When people have tree problems or complaints, they often request bids from several companies to get a general idea of the costs and solutions. In these situations, the bid recipient – whether it is a homeowner, a landlord or a municipality – is often under a lot of pressure to automatically accept the lowest bid, regardless of the solution being offered. Sometimes the lowest bid is also the best solution, and when that happens, it’s great, but it’s important to examine all of the options thoroughly to identify the solution that will cost less overall.

The problem with this approach is that the lowest immediate bid can end up costing more in the long-run while exacerbating the initial problem or even creating new ones. This can result in years of time, work and money spent fixing new problems that were created by choosing the wrong bid today.

Of course, that’s if everything goes as planned. Oftentimes the lowest bid leaves the decision-maker in a position where they are financially responsible for worst-case insurance scenarios. Property damage or work-related injuries will cost a lot more than tree care.

Additionally, the strategies represented in the bids can vary widely in their approach, which can make it difficult to compare them let alone choose the “best” one. Unless you work with trees regularly, you might not even know what questions to ask.

Trees are long-lived organisms that require long-term planning. Here are four things to consider when accepting bids for tree work that will help you choose the right solution today so you can save time and money down the road.

1. Consider the advice of the local Shade Tree Commission.

Many communities have rules in place to preserve communal green spaces and improve the overall beauty of the neighborhood. The enforcement of these rules generally falls to local Shade Tree Commissions who represent the voice of the trees in matters ranging from who is responsible for maintaining them to providing a list of appropriate replacement trees when trees have to be removed (usually because of safety concerns).

Shade Tree Commissions know the regulations, the trees and the community. Because they are also members of the community, they have a vested interest in maintaining the beauty and safety of its trees while keeping an eye on overall costs.

2. Consider the long-term costs.

The cheapest solution can have hidden, added costs that the homeowner or borough will be paying for long after the ignition tree work has been completed and the tree company has moved on to other jobs. For example, if the complaint is that a tree is dropping too many leaves, fruits or seeds, then “topping” the tree (an unethical practice in which the branches of a tree are cut back to the point that they temporarily no longer produce leaves, fruit or seeds) might seem like an acceptable option. Topping will certainly take care of the problem (for now), and it will likely be the cheapest solution because performing the service requires little to no knowledge of trees or tree care on the part of the person performing the topping. However, the long-term problems and costs associated with this antiquated practice will far outweigh the short-term benefits.

Some of the problems associated with topping will be immediate (topped trees are ugly), but the property owner could be dealing with the negative side effects for the next 10-15 years. In addition to possibly creating a dangerous situation by weakening the structural integrity of the tree, which you might be responsible for depending on how it falls. As the tree tries to heal itself, the regrowth can be up to three times thicker than the original growth. This means more seeds and leaves. Plus, it can take years of specialized pruning, training and other maintenance to retrain a topped tree to grow and behave like a normal tree. You can read more about the negative effects of topping here. All of these negative side-effects can be avoided by making an informed decision from the beginning.

3. Consider what low cost bids might be excluding

If a bid for tree work seems too good to be true, it’s important to ask what isn’t included in that cost. Oftentimes the answer is insurance. There are two kinds of coverage that anyone taking bids for tree work should inquire about. First, ask if they have General Liability Insurance, which covers the cost of damages to the properties they are working on. This is very important, and most companies will have it because it protects them. Yes, it will help repair or replace damage incurred on your property, which is great for you, but it also prevents them from going bankrupt trying to fix the damage they caused.

Then, ask to see written proof that they have Worker’s Compensation Insurance. Without Worker’s Compensation coverage, injuries that occur on your property are your responsibility. The cost of your basic tree care job could end up including hospital bills. In Pennsylvania, it is a state law that tree care professionals are required to carry Worker’s Compensation Insurance, so be sure to ask for proof. If they leave it out of their bid, you could end up paying for it down the road. Worker’s Compensation Insurance is also a show of good-faith to the tree care workers who sometimes find themselves 90 feet in the air with only a rope and a carabiner.

4. Consider hiring ISA-Certified Arborists as consultants

Even if you don’t hire an ISA-Certified Arborist to perform the work (although we recommend that you do), you can still benefit from their expertise when making tree care, plant health and landscaping decisions. ISA-Certified Arborists train for hours – the equivalent of a two-year degree – and take a pledge to perform tree services within ANSI A300 standards. This is often in addition to other certifications in related fields like spraying and horticulture. All of this is usually on top of a two or four-year degree in Forestry, Horticulture or Environmental Studies.

Consulting with ISA-Certified Arborists can be especially helpful in communities that don’t have a designated Shade Tree Commission to advise on these matters. Additionally, ISA-Certified Arborists can partner with Shade Tree Commissions to develop the best solution for the tree, the neighbors and the property. At CVTS-L, our salespeople are noncommissioned, so you can be confident that the results of our professional consultations are what is truly best for your property.

Knowledgeable, Responsible and Safe

If you need tree work performed on your property, and you are accepting bids from tree care services providers, it is important that you select a company that is knowledgeable, responsible and safe. Consider the advice of the local Shade Tree Commission. Consider the long-term costs. Consider what the lowest bid might be excluding. Consider hiring ISA-Certified Arborists as consultants. Failing to do so can result in – at best – ugly trees or – at worst – a costly and dangerous situation down the road.

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