Weekly Feature

2015-01-07 / Business

BBB offers help to residents when hiring snowplow services

Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York reports that dozens of consumers have filed complaints after the recent snowfall, stating that the plow companies they hired didn’t show up to do the job.

“To avoid being left in the cold without service, it’s critical to find a trusted, reliable business,” said Warren Clark, BBB of Upstate New York president. “BBB urges consumers to check with us first and research before making payment. In many of these situations, we are reporting a substandard track record. Knowing that kind of information can help spare consumers from this kind of trouble.”

BBB Business Reviews offer standard information as well as complaint history regarding a business. BBB’s complaint process allows for both sides to work toward a resolution, generally allowing 30 calendar days for responses.

BBB also reports unanswered complaints that will affect the company’s Business Review and rating. If BBB sees a pattern of complaints with a certain company, an investigation is opened.

Consumers are encouraged to keep the following tips in mind when hiring snow removal services:

• Look for experience. Each home or business is different, and experience does matter. Consumers need to make sure everyone who works for a company has relevant experience, not just the owner. Price factors include: property layout, the size of the service area, and whether customers request removal of snow from other areas such as sidewalks or walkways.

• Ask how jobs are scheduled. Some contractors do snow plowing as a part-time job, which may affect their availability. Always check to see if there is a schedule for snow removal.

• Get more than one estimate. There can be a lot of factors to consider with snow removal. BBB recommends consumers get at least three estimates before making a decision. Ask for all the costs upfront to avoid any surprises. Keep in mind the lowest price is not always the best indicator of the best service.

• Ask about insurance. Who is responsible if your home or grounds are damaged during the winter season? Find out what type of insurance coverage potential contractors provide, as well as homeowner’s insurance. Does a municipality require the contractor to have a permit or license? Consumers need to make some calls to find out and then check to make sure the contractor is appropriately covered.

• Review the contract. Consumers should not have to settle for a verbal agreement; the contractor should provide a written contract. A representative should come out to look at the property and make notes about services requested and potential obstacles. Find out how to terminate the agreement if necessary. Get all of these details in writing and always read before you sign. Know all the terms and conditions of the contract. Understand cancellation fees and any extra charges that may apply.

• Split the payments. Find out how the company expects payment. Most snowplow contracts take two forms: pay per plowing or pay per season. If consumers choose a pay per season contract in a light snow season, the contractor is not obligated to refund any money. If consumers are expected to pay all fees upfront, consider it a red flag. Most contractors will split fees into two or three payments — one at the beginning, middle and end of the season. Never pay cash.

• Get contact information. Make sure to get the contact information for the company in the case of a snow emergency and know the policies about who to reach, standard contact phone numbers and any special number for urgent needs.

• Beware of scams. Even if a business appears to be reliable, it does not mean it is. When a company is reluctant to answer questions, won’t supply proper information or is unwilling to offer references, there could be cause for concern.

For scam alerts, tips and other information, visit bbb.org.

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