Get bids on lawn and landscape services

Winter has probably left your yard with some sticks or unsightly leaf litter to clean up. And grass already is turning green. Neighbors already may be mowing their lawns, disturbing your afternoon nap.

Some people love to work in the yard. They can’t wait to bring out the rakes, shovels and other tools to clean up and improve the landscape. If you’re not the do-it-yourself type or you have a new patio, deck or other large project in mind, you may be looking for a contractor to help you.

Before you call in help, take some time to consider what you want done. Do you need someone who will mow the lawn and trim it every week or so? Do you need help removing old shrubbery, installing a patio or redesigning the landscape?

Ask friends for recommendations, but check contractors out as well. The Better Business Bureau has BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies nationwide, including many in this region.

The profiles include ratings from A+ to F that are based on a number of factors, including how long a company has been in business and how it has responded to customer complaints. The profiles allow you to read about complaints against a business and how the company resolved them, as well as customer reviews. They also include contact information for companies.

Common complaints about lawn and landscape services include missed appointments, billing disputes or treatments that customers allege were paid for but never applied.

BBB recommends that you get at least three bids before you select a contractor. Getting bids gives you a better idea of what a project will cost and whether one company’s bid is more in line with your budget. But read any proposal carefully to be sure it specifies materials to be used, a timeline for completion and whether you will receive a lien waiver stating that suppliers and subcontractors have been paid.

BBB offers the following advice to help consumers find a trustworthy lawn care or landscaping company:

• Know what you want. Lawn care and landscaping companies provide many services, so it is important to decide what services and products are appropriate for your needs and budget. What do you want the yard, patio or deck to look like when the job is complete?

• Ask around. Ask friends and family what lawn care companies they use. If you’re considering a major project such as a deck or patio, ask friends if you can see their projects and ask how it was to work with the contractor.

• Check the company out. BBB Business Profiles at bbb.org provide important background on businesses, such as how long they’ve been in business, who owns them and how they resolve complaints.

• Ask for a lawn inspection and free estimate. Lawn care companies that quote a price without seeing your lawn cannot be sure 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 inspect the site.

• Request a written contract. A contract should clearly state the services you will receive, as well as how you will pay for it. If you are contracting for a recurring service, it should state how often the company will mow your lawn and when you will be billed.

• 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.

Stephanie Garland is the regional director for the Better Business Bureau office in Springfield, 2754 S. Campbell Ave. Among those counties served by BBB Springfield are Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence and Barton counties. Emails may be sent to sgarland@springfieldbbb.org. You can find a retailer’s BBB rating or read a BBB Business Profile by going online to www.bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.