The evaluations of 159 local lawn-care companies by Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org found dramatic differences in quality. Based on more than 12,000 survey responses from lawn-care companies’ customers (Checkbook surveys its own subscribers and those of Consumer Reports magazine), Checkbook found that 38 firms were rated “superior” for overall quality by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers, but 18 firms got that rating from fewer than 40 percent of surveyed customers. The large, national firms tended to score particularly low on quality, though some did substantially better than others.
The most common complaint was with the results. One D.C. homeowner commented: “Left us with more weeds and less grass than when we started. And all at an extraordinarily high cost.” Other common complaints were about lack of responsiveness or rudeness of the staff, poor communication and failure to deliver promised services. Wrote one Herndon homeowner: “Although the advertising promises ‘custom’ service, it’s the same generic service that everyone else offers. We attempted to complain when service started going downhill — and still haven’t gotten a response. Definitely not very trustworthy.”
When Checkbook compared prices by getting multiple bids on the same lawns, the differences were striking. For one lawn, prices ranged from $365 to $2,171; for another, it was $360 to $1,115 — all for the same level of care.
The good news for homeowners is that Checkbook found no need to pay high prices for top-quality service. You can find the right lawn-care company for you by going to www.checkbook.org/washingtonpost in the next two weeks for free access to ratings of D.C. area firms.
How to choose a firm
To select a good lawn-care company, get three to come to your home, inspect your lawn and recommend a treatment plan. Here are other things to do.
1. Decide on your expectations and communicate them clearly. Can you live with a few weeds? Are you willing to wait a year or two for your lawn to reach the desired condition? How much pesticide treatment is acceptable? If you’re willing to be patient, you may save money and keep pesticide use to a minimum.
2. Be aware that more is not necessarily better. A service can get you a large flash of green growth with quick-release fertilizer but leave your lawn with weak root systems. Treating your entire lawn with herbicides and pesticides may be less desirable than targeting specific problems.
3. Be skeptical. Do your best to judge how competent and truthful the firms’ representatives are. You are likely to find a lot of variation. When Checkbook had multiple firms inspect the same lawns, it was common for some to recommend expensive treatments that others said were not needed; some noted weeds and pests that others said weren’t present. Even estimates of the size of the lawn often varied by 50 percent.