It does not take long for many home owners to realize that do it yourself pest extermination leaves a great deal to be desired. Working with potentially hazardous chemicals is not a task for the faint of heart, and the expense and hassle of obtaining proper safety equipment can also be a deterrent for those who are flirting with the idea of trying to put an end to a bed bug infestation.
What is the best way to go about hiring an exterminator, though? The only thing that might be worse than a botched do it yourself job might be a botched job that you have to pay for. Moreover, since extermination services represent a rather major investment, it is important to make a wise decision from the outset.
Unfortunately, however, extermination services are one thing that people do not have to arrange with much frequency. This can put the consumer at a significant disadvantage. After all, most of us buy a car every five to seven years – we have some idea of how the process works and what the right questions to ask would be. Arranging for a major extermination service might be a once or twice in a lifetime event for many people.
With the advice contained in this guide, though, consumers will be better armed to understand what they need to know before they sign on the dotted line.
The Value of Specificity
With the advent of the internet, it has become simpler than ever before to search out people who perform the kinds of services we need. No longer must consumer lug out a heavy edition of the Yellow Pages only to find that their book is years out of date, listing companies that no longer exist at all. Now, through a simple Google search, consumers can locate current listings for pest extermination firms that provide helpful advice as well as chemical services right in their own home town.
This very convenience brings dangers of its own, however. Consumers must be quite specific in their search terms in order to be sure that they are going to be in contact with the right sort of firm. Just “extermination” or “pest control” is not specific enough. Those who have determined that they suffer from a bed bug infestation must be sure to find a company that specializes in eradicating bed bugs in particular. Otherwise, you may be dealing with an amateur when it comes to the problem you are really trying to solve.
Self-Promotion is Not Enough
Every businessman who is worth anything at all will obviously promote his own value, touting the quality of his services to any consumer who will listen. The rational consumer, however, will listen to all this self-advertising with a large grain of salt. Do not believe a company’s statistics without some good evidence that emanates from outside the bubble of self-promotion.
Instead, you must interview and evaluate firms based on outside data. But how can a consumer new to the pest eradication business get outside data?
The Importance of References
One of the best ways to get an unbiased view of the company’s services is to ask for references. Here too, however, it is important to be specific. You do not want the names and phone numbers of people who have used the firm in years past – ideally, you want to speak to individuals who can attest to the quality of services during the last year or so.
In addition, be sure to specify that you need references who can speak to the company’s skill at eradicating bed bugs, not at general pest management which can include any number of other insects and related pests.
One reference is generally not enough to get a holistic picture of how the company does business and how well it performs the specific task of eradicating bed bugs. Shoot for at least three – and if a company seems reluctant to provide you with that many, steer clear of it. Definitely walk away from any concern that refuses to provide references, even if they claim it is impossible due to confidentiality or privacy concerns. It is simply too probably that they may be concealing a poor track record – or that they are new to the business and have no substantive track record at all.
What to Ask References
Once you are armed with some former customers to contact, what should you ask them? The following list will help you begin to conduct a conversation, but you should not hesitate to add in any follow up questions that seem pertinent to you. Begin by introducing yourself and stating the reason for the call – you are considering the services of Exterminator X and you would like to know how these services worked out for the former customer. If the reference seems amenable, proceed to the questions – but do not be pushy. No reference is required to share information about his or her experiences.
- What type of pest did the company treat your home for? If the answer to this is not “bed bugs,” then politely end the call and do not contact any further references. A company that would mislead you, or that keeps such shoddy records that they provided you with inaccurate information, is one you are better off avoiding.
- How did the company determine that bed bugs were the problem in your case?
- How much time did the company spend with you to explore the various options for eradication?
- If chemicals were used in your home during any phase of the extermination process, were these discussed with you in detail beforehand? Were any possible side effects mentioned? If so, were alternatives provided to you?
- Did the company’s personnel arrive on time for all phases of the work?
- Was a full written estimate of costs provided to you before any work commenced?
- Was the final bill for services in accordance with the estimates provided beforehand?
- Were all representatives of the company thoroughly polite and professional with you during all interactions?
- If you needed to speak to someone regarding the services you were to receive or had already received, was there an individual at the company able to take your call at once? If not, how long did you have to wait for a call back?
- Was your bed bug problem eradicated in its entirety? If so, how long has your home continued to be free of this particular pest? If not, how long was it until you experienced a recurrence of bed bug problems?
- Did you have any qualms about any part of your experience with the company in question?
- Would you use this company again and / or recommend it to others? If so, why? If not, why not?
The information that can be derived from a third party such as a former customer is invaluable. As you may be “interviewing” more than one extermination company, be sure to take detailed notes about each call – and be doubly sure that you have noted the name of the company being discussed in each interaction.
The License Issue
It is best to do business with a company that is fully accredited and licensed to do extermination work. Such companies will be fully cognizant of appropriate state and local regulations. Ask to see the company’s license – do not take their word for it. If they cannot furnish you with a license for you to examine in person, seek out another company entirely.
If the company does show you a license, examine it with a critical eye. Note the issuance date and the term for which the license is valid. If it has expired, ask to see a current license; if one is not available, move on to another extermination firm.
You should also note the issuing authority and the license number. Write these down to take home. Once you are home, it should be a simple matter to perform an internet search to find information about the issuing authority. If you discover, for example, that the “Professional Exterminators of America” organization merely requires an online course lasting three hours in order to license a firm, you will know that this “license” is not really worth very much in terms of quality assurance.
If the license has been issued by a state, check online to see if you can verify the license number in a public online database. Some states make this information freely available and it may be a way for you to see additional useful information about the firm, such as how long it has been in business and what complaints, if any, the state has received about it – and how those complaints have been resolved.
Bonding and Insurance
You want to find a bed bug extermination company that is bonded, or at least one that carried appropriate insurance policies. These provisions mean that if some kind of damage is done to your home, there is at least the hope of compensation being available. Without bonding and / or insurance, should the company cause damage, they may simply refuse to pay, leaving you with no alternative but to pursue a costly and time-consuming lawsuit.
Even that is a poor remedy since a company that wants to make itself judgment proof can sometimes merely close up shop and open up again under another name. It is best to think about these issues in advance and insist that any firm you hire has public liability insurance, professional indemnity insurance, a bond with the state, or another means to guarantee you compensation should there be a serious problem with their services.
Experience: The Mother of Wisdom
While it is true that we all need a start in life, it is not true that you want someone brand new to the business getting their start in your valuable home. Paying for a house is literally a 30 year investment or more, and there is no reason to put all the money you have invested at risk by letting a rank amateur do his learning on your dime. At the very least, you want to work with a company that has been in the bed bug eradication business for five years. More than five years is even better.
Neither is it wise to be the “first on your block” to try out an exciting new eradication method. It is better to rely only on methods, processes, and technologies which have a proven track record of success. Otherwise, you may waste your valuable money on services which simply do not work – or even worse, those same services may cause some kind of damage to your home that could have been avoided if you had adhered to tried and true methods of eradication.
Be Sure You Understand the Procedures to be Applied in Your Case
A quality exterminator will furnish you with a detailed explanation of his or her plans for eradicating the bed bug pests in your home. Ideally, you should be presented with several alternatives for eradication, along with the pros and cons for each method.
Above all, you want to look for evidence that the exterminator has a coherent and integrated “plan of attack.” The truth of the matter is that hit and miss extermination methods tend to miss a great deal more than they ever hit. Look for a strategy and avoid firms that seem to want to simply spray hither and thither with a questionable assortment of one insecticide after another.
What About Your Role in the Process?
Beware any extermination firm that acts like they are the be-all and end-all of the entire eradication process. The truth, as anyone who has gone through a successful extermination knows, is that the role of the home owner in the process is actually immense.
A great deal of the pre-treatment and preparation for extermination can only be done by the home owner. Indeed, there is a lot to be done to prepare for the “big day” of chemical application. At a minimum, most home owners must clean up the areas that have ended up contaminated as a result of the infestation of bed bugs. Clothes will have to be washed thoroughly to remove all traces of contamination on them as well.
Depending on the chemicals to be used, food may need to be removed from the home, along with pets. Sometimes the home must be vacated for a certain span of time, which means packing up the needed belongings and making sure that the kids have their homework folders and enough socks . . . the list can be endless.
If an exterminator does not seem to regard you as an integral part of the process from the very first, look for another company – one that understands that eradication can only be a team effort.
This issue is a bit sticky – more so than many other categories on this list. Home owners who are paying the bills will of course want to be sure that they get their money’s worth, but there is a limit to what they can reasonably expect. No responsible firm will even offer 100% guaranteed complete eradication of every last insect and egg, because this is just not a feasible result in most cases.
At the same time, some guarantee is certainly appropriate. Many firms will couch their guarantees in terms of free repeat services – or discounted ones – if the infestation recurs within a certain time span. This assures the home owner that the price paid will also fund continuing treatments for a while, which is some indication that full eradication will eventually be achieved.
It is important to ask about guarantees and listen for the terms the company is willing to offer. If they seem too sparing, see what can be negotiated. If, on the other hand, they seem ridiculously generous, that may be a red flag in and of itself.
The Question of Price
The questions and concerns outlined in detail above have one huge failing – they do rather assume that price is no object and that any home owner can definitely afford the very best. Unfortunately, in a real work characterized by limited resources, this is usually very far from the case.
It therefore becomes necessary to consider the issue of price. This can be a difficult part of the hiring process as some people are uncomfortable discussing such matters, necessary as it must be; part of interviewing prospective eradication firms is asking about the costs you will incur when using their services. Some consumers will experience a fair amount of sticker shock when they find out for the first time what professional pest elimination services really cost.
The impulse to comparison shop is quite laudable and price must certainly be one factor that you carefully consider when making a decision. That said, avoid the understandable temptation to let price be the sole deciding factor that you really focus on. Hiring an exterminator is like hiring any other kind of contractor; it is generally not advisable to sign on with the absolute lowest bidder. In order to comply with such a low bid, it is likely that the contractor will have to cut corners. The result may very well be a substandard job that leaves you with a bill to pay and does little to effect a permanent eradication of the bed bugs that have been plaguing you.
The right contractor for the job will have ample experience in order to deal with the infestation in your home, but such experience does carry a premium – at least to some degree. It is therefore a good idea to avoid the very lowest bidders for a job and make your choices from those firms that are in the medium range and above. It may seem like a bad idea to pay more than “you really need to,” but the truth is, if you want a quality job performed, you will really need to pay the going rate for it.
The Role of the National Pest Management Association
Another indicator that you have found a quality bed bug extermination firm is the professional associations with which the company has connections. Although most states have some kind of professional organization for exterminators, there is also a national organization known as the National Pest Management Association. Look for a firm that is a member of such an organization on either the state or the national level.
Being association with such an organization generally means that the company holds to certain standards or has adopted a required code of ethics. Depending on the organization, it may also mean that employees of the company have access to a regular sequence of training events that help to keep their skills up to date. If a company you are considering has no such professional connections, it can be a warning sign for the wary consumer.
The Need for Trust
In the final analysis, a home owner must feel comfortable with his or her ultimate choice. This is more essential than it might seem, but consider what is involved in pest eradication. Total strangers will be entering your home; they will be in the presence of your family photographs and your personal belongings. It takes a great deal of trust to allow a stranger that level of access.
If for any reason you feel uneasy with the management or the line workers at a pest management firm, it is best to pass on that firm and move on with your search until you do feel comfortable. Sometimes a “gut feeling” can be uncannily accurate, but even if it is not, you are better off not having to deal with the stress of having strangers in your home when you do not feel 100% certain that they are trustworthy individuals.
Hiring a bed bug extermination firm, as you can see, is a fair bit of work. In the long run, however, that work will pay off in the form of a company that does an excellent job at eradication.