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Choosing the Best Pest Control Service

Critters, rodents, and bugs — oh my! No one relishes the idea of having an infestation in their home. But if you’ve got one, it could be time to call a professional.

Before Making First Contact

Before you hire the pros to come in, you might want to make sure you’ve exhausted all DIY fixes first. Hiring a professional requires time and money, after all. To minimize an infestation, you should:

  • Clear your floors, cupboards, etc. of stray food particles that could entice unwanted visitors.
  • Remove excess trash from your home.
  • Repair holes in screen windows, doors, and other potential entryways.
  • Trim branches and shrubbery around your home.
  • Consider the cheap over-the-counter remedies found at your local hardware store.
     

Most pest control companies would happily send a representative to your home to provide an estimate. But you can’t rely on these businesses to recommend DIY treatments. After all, they do what they do to make money. It falls upon you, the consumer, to determine whether an insect or animal infestation has reached the point of no return.

DID YOU KNOW?

Your technician should explain any special pre- and post-treatment precautions, such as removing pets and children from the area, covering exposed areas with plastic, or wiping down appliances and dishware.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re leaning toward hiring a pro to eradicate pests for you, here are some questions to ask yourself before making that first call.

Would I be willing to give peaceful coexistence a chance? Some insect and animal infestations are cyclical or temporary. Cicadas chirp loudly during evening hours, but they’re relatively harmless to humans. Bats swarm at night while feasting on mosquitoes, but they are not destructive. The same holds true for honey bees and ladybugs, two beneficial insect species.

Have I tried every over-the-counter remedy at my disposal?  As mentioned above, many pest problems can be resolved through the use of common products such as insecticide sprays, glue traps, snap traps, live spring traps, ultrasonic repellents, and natural deterrents. Even professional pest technicians admit that sometimes, a $5 can of bug spray can eliminate the need for a $200 service call.

Do I know what (or more precisely, who) is causing the problem? The more information you can provide about your pests, the faster a trained technician can form a plan of attack. Try to identify the species, collect dead specimens, photograph damage, and document any other information, such as time of maximum activity and points of entry and exit.

Do I have friends, family, or neighbors who could make a service recommendation? Consumers often find success using social media and other forms of communication to get professional recommendations. Pest control companies rely heavily on word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers.

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CAUTION

Some unscrupulous pest control companies charge clients “by the gallon” for insecticide sprays that are diluted or otherwise ineffective.

Acquiring a Consultation/Inspection

Once you’ve identified a potential company you want to work with, it’s time to schedule a consultation or home inspection.

  • You might chat with a sales representative on the phone to discuss treatment options.

  • The company might send a trained technician to your home to conduct a preliminary site inspection.


Most of the time, these initial contacts cost you nothing. However, you need to verify that upfront. Some companies charge a nominal fee for a home inspection.

At this point, you’re on a fact-finding mission. You should not feel any pressure or obligation toward the company.

Obtaining an Estimate

Do not settle for the first estimate you get. Obtain at least three service estimates from different companies before making a decision.

The reason: pest control estimates vary widely. There are locally owned, independent companies and there are regional chains. The difference between estimates from one company to the next could be significant.

It pays to be choosey. Even if one or two businesses charge you for an inspection, your overall savings could still justify it.

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Clarifying Services

Before you hire a company, make sure it offers the right services for your situation. Different infestations call for different types of equipment and specialized training.

  • Your local insect exterminator may not be equipped to deal with your rodent infestation.

  • Your local rodent exterminator may not be able to deal with the bats in your attic.
     

If in doubt, ask the inspecting technician or sales representative if the company offers the right service for your needs.

EXPERT TIP

Ask about the chemical composition and toxicity of all sprays and baits used by the company. The ingredients used should all be recognized as legal chemicals.


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Verifying Licensure and Liability Insurance

Virtually all legitimate pest control companies are licensed through state agencies or industry boards. Your chosen company should provide proof of its liability insurance since the technician will be working on your private property and damages may not be covered by your insurance.

  • Do not accept a company's insurance and licensing claims without proof. Some pest control methods are destructive by design, and an uninsured company could simply “skip town” without making the proper repairs. What’s more, there are some “companies” out there that falsely claim to be licensed or bonded. Demand to see tangible proof before signing a service contract.
     

  • Photograph and document any damages as they occur. A service technician may incidentally trample a flower bed during an inspection or even break a wall during extermination. Repairs are generally covered under liability insurance, but you should protect yourself by recording these incidents as they happen.

DID YOU KNOW?

Bonding and insurance are important for both sides of a contract. Your sales agent should explain how these legal conditions protect both the client and the company if issues arise.

Picking Your Poison

Actually, the use of highly toxic insecticides and poisons is considered by many companies to be a last resort. The risk of exposing humans and pets to these chemical hazards is simply too high.

Instead, an increasing number of pest technicians are using “green” approaches to the problem, such as low-toxicity insecticide blends and environmentally safe traps and baits. We recommend asking if your chosen company offers these alternative services.

Regular spraying is not always required for pest infestations. Chemical sprays work best when an actual pest is present. Poisoned bait, on the other hand, will continue to kill insect populations where they actually live.

Signing Your Contract

You may be hiring a company for a one-time service or a series of extermination visits.

  • Be aware of long-term conditions in service contracts. Some pest control treatments, especially those for termites and cockroach infestations, require diligent spraying and sanitization over a considerable period of time. However, there are instances in which the infestation problem resolves earlier than expected. A good service contract should reflect this possibility.

  • Understand the billing process. A one-off service call for the removal of a hornet’s nest would be billed differently than an ongoing treatment for termites or roaches.  Before agreeing to a service relationship with a pest control company, make sure you understand how the billing process works.

Don’t get stuck paying for services you no longer need. You should be able to negotiate an “opt out” agreement if you decide that service is no longer required.

Red Flags

While the vast majority of pest control companies pride themselves on their professionalism and ethical business practices, there are still a few scammers out there. Watch out for these red flags before entering into an agreement with an unfamiliar company.

High-Pressure Sales Tactics

The first visit between you and a legitimate pest control company should be a fact-finding session. You present your situation, and the company representative shares an outline of provided services. But some underhanded companies use high-pressure sales tactics to convince consumers to take immediate, aggressive action. Don’t let someone pressure you into believing you must make a decision right away.

Special Discounts or Promotions with Short Expiration Dates

While many legitimate pest control companies offer discounts and coupons, some only do so for a very limited time. Let’s say you have a flea infestation and a coupon for a one-week discount on flea treatments. The company that issued the coupon benefits from the immediacy of the situation. The treatment may be perfectly legitimate and effective, but the time pressure created by the limited coupon period can be seen as unethical.

Fraudulent Licensing, Affiliation, or Experience Claims

A company may claim to be licensed through the state or affiliated with a national chain. In truth, the service technicians from said company could be professionals with years of experience ... or trainees willing to crawl under houses for a living. If a company representative cannot produce a business license or certificate of accreditation from an industry board, it’s unwise to hire this company — at least without trusted customer referrals.

Presenting a Termite Specimen “From a Neighbor's House”

Some self-employed pest control technicians carry a specimen bottle containing dead termites and damaged wood. The technician presents this evidence to an unsuspecting homeowner, claiming he just removed it from a neighbor's house. The fear of a wider termite infestation could motivate some homeowners to sign an expensive contract without consulting other pest control companies for a second opinion.

"Extra supplies from another job” scam

A door-to-door pest exterminator may tell you he just finished a job at a neighbor's house and has some leftover insecticide. He may offer to spray your entire home at a substantial discount if he can perform the service immediately. This is not an industry-approved practice, since the insecticide may be diluted or contain nothing but plain water. These types of unsolicited offers are rarely legitimate. If it happens to you, call the police.

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You may feel your heart sink when you spy that first termite or hear that first scritch scratch in your walls. But help is available, and if you do your homework before hiring a pest control service, you’ll rest assured that your pesky problem is in good hands.

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