White powder is covering most of Alaska and consumers may be looking for an alternative to shoveling mounds of snow. For consumers planning to hire a snow removal contractor, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington recommends the following tips:
Get several estimates. Prices can vary widely. They are usually based on the amount of work, including: the layout of the property, size of the area to be cleared, and whether the customer requests shoveling or snow blowing to remove excess snow from other areas in addition to driveway plowing. Remember, the least expensive service is not always the best.
Understand the services. Find out exactly what's included in the estimate. Are the walks and steps included? What about the cost of sand or salt? Does the consumer call when service is needed or does the business automatically come when the snow falls? How quickly can the consumer expect service? Will the company clear only after the storm has passed or during the snowfall as well? If the contractor has to come back, is there an additional charge?
Ask about additional charges and price options. Some contractors offer a fixed price for the entire season, regardless of the amount of snow. However, some companies have additional charges during large storms, after the snow reaches a certain depth where they charge by the inch; if so, find out how the company calculates the size of the snowfall. Also, ask if there are additional charges for snow removal on holidays.
Check reliability. Check out the business with BBB's free Reliability Reports by visiting www.bbb.org. Also, ask the business for references and check them.
Get an in-person estimate and written agreement. Do not settle for verbal promises over the telephone. Get a written agreement. A representative should come out to examine the property and make notes about the service requested and potential obstacles. Before signing the agreement, ask who will be responsible for damages, such as cracked driveways or broken gates. Also, understand if the agreement can be terminated, if necessary. Verify the business is licensed. Ask if the contractor is insured or bonded.
Keep expectations realistic. Keep in mind that a snow storm makes traveling difficult for customers and the contractor. During major snowfalls, workers are required to use more caution when plowing and traveling, therefore it may take longer for the contractor to reach and complete the contracted work.
Avoid scams. If a snow removal service shows up at the door, don't feel pressured to sign up for an agreement immediately or pay upfront for a service. Reliable businesses will give customers full business contact information, references and be willing to let consumers check their reliability before making a decision.