Termite Woes: Am I Evil For Going With Orkin?

Reader Melissa is shopping for pest control services. She has termites and needs to get rid of them. She got three estimates and, while Orkin wasn’t the cheapest, she was afraid the cheapest was too low.

She’s looking for your advice on whom to choose. She writes:

A few weeks ago I spotted termites in our sunroom. I did some quick research and decided to get three quotes from area contractors. Termites are slow in their destruction, so there’s no huge rush to get them treated right away.

  • Company X: Locally-owned, been in business for 50 years, walked around house, very well-mannered. Quoted us $500 – but gave us nothing in writing.
  • Company Y: Locally-owned, measured exterior, thanked my husband for his military service. Quoted us $1400 – gave us a detailed quote on paper, including measurements and drill spots.
  • Orkin: National chain, measured exterior, friendly and professional. Quoted us $800 – gave us a detailed quote on paper, including measurements and drill spots, also discussed the warranty and optional maintenance fee ($80) to spot treat any future termites.

I think it’s clear that Company Y is crazy. That being said, I liked Company X. He didn’t seem sleazy. It’s Texas, people tend to be casual, so the no paperwork doesn’t make me leery (but I would expect something in writing prior to treatment). But then, I also think that Company X may be desperate for work – trying to compete with Orkin and other chains. I hate to go with Company X and they go out of business and I’m unable to get the yearly maintenance. Am I evil for going with Orkin?

Curious what other Consumerist homeowners think. Thanks!

We checked the tipline archive and haven’t received any complaints about Orkin, but then again people like to complain to us about broken XBOX 360s and Comcast, so perhaps we’re not the authority on the topic.

A quick Google search netted this list of complaints from ConsumerAffairs, so it does seem that there is at least some reason for concern.

The next step we would take would be to search each of the company’s BBB records. That may rule one or two of them out right away.

Consumerists, what is your advice? Assuming all of the companies have satisfactory track records, which company would you choose?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Ickypoopy says:

    When it is a reasonable alternative, go for a locally-owned business. Support your local economy.

  2. MikeB says:

    I have used Orkin and have not had an issue with them. Just like any other company it all depends on the people who do the work. The guy who comes out to our house will call a couple days before he comes out asking if we have seen anything or have any issues. He will then call soon after he comes out, especially if we were not home, telling us what he did and again asking us to call if there are any issues.

    With that said, if I had to do it all over again I probably would have gone with a local company who a friend has used as they are much cheaper.

    I would ask the local guy if he has any references and you could also check with the BBB.

  3. DeeJayQueue says:

    I’d call the guy from company X back and ask for a written estimate that you can compare to the others you have. If he balks, go with Orkin. If he comes back out with something in writing, then go with him.

    You’re right though about the yearly maintenance. Unless he’s been in business for eleventy thousand years and doesn’t show any signs of going under any time soon, it’s much easier and more frequent for a single contractor to go bust than a national company. It might be worth the extra $300 for the peace of mind.

  4. deanfortytwo says:

    I’m with deejay on this- I wouldn’t worry about him not giving a written quote, but I would if he protests giving one. On the flipside, I’m all for supporting local business, but hey, Orkin had to start somewhere, and they seem to have done well for themselves.

  5. mopar_man says:

    I see nothing wrong with going with Company X after getting a written quote. There’s a reason companies that have been in business for 50 years are still around. And as Icky said, always try and support your local business.

  6. Snorbert says:

    I used Orkin for a mouse problem in our house. I was extremely disappointed. They would show up with out calling, or not show up when they were scheduled, they spent very little time clearing traps and checking for new activity. I went with a local pest control company and have been extremely pleased.

  7. B says:

    I’ve always felt that the best way to get work like this done is to get three quotes and take the middle one. That way you know if one is way to high or way to low. I don’t see anything wrong with going with a national chain, unless the chain has a bad reputation. After all, the employees of big chains are people.

  8. KIRZEN2007 says:

    *throws the emergency brake*

    Treat pest control like automotive repair on steriods, because if they screw something up you’re not calling a tow truck, you’re calling a wrecking crew.

    1 > Always get your estimate in writing, never let them push you by telling you that it was either more complex than first estimated, they’ve found further infestation, they’ve found an additional pest, or anything else. Ask them when they form their estimate exactly how much it could deviate under -any- circumstances, once work begins, hold them to it, period. If they balk, refuse to pay for any service rendered.

    2 > Make sure their guarentee is bulletproof. When their guarentee appears to be ironclad make sure their estimate includes signing off on any current infestation, go -with- them. The nightmare scenario with termites is that they do their work, three years later your house falls apart and they back out of their guarentee citing that the damage already existed -before- you called them.

    3 > Push your exterminator, ask him for his credentials and his certifications, ask him to fully explain the scenario, to identify the current problem fully… If he hesitates, balks, or doesn’t appear -fully- aware of what’s going on, drop him like a hot rock.

  9. urban_ninjya says:

    I would check for records at the local business bereau. Seems like that is a pretty big job and it’s best to see if any of these services have complaints.

  10. Doug Nelson says:

    There’s a lot that can go wrong with pest control. Ask yourself who has the most to lose by killing your cat.

  11. allirob says:

    Speaking from personal experience with Orkin…I would try another exterminator. My parents owned the house I live in for 15 years and my Dad used Orkin exclusively for about 10 of those years. Still had ants. They never went away. Now, it could just be the local Orkin guy or something, I completely admit that…but it seemed like they just wandered about and sprayed chemicals with no results.

    When I took over the house, I called a local company like the one you mentioned above. They came out and did give the written estimate for about $490 plus some $100 followups at certain intervals. They also got rid of the ants by locating and treating the colony, not just wandering about spraying stuff. This guy actually went out of his way to come back with no extra pay between treatments when we found another colony way out in our back yard away from the house. Actually it was part of the neighbor’s dead tree and he (with their permission) took care of the issue for both of us at that point.

    The neighbor across the street from us still has Orkin come out almost monthly (I work from home and see him regularly) and still has ants. Years of treatment with Orkin or a couple of trips from someone else?

    Again, it may be an isolated thing, but there is the story.

  12. venterminator says:

    Nothing says you care like doing it yourself. Flamethrower and you’re done, with the only cost being for fuel and your time.

  13. balthisar says:

    @Ickypoopy: Keep in mind this most probably is locally owned. Orkin and Chemlawn, Little Caesar’s, and other companies like these are usually franchises whereby a local small businessman chooses franchise with a nationally-recognized chain.

    I can’t opine to the good/bad of Orkin itself, though, but just pointing out that franchises (especially small ones) typically are local businesses.

  14. ElJoeb says:

    It sounded like the first company didn’t do as much as the second company and Orkin. This isn’t the sort of thing I’d want to choose based on where they live. No Orkin Horror Stories have appeared here, and it seems like their quote offered more than company X (by what was written). If you need to, ask company X about Orkin’s services, and see if they can do it.

  15. Bryan Price says:

    I can’t remember the specifics, but Orkin was getting bashed where I live for not living up to their guarantees. People were experiencing significant damage to their homes, and Orkin (and their subcontractors IIRC) were taken to task. The damage occurred (in one home very significant damage was done), and Orkin wouldn’t do anything to remedy it, even with their guarantee.

    Looking back at the news archives for my area here, I see that the Ponte Vedra owners were successfull in their suit.

    Looks like it was May of 2002 when I read the original article.

  16. CoffeeCake says:

    I don’t think “yearly maintenance” is worth $380. But is the $500 job going to be a case of “you get what you pay for?” Ask the $500 guy for references and if he has any that aren’t his relatives or best friends, go with him.

  17. LilKoko says:

    I think the original poster should ask her neighbors who’ve they’ve used successfully, then get quotes from those exterminators, too.

    Also, (getting creative) if you can speak to someone in a local historic district or historic house tour museum nearby and ask them who they’ve used successfully. Maybe even the maintenance people at the local library or school. I would also suggest asking someone who owns a local restaurant. Ask them who has done good work for them.

  18. mac-phisto says:

    i would stay away from company x – a small business normally can’t beat a large company price point unless they’re not doing the job properly – this guy probably doesn’t have training, the proper equipment, and/or insurance. i would call company y & see if they could come down near orkin’s price & offer comparable protection.

  19. OKH says:

    Ask around about these guys and if you don’t know anyone who has used them then ask for references. Either should be willing to provide them. This isn’t about sticking it to the man and supporting local economies, this is about protecting your home.

  20. FREAKHEAD says:

    I didnt see it mentioned but I only glanced:

    I’d ask to speak to 2 or 3 of their previous customers to get feedback, aka references.

  21. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    The local guy knows the problems that happen to local houses. The local guy needs to keep his reputation sterling in the community (assuming it is sterling now). The local guy’s company is within a short drive and will use the same courthouse as you in case of a legal dispute (it happens). You can probably negotiate prices, terms, and contract conditions with him; he’s likely to be flexible on what you need done.

    Orkin is a big corporation with headquarters almost certainly hundreds of miles from you. Their workers do what Corporate tells them to do. They work by a book and according to industry standards that may or may not be the right ones for you and your house. In the case of a dispute, you’re probably hosed. The price is take-it-or-leave-it, they have a standard contract, and if you don’t want to work with them, they have plenty of appointments.

    Absolutely get a written contract with the local guy before he starts work. Absolutely check his references yourself. But only hire Orkin if the fellow doesn’t look good after your research.

  22. lihtox says:

    @balthisar: If it is a franchise, then the franchise should be judged independently from the brand name, although the affiliation with the brand Orkin may convey extra benefits (e.g. someone to sue if it goes wrong, a guarantee which will be respected even if this particular franchise goes wrong).

    Personally, I’d prefer the local business due to my political philosophy. Check up on the local guy. Ask him for a written estimate before you make your choice. You might also show the estimates of the other two guys to him, and ask him WHY he’s able to charge $300 less than Orkin. He may BS you about it, but the answer could be very interesting.

  23. ekthesy says:

    During the summertime, I have tiny ants in and around my apartment. They’re not termites or carpenter ants…they’re the kind that, if you drop your ice cream on the sidewalk, that come running over.

    Instead of calling an exterminator, paying out the nose to hope the ants go away (only to return next summer) and to spray deadly chemicals around my wife and me, and especially my two cats…I just ignore them. They’re small enough to flick off the sofa or whatever. If there’s food on the floor they’ll go over to it, but keeping the floor clean does the trick.

    I have even made my own ant colony. They’re fascinating critters.

    I guess I, for one, welcome my new insect overlords. Hail Ants!

  24. Landru says:

    Everyone is saying check Company X’s references, but remember to check Orkin’s local references as well.

  25. xamarshahx says:

    I have heard you can just pick up a kit for termites at your local Home Depot and it is supposed to be the same stuff (Of course they say that about Scotts and Lawn Doctor, but trust me, my grass was greener when Lawn Doctor took care of it). Just make sure you get everything written before work is done by Company X when he comes over so that their is no confusion of what work he is doing, if you are like me and like brand name stuff for piece of mind, go with Orkin.

  26. SavageBeast says:

    Unless the infestation is VAST, you can do this yourself.. And do it better as you are much more invested in your home then the people you hire..
    Find Dragnet…also Tri-Die.. it is safe and easy and will save you lots of sleepless nights.

  27. agedemands says:

    I was very happy with my local Orkin guy. He sprayed in all the places he said he would and even a few he saw after the estimate – and he didn’t charge me (I tipped him in cash unsolicited). I haven’t seen a termite since. As an attorney, I usually like to go with a big company, since I’m assured I can sue if required. (I handled a claim where the bug spray ruined a 60k wood floor). In addition, before hiring a local, I do my due dilligence and check how many lawsuits they have pending, and I check the business and lawsuit history of the company’s principals. For example, you never want to hire a company for a termite guarantee that has only been in business 6 months, and the president started 5 buisnesses in the past 10 years.

  28. ekthesy says:

    Here’s a tip if any of you have fleas in your house.

    Regular boric acid powder, available in medium-sized containers, will kick the crap out of fleas, and won’t hurt your pets.

    Sprinkle liberally over carpeted/upholstered surfaces. Use a broom to work it into the fibres of the carpet, because fleas live and lay eggs down there rather than right on top. Wait 10 minutes or so, then vacuum the whole mess up. (Make sure your vac bag is attached right or you’ll have a big boric cloud).

    This dehydrates the fleas, killing them. Pair this with a flea treatment for your pets (I used Revolution) and you’ll see results within a day or two. No joke.

    Easier to do it in one room at a time so you have someplace to put your critters while you treat the room. I eradicated a fairly robust infestation from my Vermont farmhouse, most of which was carpeted. And then I never let my cat outside again (he was on a leash the first time!!)

  29. FatLynn says:

    An option that hasn’t been mentioned yet: Go back to Company Y and let them know that their estimate was much higher, and ask them to match.

  30. rainracer says:

    I subscribe to a nonprofit local business ratings service called checkbook.org. At least in my area, Orkin does not rate well compared to many other pest control companies on quality or price. They have over 700 ratings for Orkin from their subscribers and Consumer Reports subscribers so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t choose Orkin in my area. They have a lengthy article discussing pest control and treatment and specifically the pros and cons of using the “barrier” or “bait” approach to treating an infestation of termites. I didn’t even know what that was until I went and checked. I guess I’ll have to go do an inspection of my own now or I’ll worry about it until I do.

  31. SexCpotatoes says:

    I had carpenter ants, and paid a lot for Orkin to take care of them, they claimed the ants would carry the bait back to the nest, and destroy the colony. Sure, yeah, right. They came back this year. Anywho, the bastards also nuked me for an extra fucking month of service since I signed a “ongoing contract” and not a contract for ‘x number of months’ that I’d paid for in advance. There were no spiders, ants or other pests while they sprayed, but any intelligent home-owner could do the same job, better and cheaper by just getting them for a month, walking around with the guy, and getting your own equipment and poisons.

    Research it on the intarwub.

  32. I don’t necessarily think Company Y is crazy, just really thorough and anal-retentive… That said, any of them could bill you for the work and not do it…

  33. JulieG says:

    Do some research on termites before you hire someone. In my state you can buy all of the same chemicals the pros use. The research I’ve done also seems to suggest that this is a long term problem. Spraying the house only gets rid of some of the termites. It will not deal with the nest which is probably deep underground. Stakes around your house (available at home depot) are the way to deal with the problem permanently. Stakes though, may take months to work. It took me about a year to eliminate all traces of the colony affecting my house in Arizona. I still keep stakes in place as a preventative measure and check them from time to time.

  34. Havok154 says:

    As an employee for multiple locally owned, service oriented companies, just because they lowball and are possibly desperate for work, doesn’t mean they are hurting for business. If they are having a slow week or 2, they will give a low quote just to fill in empty time and get their good name out. Sometimes taking a hit on a job will pay off when that one job leads to more business and loyal customers.

  35. Rusted says:

    I’m finding that the ongoing maintenance contract is kinda worthless. Got rid of a carpenter bee infestation by replacing the infested wood with properly back-primed stuff…they moved to my neighbors…..

    I do my own maintenance on my place and know what to look for and do. Ants….just don’t leave food out and clean, clean, clean. I had ants in my kitchen so when I redid my kitchen, the walls were caulked to the sub-floor, sealed all the openings, especially around plumbing and wires (lazy electricians poke holes, run wire through and leave a mess behind the cabinets), and even rerouted the ice-maker line since it made no sense going into the wall then coming out of the floor like it did. Results…ants gone.

    Termites, check your foundation monthly, and look around the mud-sill. Any dirt or litter that’s within 8 inches of the siding, remove immediately. Repairs, use treated wood and make sure it’s properly flashed. House is just like a boat in one sense, it needs constant attention or it will “sink”.

  36. Charles Duffy says:

    I went with Orkin for a chemical barrier treatment after looking at the alternatives on Angies’ List (and calling a few; the receptionist at one local company didn’t understand why one would want preventative treatment when no actual termites had been observed in the past). Showed up on time, stuck to their quote even though more people were needed to get the job done on time than they’d anticipated, and to the best of my knowledge they did a good job; at least here in Austin, I’d recommend them again.