BUFFALO — We know that winter isn’t too far away in Upstate New York. Even though the leaves are just starting to fall, now is the time to start looking at hiring a snow plow contractor for the winter season.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Upstate New York reminds everyone to do their homework before hiring a snow removal service. In addition, because of the ongoing labor shortage, if you have an existing contract check with your provider to ensure you will have service this winter. By doing so, you will know to be on the lookout for prices too good to be true, fly-by-night operations, and other red flags.

BBB urges everyone to keep these important tips in mind when hiring snow removal services:

Look for experience. Each home or business is different, and experience does matter. Check to see if everyone who works for the company you hire has relevant experience, not just the owner.

Ask about scheduling. With the ongoing labor shortage and the fact that some contractors snow plow as part-time jobs, this may affect availability. Always check to see if there is a schedule for snow removal.

Get more than one estimate. BBB recommends you get at least three estimates before deciding. Ask for all the costs upfront to avoid any surprises. Keep in mind the lowest price doesn’t always mean the best service.

Ask about insurance. Who is responsible for damage of your home or grounds during the winter season? Find out what type of insurance coverage potential contractors provide, as well as homeowner’s insurance. Does a municipality require the contractor to have a permit or license? Before you hire anyone, make some calls to find out and then check to make sure the contractor is appropriately covered.

Review the contract. Never settle for a verbal agreement. Providers should always give a written contract. A representative should come out to look at the property and make notes about services requested and potential obstacles. Get all of the details in writing and always read anything before you sign. Understand cancellation fees and any extra charges that may apply.

Split the payments. Find out how the company expects payment. Most snow plow contracts take two forms: pay per plowing or pay per season. If you choose a pay-per-season contract in a light snow season, the contractor is not obligated to refund any money. If you’re expected to pay all fees upfront — consider it a red flag. Most contractors will split fees into two or three payments — one at the beginning, middle, and end of the season.

Beware of scams. Remember even if a business appears to be reliable, it does not mean it is. When a company is reluctant to answer questions, won’t supply proper information, or is unwilling to offer references — there could be cause for concern.

Check with us. BBB provides background information, complaint history, and resolution to complaints in our Business Reviews. Check out snow removal services at bbb.org.

Report a scam. If you spot a business or offer that sounds like an illegal scheme or fraud, tell us about it through BBB’s Scam Tracker. BBB’s Scam Tracker provides information on trending scams in our area.

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