It’s time to spruce up your yard, you say. It’s time to get things cut down and pruned up. You’ve had a year of staring out at the off-season grass and bare trees—plenty of time to go over all the plans you had to improve and beautify your home—and now you’re ready to take your home’s curb appeal up a notch or two. While going through your seasonal checklist, you notice that there is some work you can do yourself, but some tasks, like tree pruning and removal, are best left to a professional.

When it comes to tree services, it is important to know, no matter who completes the work around your home, what systems and lines run underneath your lawn. There could be networks of delicate underground electrical or plumbing lines to be cautious of, and you may not know until it’s too late.

I remember a time, young and eager to be responsible, when I called a tree removal company to come out to address a dying tree in my (rented) back yard. I thought it was so proactive, not even thinking about the legal ramifications of going behind a landlord’s back for repairs, and it snowballed unbelievably quickly.

Tree service work vehicles lined up on side of road

First, I hired someone from a flyer on my mailbox. That was mistake one. I didn’t research, I didn’t know about reviews or ratings, I just called the first company that I noticed in the area. Second, I received an estimate without any questions asked by either party. The final, and worst, mistake was when I allowed them to drive machinery around my house and into the back yard.

The company drove a “small” crane through my yard, and the weight crushed my sewage lines. Homes built in the 1970s often have weaker clay or cast-iron sewer pipes underground, and mine sure did. I saw the water come gushing out of the ground, a whole area sunken in. The company refused to work, and I had to call said landlord to explain.

My choices probably weren’t the sole cause of the damage (in all likelihood, there was probably a weakness already caused by root intrusion or age), but there I was with water pouring out of the yard, the whole neighborhood watching.

Let me help you avoid making a similar mistake! If the thought of hiring a tree removal service seems overwhelming, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for ten questions you should ask every tree service company you interview, and scroll to the end for a quick list of clues that you might need to hire a tree professional sooner rather than later.

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10 Important Questions to Ask Your Tree Care Services Pro

In looking for help with home maintenance and repair tasks, one of the best resources we have as property owners is recommendations from objective third parties. Any company can look good on paper and appear knowledgeable online, but the best, most telling information comes from people and sources that have no personal connection to a particular company.

My experience with a tree service professional could have gone much better had I started my search with Best Pick Reports. All Best Pick companies have been fully vetted to ensure that they provide high-quality service on every job. The objective ratings and candid feedback from customers are invaluable.

But if you’re outside of the areas served by Best Pick Reports, there’s no need to resign yourself to the possibility of a subpar experience with a tree service pro. Ask the following ten questions of every company you interview to ensure that you’re getting all the information you need before money exchanges hands and work begins.

1. Do you have a certified arborist on staff?

According to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), an arborist is specially trained to provide proper tree care. You will want an arborist that is an ISA Certified Arborist. These professionals are not only tree experts, they undergo ongoing training in the field.

2. Which industry organizations does your company belong to?

Aside from being certified, a reputable company should belong to professional organizations specific to their field. You can ask, and most companies showcase this information on their website. This shows the company has the respect of others in the field. The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) and the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA) are two great organizations.

3. May I see your proof of insurance?

This is a must. In my case, I didn’t do this at all. I didn’t even think about it. The damage caused by the tree company I hired ended up costing a lot of money that I didn’t have. A dead tree cost me the price of the tree removal (twice), the price of repairing a damaged sewer line, and the end of a great landlord/tenant relationship.

It is also vital that any company is compliant with OSHA Work Safety rules, as well as your state’s Department of Transportation regulations. Aside from the basics, each state has its own regulations. In the case of heavy equipment and underground sewer lines, weight of vehicles and proper operation is essential. If damage does occur, a properly licensed and insured contractor carries general liability insurance to cover those damages along with a flurry of other insurance coverages to protect the workers, your home, and their business.

4. Will my job require a permit?

Often there are permits required (and in some cases, clearance from your homeowners’ association), and failing to meet these requirements would be a costly mistake to make. Fines from unpermitted work can be steep, and it can cause discord in your neighborhood. Follow the law, brief yourself on the requirements in your county, and ask the company if they have applied for any required permits.

5. How long will you honor a quote?

Take the time to ask for a second opinion, but know how long each company you interview will honor your quote. Just like anything else, you have the right to educate yourself. You have the absolute right to explore costs. It’s your money, your home, and your time. And remember, if a company insists that you act right then and there, keep looking. High-pressure sales tactics are not a good sign.

6. How often do you handle this specific issue?

Ask about the specific problem you’re facing with your tree or trees. If you have a dying tree, ask if it is salvageable. Arborists are trained to bring sick trees back to health. In many cases you can save that beautiful tree.

7. What is your history in the tree services industry?

When you’re weighing estimates and choosing a company, you should know how long the company has been in business. You should ask if the company has worked in the area, whether they are a chain, and if they have multiple locations. The history of the company shows their track record with clients, and their longevity certainly hints to their business practices and work performance.

8. Does your company use subcontractors or temporary laborers?

The use of subcontractors can help a company expand their business offerings without having to train and retain staff. There are definitely pros and cons to using subcontractors, but as a homeowner it can lead to lost time and resources if the contractor/subcontractor relationship gets shaky.

If damage occurs to your property, subcontractors are not liable, and it can be difficult for the hiring contractor to control and adhere to quality standards when the tradesmen are not employed directly. Subcontractors don’t have a stake in your project or in the company.

9. What equipment will you be using?

Tree companies, as in my case, can come in with some very large and heavy equipment. If you know where your underground lines are, let the company know. If you don’t know where your systems are located underground, it is important to know what machinery will be driving on your property.

You can have your lines marked by the utility company so the tree service can avoid them, and plywood is usually used on top of lawns to protect both the lawn itself and underlying systems.

10. What is your cleanup process?

Some companies will end up leaving some debris behind, while others will clean it up completely. If you want the tree or limbs mulched for your yard or cut up and stacked for firewood, be clear about your wishes and expectations from the beginning.

If at all possible, make sure that those details are written into your contract, and remember that you may pay extra for those services. It is important to know what the expectations are in your contract and whose responsibility it is to clean up after the work is done. This can be a hefty project, and if you decide you can’t take this on, make sure you know beforehand if your choice company will complete the job by leaving your property as it was before your tree concerns.

5 Reasons to Call a Tree Care Specialist Now

Dying tree with no leaves

If a tree on your property has started leaning over your house, or if you question its structural integrity, it is time to address the issue. Here’s a list of five signs that you should call a licensed and insured tree specialist as soon as possible:

  1. The tree doesn’t sprout new leaves or blooms in the spring.
  2. The tree is leaning.
  3. You see cracks or holes in the tree’s trunk.
  4. Branches are dropping or are visibly decaying.
  5. The visible root system shows signs of decay or damage.

The Lesson

Tree service employee standing near pile of logs from a fallen tree

Tree care is more than just limbs and leaves. There is a lot to think about before having a company out to trim or prune. In cases of tree removal, it is even more important to do your research. Find out everything you can about the company, the service you need, and your property.

What may look like a simple tree removal can turn out to be extremely costly if damage is done by the contractor. Use resources like verified reviews from your neighbors and friends, and ask plenty of questions. The lush green view you wanted is waiting for you, and now that the falling tree is taken care of, you can start on that beautiful softscaping you've been wanting to create.