Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line:

I just rented a home, and I'm looking for a good, reasonable landscaper. It seems all of my neighbors use the same guy, but I want to be sure I'm getting the best deal for my money, and I want my lawn to look its best. Are there specific things I should look for when hiring a gardener?

Dear Reader:

I can relate. All of my neighbors use the same gardener as well. It seems easy and convenient to get our lawns done by the same person. However, here at your BBB we always advise consumers to get clear, written expectations for what services the company will provide and agree on a fee before work starts. Don't just rely on word of mouth or recommendations from friends. Otherwise, dreams of a green wonderland could quickly turn into a brown wasteland.

Many complaints that come into the BBB regarding gardeners and lawn care professionals allege dissatisfaction with the services provided and companies not performing the agreed upon duties. Other complaints allege problems with billing.

BBB offers the following advice to help consumers find a lawn care company they can trust:

* Know what you want from a lawn service. Lawn care companies provide many services, so it is important to decide what services and products are appropriate for your needs and budget, as well as your yard.

* Find a trustworthy company. Check out any company's BBB Business Review at www.cencal.bbb to see important background on the business, such as how long they've been in business, ownership information and how they resolve complaints.

* Check references. Ask the company for references and photos of previously completed projects. Call all references and ask what their experience was working with the company and if they were satisfied with the services provided.

* Ask for a lawn inspection and free estimate. Lawn care companies that quote a price without seeing your lawn may not give you an accurate estimate. A company should be willing to visit your home to provide you with an agreed upon fee.

* Get a written agreement. A contract should clearly state the services you will receive, guarantees and refund policies, as well as how and when payment will be handled. If you are using a recurring service, the contract should also include how often the company will come out to work on your lawn, how to cancel the service and a schedule for when payments are due.

-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or joey@cencal.bbb.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.