Don't Let the Exterminator Bite

Last Updated Sep 10, 2010 12:14 PM EDT

Which is worse, seeing the snake or the snakeskin? That's the question I pondered recently (when I spotted the latter) on my walk down the driveway to get the mail. I'll discuss it with my exterminator, Dave, whom my kids fondly call "the bug man," on his next visit.

Dave comes quarterly to deal with stink bugs, a Pennsylvania specialty, and the groundhogs, mice, ants and whatever other critters decide to make their home sweet home in our garage. He'll also come back, for free, for emergencies between regularly scheduled visits. Like the time my daughter was drinking her milk at 7 a.m. in the morning, and her eyes grew wide as she looked out the back. "Mom, look at that...cat!" she said. I turned around just in time to see a skunk disappearing under the deck.

Dave was there an hour or so later, poking around. "I really appreciate your coming so quickly," I told him.

"No worries," he told me. "You're one of my best customers."

Now that's the kind of compliment that really makes a gal blush.

We pay about $110 per visit for Dave, so $440 in a year. To those caught up in the rent versus buy debate: When you're calculating the cost of home ownership, don't forget to add in the price of a "pest professional." That's the preferred term for people like Dave, according to Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association.

Should you need a pest professional, as many people with bedbug infestations do these days, Henriksen offers some tips for making sure you don't get bitten by an unscrupulous provider:
  • Make sure you're dealing with someone who is licensed by the state. Ask to see the license. Then, try to work with someone who is a member of a local, state or national association. "The professionals who belong to these associations have access to ongoing education and changing information" in pest control, Henriksen says.
  • Talk with friends and neighbors and find out who they are using and recommend.
  • A good pest professional helps with prevention, not just quashing the immediate problem. You want someone who will point out holes in screens, or woodpiles that might promote termites, for instance.
  • Make sure you understand the terms of what you're buying. You might sign a service agreement, so be clear on what it covers and what it doesn't. "A lot of companies now have separate bedbug service agreements," Henriksen says. "Look for companies who are experienced in dealing with these bugs." Understand how long you're supposed to be bedbug free after the treatment, or if you'd have to pay for return visits.
  • If you have the time (and tolerance) to solicit multiple bids, do so. Inquire about what chemicals are used, if any. "The elimination of all pests does not always involve products or pesticides," Henriksen says. "A lot of the work is done outside the home, and most of our members do have a host of different tools available to them." Ask a lot of questions.
Here's NPMA's complete list of tips for finding a pro. Dave, meanwhile, reminds buyers to beware the "knock on the door from a high-pressure salesman saying the neighborhood has a severe roach, rodent or termite problem that you need to treat immediately." Good advice from the bug man.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Dendroica cerulea, CC 2.0
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