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Every week, join Whitney Quick as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Time For Fall Cleanup? "Leaf" The Work To An Established Lawn Care Firm

David Goehring/Flickr, License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

As leaves begin to fall and garden plants go to seed, homeowners may be thinking about hiring a lawn or landscape firm to clean up yards before winter. Better Business Bureau advises homeowners to check companies out carefully before hiring them, and ask for a contract that says what will be done and when.

Some yard maintenance companies or chimney sweeps send out mailers offering deals that seem almost too good to be true. Other service providers may knock on doors, offering to clean up debris on the spot. In either case, it’s a good idea to do your research before you hire anyone. The low-cost deal could require you to sign a long-term, more costly contract, or the company may do a poor job that doesn’t meet your expectations.

BBB Business Profiles are available on dozens of lawn care, tree-trimming, or other outside service firms. The reviews provide a rating from A+ to F, show how long the company has been in business, its physical address, any complaints and how they were resolved, and reviews that indicate whether customers were satisfied with the work.

Other tips for hiring firms for fall cleanup include:

Look for an established firm with a good reputation. Ask several companies for references. It’s a good idea to get several bids for the same work before you make a choice.

Be careful with door-to-door solicitors. Homeowners often complain to BBB about tree trimmers or chimney sweepers who knock on their doors, offer a low price, and ask for money up front. Too often, the work is done in a shoddy manner, if at all, and consumers can’t contact the soliciting firm for a refund.

Get an estimate based on an on-site inspection. Unless a contractor looks at your yard or home and understands what you want done, the estimates could be unreliable. Estimates should include all labor, cleanup and disposal charges, and a contract should state exactly what will be done and when the firm expects to complete the work. If you need service more than once, the cost and frequency should be stated in the contract.

Verify a company’s insurance coverage. Tree trimming and lawn care can be dangerous. A business that provides these services should be willing to demonstrate that they have workers’ compensation, property damage and personal liability insurance.

Consumers should avoid firms that pressure them to do business quickly, without checking the company’s reputation and credentials.