Angie’s List: Top Four Lawn Care Complaints

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Tips to keep your grass greener without getting mowed down.

Eliminating weeds and growing lush grass takes time, and many homeowners aren’t home when the treatment is applied. As such, lawn service is ripe for potential consumer trickery.

Consumers reported spending nearly $200 million on professional lawn care services reviewed last year on Angie’s List. Many of those homeowners luxuriated in the splendor of their well-cared-for grass, but some of them were seeing green. As in envy.

An analysis of lawn care reviews submitted to Angie’s List, which collects consumer reviews on lawn care and more than 550 other categories of service, on work done in the past two years, sprouted four common complaints:

1.    Companies that answer the call but then don’t show;
2.    Over-the-phone estimates that turn into high-pressure upsells;
3.    Unauthorized service; and
4.    Incompetence

“Summer’s coming and lots of us want to be out in our yards enjoying the weather,” said Angie’s List Founder Angie Hicks. “If you’re going to invest in a pro – and there are a ton of great service companies out there doing good work – make sure your money is well spent.”

Lawn treatment isn’t like mowing service, weed pulling or shrubbery trimming, which offer immediate and clearly visible results. Eliminating weeds and growing lush grass takes time, and many homeowners aren’t home when the treatment is applied. As such, lawn service is ripe for potential consumer trickery.

One Angie’s List member reported that she set up a sting operation in her own yard after doubting her lawn care company was actually doing work. She hid inside, waited for him to arrive, and watched as he placed a treatment stake in her back yard, then the front yard and then left without actually applying treatment.

“Homeowners tend to trust – as they should be able to -- that work was done when they get home and see the little service flags in their lawn,” Hicks said. “Using a local lawn service with a good reputation will dramatically reduce the chances that you’ll be taken in by a company that doesn’t deliver good service along with those flags.”

Lawn care specialists say homeowners should see fertilizer granules in their yard for at least a few hours after the application in most cases.

The Angie’s List spotlight on bad lawn care practice:

You can call but we won’t answer: One example of companies that just never show was typical: After one member’s lawn was treated, it turned yellow. He called to complain and was told that was a normal occurrence. His second-opinion company told him the lawn had been burned from over-fertilization.

Similar reviews cited frustration with the complaint or billing dispute process. In most cases, members were unhappy with the quality of service. Complaints were ignored or never given promised follow-up.

“The only time they called me back was to sell me more services,” one member reported, citing another common occurrence of having his complaints handled by an out-of-state call center.

Low, low price over-the-phone; price spike upon arrival: Other complaints came when members hired companies based on an over-the-phone estimate that seemed like a great price. The technicians invariably found serious problems that would require more treatment than the estimate covered – and yes that critically necessary treatment was pricey. Unfortunately, many members said they agreed to pay more, fearing their lawns were in trouble. Those who refused the upsell reported only receiving partial service.

One common additional cost was to remove crabgrass. “Reputable companies will require a site visit before they give a treatment estimate,” Hicks said. “If a company claims it can evaluate your lawn’s needs without ever seeing it, move on to another company. It simply can’t be accurately done and more often than not, you’re dealing with a salesperson, not someone who has ever actually treated a lawn.”

I never asked for that: In multiple negative reviews, Angie's List members said they received bills for services they never authorized. Often, it was a case of companies that continued to treat lawns, sometimes years after the homeowner thought he or she had terminated service. The unauthorized service is often discovered when the bill arrives.

“One member treated her lawn herself only to have her former company come do the same work, which resulted in her lawn being fried by over-fertilization,” Hicks said.

Incompetence: Many reports discussed service technicians who damaged lawns by applying fertilizer without a spreader, or misdiagnosing lawn problems. In one case, the company tried to fix a seeding issue by spreading seed in the midst of a drought. Another company tore up a lawn with an aerating machine and left piles of fertilizer around the member’s lawn, leaving seven circles of dead grass to decorate her lawn.

Tips for hiring a high-quality lawn care service:

  •     Check Angie’s List reviews and ask friends and family for recommendations for local, reputable lawn care companies.
  •     Don’t hire a company that won’t inspect your grass before starting work. The technician should measure the size of your lawn, understand your grass type and take note of existing damage.
  •     Don’t trust generic, guaranteed, quick cures. Each lawn is a unique, growing plant, and even lawns side-by-side in the same neighborhood may need different treatment. Recovery will depend on a number of factors.
  •     Be wary of treatment companies with flashy ads that sound too good to be true. If the price is extremely low, expect an aggressive upsell.
  •     Avoid companies that encourage you to sign a service contract on the spot.
  •     Ask potential hires about their refund policy and get it and a guarantee in writing
  •     Get a written contract, read and understand it before you agree to hire.
  •     Get a detailed invoice after each visit that details the scope of work.
  •     Hire only a licensed service provider if your state requires such training. Check the Angie's List License Check Tool to determine your state requirements.

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Jodie Kehoe
Angie's List
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