I’ve heard so many stories from people who’ve been scammed by tree contractors. In fact, we’ve had our own negative experience with one, but luckily I had enough information and experience to not get scammed. With over two decades of wisdom and expertise, I’m happy to share and help you avoid any mistakes when hiring a tree service.
11 Things You Should Always Do Before Hiring a Tree Service
Fall is fast approaching, and most people begin looking up at their trees to assess if they will pose a threat come winter. We live in a beautiful neighborhood with lots of trees. Unlike newer communities, when our neighborhood was developed, the builders left many of the mature trees in place. Hooray!
Although we love all the big trees, it’s our responsibility to keep an eye on the health of them and occasionally we have to remove a few trees if they pose a threat to our house, if they show signs of rot (or disease), or if a tree is compromising the health of a larger tree. (See if you can spot that issue below. Look closely and you’ll see one tree has rubbed into a nearby tree creating a big wound.) Although it saddens us to take down a tree, we learned the hard way what happens when a tree falls on your house.
Let’s get to that list of 11 Things You Should Always Do Before Hiring a Tree Service! Ready to learn?
1. Hire an Arborist First
If you’re in doubt or don’t know the health of your trees, hire an independent arborist to assess the trees on your property. It’s important that this person is not affiliated with the tree company. You don’t want him (or her) to have any financial gain by recommending you take a tree down. Many tree companies have arborists on staff, but I prefer to contact an independent arborist.
2. Get More than One Quote
Never settle for just one quote. I like to get three quotes from different companies. I also make sure they come to my property and look at the trees and any potential issues they may have to contend with. When you do get the quotes back, don’t be afraid to haggle on price, especially if you are taking down more than one tree. Over the years, I have learned that it’s not always best to hire the cheapest contractor. Oftentimes, that decision could leave you with a mess in the end.
3. Mark the Trees to be Removed
When it’s time to remove a tree or two, be sure to mark all the trees you need to remove with a colorful ribbon or spray paint. Don’t take any chances and risk having a tree taken out that you wanted to keep.
4. Get Current References
Ask for a list of current references for jobs completed in the last three to six months. Contact all of them. I wrote an article about how to hire great contractors and included a list of questions that can help weed out poor contractors. My favorite question is “If they made any mistakes, how were the mistakes handled.”
5. Get Proof of Insurance
I can not believe how many people don’t get proof of insurance from their tree service contractors! You should never be ashamed or scared to ask for proof of insurance. If the company is reputable, they will have general liability and a workman’s comp policy. Ask to have their insurance company provide the proof of insurance directly to you. If something goes wrong (and the contractor runs off), you can file a claim with the insurance company. Worse yet, if someone is injured or killed on your property and the contractor doesn’t have insurance, you could be held liable.
6. Do They Have Any Specialty Equipment?
Not all tree service companies have all the equipment necessary to complete the job or handle tricky removals safely. Ask if your tree contractor has a stump grinder, a crane, wood chipper, etc. Ask if your trees need to be removed by crane, or ask how they intend to take them down safely. When the tree that fell on our house was removed, the insurance company sent a company that uses a crane (and I was thankful they did).
7. Will There Be Any Impact to Your Landscaping
It’s a good idea to ask if there’s anything on your property that will be impacted by the tree work and if there is anything they can do to minimize damage. When the trees are dropped, what landscaping could potentially be damaged and how will they minimize the risk. For example, our tree contractor removed our mailbox when they were dropping a tree near it to prevent any damage. Some tree contractors will put down plywood to protect your lawn if they have to use any heavy machinery. Finally, ask if they have to remove any sections of the fence or ask them to explain how they will get to the backyard if removing trees in the back. You don’t want any surprises.
8. Will the Stumps Be Ground?
You’d be surprised how many tree services will remove trees but leave you with unsightly stumps in the void. Personally, I hire a tree contractor that also grinds the stumps after the trees are removed. Occasionally I’ll save some money by not having the stumps ground if they are in the woods or we decide to make the stump into something (like a fire pit seat.)
9. Will the Debris be Hauled Away?
Removing a tree (even a relatively small one) comes with lots of branches, wood chips, leaves, and logs. Make sure you know what will be hauled away and what (if anything) will be left behind. Will the company leave you logs for firewood? Are they going to grind up the limbs into chips? If so, do you really want the wood chips? (Be forewarned, fresh wood chips pull a lot of nitrogen out of the soil. You should wait about a year to use them around plants and trees.)
10. Create a Contract
It’s a good idea to have a detailed contract with all the things listed that you’ve discussed. Items on the list can be (but are not limited to):
- How many trees (and which trees) are being taken out
- Date and timeframe work will be completed
- Will the trees be hauled away
- Will the stumps be ground
- Will tree debris be blown or raked up
- Will they leave wood chips
- When will final payment will be made (at completion)
- Is a deposit being made (for a very large job, some services may require a deposit to hold your spot, but normally you shouldn’t need to put a deposit down.)
It’s important to make sure you both agree on everything in the contract. Then both sign it.
Finally, the most important thing you should always (or should I say never do), is:
11. Do Not Pay until the Job is 100% Complete
Don’t let a tree contractor give you a sob story about how he needs to pay his guys. If he runs a reputable business, your job is not the only source of income he has. I’ve seen far too many people pay a tree contractor before completion and then they are left with a mess in their yard and unreturned phone calls. Always hold the final payment until the job is finished and you are satisfied.
Why You Shouldn’t Cut Down Your Trees:
I want to leave you with some words of wisdom about trees. Healthy trees are an asset to your property.
- They are important to support wildlife habitats
- They protect your home from cold in the winter by blocking wind
- Keeps your home cooler in the summer by providing shade
- They prevent water and soil runoff.
- They provide plenty of oxygen
- Mature trees are desirable landscaping features
- They can increase the value of your home if you have attractive and well-maintained trees
- They provide privacy
- And finally, let’s not forget they can be fun to climb
I hope this article helps prevent you from being scammed by a tree service and helps you maintain a safe and healthy home. I’d love to hear if you think I left anything out or if you have any tree service horror stories.