By Steve Houser -Owner and President of Arborilogical Services
There can be a great difference between Arborists as far as knowledge and experience. Understanding the difference between a Consulting Arborist, a Certified Arborist, and a tree climbing Arborist is important in judging the particular person to use for a given task.
Any person that is involved with trees must have one common understanding. They must have some knowledge of current tree care practices and philosophies. To quote Dr. Alex Shigo, “Ignorance of tree science is the biggest cause of worldwide tree problems.” In my opinion, the biggest cause of tree problems in our area is not Oak Wilt or a deadly pathogen. It is due to the care (or lack of) that the trees receive from property owners, or sometimes, the tree care providers. In any case, it is still a lack of education. Are you the trees worst enemy? You might be, and not even know it!
Here are important things to consider or ask when hiring a tree care provider:
- Is the salesperson you are talking to on a commission? Obviously, more dollars sold will equal a larger paycheck for the salesperson. This creates an inherent tendency to sell more.
- Are you in doubt about an Arborist’s recommendations? Ask him (or her) to send information or research to back them up. There are, however, certain instances where no scientific studies or data exist. In these situations it is very important to believe someone who knows the biology of trees and is familiar with native tree species.
- How long have they been in business? Most companies don’t make it beyond 5-7 years. Watch out though! Some companies overstate the facts to gain credibility. You can ask for a copy of an “Assumed Name Certificate”, which shows the date they filed for the company name. If a person wants to use a company with less than 5-7 years in the business it is very likely that they will need to constantly hire new companies. The best advice is to establish a solid relationship with a company that has an established track record. Also, most companies will go out of their way to please a loyal client as opposed to one who bounces from company to company. When a windstorm hits the area causing severe damage and an Arborist receives calls regarding dire emergencies from old clients and new, which one do you think takes priority? The loyal client comes first.
- Should cost be the only factor in deciding whom to use? Not if you care about your trees or establishing a good relationship with a company. It is understandable that two exact products should be bought for a cheaper price, but services (especially tree services) vary greatly. In order to compare prices you must be comparing apples to apples! This requires research and time. To a novice, it is tough to judge credentials, experience, knowledge, etc. Many people in our area are ripped off by tree companies, and unfortunately, DON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE! Trust me, the best “deal” you can get is a company that cares, enjoys the work, and knows what they are doing.
- Is the company charging a fair rate? How much do you pay per hour for other services on your property? An average would be $ 125-$150 per hour (excluding lawn mowing). Area tree companies are not at these rates, but I believe they will be someday. The work is far more difficult and dangerous than any other service provider that you currently use. A company with quality employees, from top to bottom, will charge more than a company that hires some or many average or below average employees. Prices charged are in direct relation to the quality of the company; therefore, cost can vary greatly.
- Is the consultant charging a fair rate? Consultants with education and experience charge more than those with less experience or education. This does not mean that because they charge more they are better. Close scrutiny of a consultant’s credentials is of absolute necessity. Your trees and landscape can be worth thousands of dollars. Don’t trust just anyone!
- How many of the company employees have competed in the I.S.A. Texas Tree Climbing Competition? This competition is a rigorous test of skill, safety, balance, coordination, technique, and knowledge. Good companies train employees in climbing technique, but more importantly, in safety, on a regular basis. They also place well in the competition.
- Do they drug test their employees? Quality companies do not allow employees on a job site until proper screening is complete.
- Do they provide references? Don’t put much stock in references because companies give you someone they know is a good reference. It is better to ask for the address of recent work in your neighborhood. This way you can drive by and view their work.
- Does the company want your input AFTER the job is complete? Only a company that cares wants your input AFTER the sale to detect company deficiencies. Also, they should act immediately on any deficiencies noted.
- Is the company good in all areas of arboriculture and business management? Very few companies are good in both areas. If someone is a State Champion tree climber, it doesn’t mean he knows the science of trees, or that he knows how to run a company. A company must be solid in all areas to offer everything a client needs in a long-term, holistic sense.
- What happens if the salesperson underbids the time required to do the job? Most companies that underbid work, cut corners to make up for time or try to charge the client more. Good companies do the job right even if they lose money. Reputation is more important than a loss on one job. How good is anybody’s work when they are in a rush?
- Does the company have a newsletter to keep clients informed? It’s not a necessity, but it is a mark of professionalism. A company that takes the time, effort, and expense is interested in the education of clients and being in business for many years to come—not simply making a quick buck.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). BBB now has a web-site and e-mail, so it’s easy to check out any company. Those that are not members can still have records indicating unresolved complaints.
- Is the company you are considering insured for liability and injury protection? Ask for a current “Certificate of Insurance”. It may take a few days to receive but it is worth the peace of mind. If you ask for a certificate but don’t receive one or if you receive one and it does not have the company name listed as the insured, DON’T USE THEM!
- There is no licensing of Arborists in the state. Any claim otherwise is untrue. Bonding is only important on extremely large jobs (larger than most any homeowner jobs) or if you are dealing with a small company that you may be concerned that they can (or will) complete the job. Except in the case of unusual circumstances, most companies don’t ask for any payment up front.
- It’s always good to ask if they are active in the community or donate time to worthwhile causes. It’s not a necessity, but rather something to offer a further judgment of corporate responsibility.
- Reputable companies are members of the International Society of Arboriculture, the Tree Care Industry Association, and sometimes the American Society of Consulting Arborists. There are no other official trade organizations. I have heard of companies that invent their own organization (within a company) that may sound official but mean nothing. Only the three organizations listed are officially recognized.
- Never use a company knocking on doors. Reputable Arborists don’t engage in this practice. The same is true for yardmen that leave door hangers stating that they provide “tree trimming.” Few qualified Arborists offer yard care service, and of those, none go door to door.
- Reputable Arborists are generally involved in Arboriculture alone. Companies that are involved in other fields may be the “Jack of all trades but master of none” variety.
- Be sure the company you hire provides complete tree care services. If they don’t, you may need to hire other companies to fertilize, grind stumps, remove trees, etc. If you’re not sure, ask.
- Ask if the company recycles the chip mulch and logs. With decreasing amounts of landfill space available, it’s good to know that material from your job will not take up landfill space. Also, note that many cities do not recycle brush and logs removed from a property. So, if the tree care company you hire does not haul off the brush and logs, or if it’s left for the city to haul, it may reduce our landfill space.
- Never let anyone climb a live tree with spikes unless it is to be removed. If they are used on a live tree, they can cause extensive damage. Simply ask, “Do you use spikes?”
In regard to any proposal/estimate received:
- Be sure all specific requirements and costs are clearly stated.
- Be sure they include tax when an estimate does not state that it is included. All tree services are taxable, and if a company does not charge sales tax, your dealing with the wrong company.
- Be sure the arborist signs the proposal. Although legally it may not matter, if someone signs his or her name to something, it provides further comfort.
- You may wish to ask if they accept credit cards or have a payment plan (if necessary).
- Be careful what you sign. Read the fine print.
- Tell the arborist you are getting bids from two other specific companies. If the reaction is “Boy those guys are dirtbags” you know you are not dealing with a professional. A reputable company does not allow any employee to degrade any other company or their personnel.
- Be careful of techniques and materials used in the cabling and bracing of trees. Materials specifically designed for our industry must be used. If the proper materials are utilized, but the cables angle or tension is wrong, or an improper method of installation was used, it can actually increase rather than decrease the odds of structural failure. It’s wise to ask about materials and if they will be installed according to industry standards.