BY VICKIE SANDERS, Contributing columnist
Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.
Dear Action Line:
We recently returned from a lengthy trip around the United States. We stayed in both nice hotels and with family friends. Now, I am noticing small bugs that I have never seen before and my daughter swears they look like a picture of bedbugs that she saw on a television program.
I've sprayed and used those bug bombs you can buy in the store, but I still see them. My husband wants me to call a professional exterminator, but we used one years ago and weren't happy with the results. How do I find one we can trust to do a good job?
Discovering that your house harbors insects, such as bed bugs, or other pests usually elicits a strong "Yech!" reaction. Sometimes these critters follow you home in your suitcase, like souvenirs, even from the finest hotels. If your response is to seek the immediate services of a pest control company, your BBB recommends taking some time to select a reputable professional. Obtain at least three estimates and seek answers to the following questions when interviewing each company.
1. Is the company licensed? Local regulations vary, so check with your check with your BBB at bbb.org or 322-2074 or the Structural Pest Control Board at 916-561-8700 or www.pestboard.ca.gov. What are the qualifications of their technicians?
2. Will they provide a written inspection report, with an itemization of charges if a pest treatment is recommended?
3. Do they guarantee their work? If not, be skeptical. Know in advance what steps you need to take to keep the service agreement in force.
4. Will they share references from local customers?
5. Do they belong to a professional pest control industry association, such as Pest Control Operators of California (www.pcoc.org)?
6. Do they have insurance? Ask the salesperson to show proof on paper that the company carries general liability insurance, including insurance for property damage. You may also want to ask if it carries workmen's compensation insurance.
Each company should thoroughly inspect your home prior to submitting a proposal for treatment and a cost estimate. Ask the following:
1. May I see the pest that you have identified as the source of my problem?
2. Why is the insect or pest in my house?
3. What damage will the pest cause? May I see any damage that is already underway?
4. Do I have an infestation?
5. Will your program eliminate this pest? For how long?
6. What pesticides will you use and why?
7. Are there non-pesticide remedies that will control my pest problem?
8. If you treat my home with pesticide, do I have to leave, and for how long?
9. What toxic side effects should I be aware of? Your safety concerns (allergies, age of household members, pets) should be noted in the contract and reflected in the choice of pesticide that is used.
10. Is the price you quoted an estimate or the actual cost of what I will be charged? Get the price and list of services to be provided in writing.
11. Will we require subsequent treatments? What are the costs for those?
If the company representative offers only vague answers, cross him off your list. As always, check with the BBB at 322-2074 or bbb.org to find out if the company has a good track record.
Vickie Sanders is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.