What to ask before getting estimates for tree care

\WASHINGTON — Winter storms often leave damaged trees behind. People who need help with tree care or removal can save big bucks by calling around for estimates, a locally-based consumers group advised.

“We found really, really big price differences from company to company for tree removal work,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Checkbook.org.

Undercover shoppers got bids to remove and grind the stump of a 32-inch diameter oak tree.

“Prices ranged from about $1,700 to more than $4,000 for the exact same work,” Brasler said.

For something as straightforward as a tree removal, it’s fairly easy to get numbers of estimates. You don’t even have to be home. Just give them an idea of where the tree is, and mark it with a rope or ribbon.

Terms to define when getting tree care or one taken down include:

  • Note whether all debris will be removed.
  • Indicate whether you want the stump ground up.
  • Say whether logs should be left cut up fireplace-sized.
  • Make sure the company has the right insurance.

“Tree care work is pretty dangerous,” Brasler said. “They should have workers’ compensation insurance to protect workers. They should also have a lot of liability coverage — $1 million or more — to protect your home and your neighbors’ homes.”

If you’re in Maryland, make sure the tree service company is licensed by the state.

“Maryland is unique,” Brasler said. “They must prove that they have a consulting arborist on staff, or somebody who has a college degree in arboriculture. That’s somewhat unique, in that most other states don’t have such stringent requirements.”

If you need pruning work or are unsure whether trees need care, it’ll be a little more complicated getting numbers of estimates. In that case, Brasler thinks you should consult with the tree service’s arborist.

Beware storm chasers

Brasler recommends being wary of people who knock on your door after a big storm offering services. A common ploy is for them to ask for a portion of the payment up front, promising to return with a crew, but they then disappear.

Brasler said legitimate companies also might offer services after a big storm, but they won’t ask for cash in advance.

“For sure, don’t pay them anything in advance until they’ve done the work,” Brasler said.

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can see Checkbook ratings on tree care services for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

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