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Happy… um, Tuesday? Wednesday? This week is flying by! Normally, I’d be in a great mood today, since I usually look forward to hot yoga days (I’m still making progress on that goal to get back into shape). But this past Sunday, I chose to torture myself and run the 4.5-mile and 20-something-obstacle test of stupidity known as the Spartan Sprint. I’ve got a huge scrape along my stomach, blisters, and big bruises on top of smaller ones, so moving isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do right now, but things are starting to get a little easier again. In case you’re curious, I’ve already covered some of my previous experiences with gimmicky races (and why I actually enjoy this kind of exercise) here, here, and here. Anyway, onto the big update that at least some of you came for: last week, I hired a tree removal service crew to cut down five pine trees in my yard, and the job is now finished enough to show you what things look like. But first, let’s start at step one!
How to Find a Good Tree Removal Service
I mentioned back in this post that I first began shopping around for a tree service after realizing that some much-needed exterior repair work wasn’t going to be nearly as pricey as I first budgeted for. In total, I have (or, had) about six pine trees on my property: one in the front, and a party of five in the back (there are two or three from my neighbor’s yard that overhang my property as well, but that’s to be addressed at another time). These trees have been one of the biggest nuisances of living in this house for the last five years, and the idea of finally ridding myself of this mess was much too appealing to pass up. Possible roof damage from falling branches have always been in the back of my mind, not to mention the endless piles of pine straw falling everywhere (collecting on both the first and second story roof, clogging the gutters, blanketing the yard, etc.).
Every time I make progress on the yard, it gets smothered in brown pine straw all over again, which has left me feeling somewhat defeated. If it were the only project I ever had going on at my house, maybe it wouldn’t accumulate to the point of being a problem every spring, but the fact is that it’s simply not working for me and the way I’d prefer to live in this house. So, as far as my budget was able to cover it, I knew that jumping on this now would be a big game-changer for me with the overhaul I’m longing for outside.
I first started by finding a tree service, which is sometimes easier said than done. I had never shopped for this kind of work before, but there are occasionally businesses that will leave their card at my mailbox when passing by (I assume tall pine trees like these just look like cartoon dollar signs floating in the air to these guys). That method isn’t exactly efficient for getting the lowest price or feeling confident that I’m hiring someone that’s been proven to do great work before, so naturally, I turned to my BFF, and stumbled onto a website called HomeAdvisor. The name sounded familiar, but it wasn’t until getting a few quotes that I realized I had been contacted by one of their reps last fall about reviewing their site (for a different purpose, but it never really worked out until now). Small world, eh?
The site was super easy to navigate; I simply entered my contact info, zip code, and selected the kind of project I was looking for. The results pop up a number of matches, previous reviews, and allow you immediate options to contact them. Being able to let them know I was at the planning stage versus ready to start the project was probably the part I liked best, since I felt less pressure to pull the trigger when all of the people contacting me would know right away that this was a competing quote type of deal. Plus, the services available in my area also had my contact info, so each one pretty much handled all the rest: contacting me, scheduling a time to stop by the house, and writing up quotes. It also helped knowing that these guys were already pre-screened and verified through HomeAdvisor, so each gave me copies of their licenses and insurance policies to make me feel comfortable that I would be hiring qualified people. The only con of using the site seemed to be that I got more emails than I would have liked in my inbox from initial follow-ups, but after giving them some feedback on it, they appear to have tapered off.
Negotiating & Scheduling
Negotiation and narrowing down the choices was the next step, but since that’s a part that takes some length to give advice on, I’ll save that for a post dedicated solely to negotiating tips. But, the results were pretty much like the Goldilocks theme that has always existed at the UDH: one was too much, one didn’t quite measure up, and one was just right. Or in this case, one service was way overpriced (they wanted $675 for trimming alone), one was the cheapest (and too pushy), and another service seemed the most trustworthy. I was able to compare the quotes and get the trustworthy-sounding team to agree to the more competitive pricing (five trees cut down, the sixth trimmed to get it off the roof line, and stump grinding for $1300 total), and squared things away contract-wise. They marked off each tree with a little bit of tape for its purpose: orange for cutting down completely… green for trimming.
It took about two weeks for the scheduling part to shake out, but they surprised me when they said it would likely all be done in a single day. They also called to let me know that they contacted the utility guy to come out and mark things off, so I didn’t have to really do anything else except wait for the crew to show up.
Tree Removal Day
On the scheduled day, a large crew showed up earlier than expected and immediately got to work in the back. Since the access to my back yard is fenced in, they had to remove the gate to make it easier to haul things in and out, but they didn’t have to do anything other than simply put it back on when they were done (much to my relief, too; one of the other services mentioned removing the entire fenced area by the side of the house, which just gave me an added concern that they wouldn’t necessarily put things back exactly as they found them).
The crew quickly shimmied up one of the trees and began lopping off branches near the top. For smaller ones, they pretty much just let them fall where they needed to; for the bigger branches, the crew secured each one with additional rope to help guide them to the ground. I took a few snaps from the safety of the sliding glass door in the kitchen, but it was clear that it wouldn’t be safe to get any closer.
After lopping off the branches, it was then time to take down the trunk in pieces. When each length of trunk hit the ground, it shook the entire house (which also scared Charlie a bit, but not enough to relinquish her post as nosy guard dog). Despite the noise of machinery, the crew remained relatively quiet in comparison. I suppose that’s what you’d probably get with a crew that knows what they are doing… not a lot of panicked yelling reassured me that I could keep working upstairs in my office while they did their thing outside!
One by one, each tree came down, and all of the branches were dragged by other crew members to the chipper out front. They were all friendly, and some even posed for my not-so-subtle camera intrusion. The utility guy showed up as promised and marked off whatever it was he needed to do, and I went for lunch while they continued on through the afternoon.
A Brief Hiccup
While I was on my way to lunch, I got a call from the quote guys about a discrepancy in the comparison quote I gave them from the cheaper estimate. As it turned out, the cheapest quote guy (the quote I’d used to negotiate a lower price) had filled out his quote all wrong and wrote that he was only intending to cut down 4 of the 5 trees I’d asked for. Which, of course, revealed how he wound up being the lowest price, but the estimate wasn’t far enough off from the others to cause me think that it was the reason for the lower cost until that moment. I’ll admit, I hadn’t looked at it closely enough to be 100% sure what had been written down, except that he included stump grinding (I spent a long time talking to the guy specifically about the tree in the front though, so it didn’t make sense that he’d just leave it off the estimate? He had been a bit distracted talking about my neighbor’s tree, so perhaps that was it).
Since I also no longer had a copy of the cheaper quote in front of me (I was in the car on my way to lunch, after all), I briefly became frustrated and panicked over the thought that might now ask for more than we’d agreed upon for all of the trees. I was honestly preparing to flip out on them if they even hinted at it. Thankfully though, they were calling to tell me that the error had been made on their part by not catching things until the day of, and reassured me that they were going to keep to our agreement without any additional issues. Up until that point, the entire process had been flawless, so I appreciated that they were willing to immediately accept responsibility for the error. Phew!
After coming back from lunch and noting more tree work underway, the first recognition of fewer trees hit me. Suddenly, there was a new feeling of lightness all around the house. Seeing open sky in the back yard was really strange, but in a good way. They also limbed up the last remaining tree in the back yard—the only one I wanted to keep, for whatever reason.
Unfortunately, rain clouds were revealing themselves in this newly opened space, which meant that they wouldn’t be able to complete the project in a single day, and the crew packed up. They got all of the branches out of both yards, but the logs from each trunk would have to wait until the ground was dry enough to move their equipment onto it (either that, or they’d risk getting stuck and tearing apart both yards). I was fine to wait it out, but had a sneaking suspicion that it would dry out exactly the day I had to take a trip to Alabama for an office visit, which meant I might miss out on getting the last few snaps of them doing the log hauling and stump grinding thing. And I was kind of disappointed that I might miss seeing it all go down.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened two days later. It was rainy when I left from home, and they didn’t call beforehand to let me know which day they’d be stopping by to try again, but by the time I arrived back in my driveway that same day, it was as if the logs simply vanished into thin air. The only trace evidence of the crew’s work was tire marks on a patch of dirt near the fence.
The smell of mulched pine was everywhere, and there were large mounds of the remnants of each stump dotting the front and back yards. Again, I was struck by an eerie sensation of things suddenly going missing. Like losing my car keys… or in this case, a truckload of pine logs.
I also noticed some of the casualties of tree removal. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me until everything was gone, but the logs had been placed directly over some of the azaleas and other shade shrubs, crushing them. It’s not like they really had anywhere else to put these logs in the yard, but it did not cross my mind until I saw one of the plants completely demolished. So, for future reference, if there are important plants you want them to avoid, be sure to mention it, or move them temporarily to an area out of the way if you can.
I would have preferred to see if they could survive the new changes from added sunlight, but for now, I’m planning to just let them be to see if some of them recover (the azaleas appear particularly hardy and sprang right back up again, so I’m waiting it out before considering a new spot to move them to). They are beautiful when they bloom, so fingers crossed!
Honestly, I’m still getting used to checking things out, but I’m really happy I made the decision to get rid of these troublesome trees. I tried so hard to tame them a couple of times, and ultimately, this was a better way to go I think. I don’t quite have a plan together for all of this sunnier space, but I’m excited about its potential. I think the first task will be to close in the rest of my yard on that side with a wooden fence instead of the metal one (similar to what Dad and I did here), but after that, it’s still a question mark. Grass. Definitely grass too. And move the azaleas to make it look less random. My to-do list is already growing!
I tried to grab a few old photos I’ve taken in the past for direct before-and-after comparisons, but I quickly realized that most of the previous pictures I’ve taken of my yard are during summer and fall when things are more filled in, so anything side by side right now would actually make the afters look worse! Spring and summer are just around the corner though, so as soon as all of the greenery gets a chance to fill in again, I’ll be able to show you the full results. While I busy my mind with new landscaping thoughts, here are some shots of what things look like now.
Front yard: All that’s left to do is to pick up all of the nasty pine straw and bag it up, and I’ll be set for new plantings this spring. I would go ahead and plant flowers this week, but I always wait to see if mid-March brings a fast freeze.
Before: Back yard sky. Remember, this is the sparse version from winter. In the spring, everything is so full that the sun has never really had much of a chance to peek through.
After: Ahh. Does anybody else feel like they just took a deep breath?
Before: Overgrown, ivy-covered, and unfriendly (fall photos, so a lot greener here… but as you can see, the green pretty much stayed up in the trees and left the ground pretty blah, especially after all the work it took to remove the ivy).
After: A blank slate and ready for a redo! The crew went ahead and took out the scalloped edging that surrounded this area as well (I’m guessing it got in the way of their equipment). It’s FAR from over back here, but I can’t wait to make more changes this summer.
Yeah… like I said, the afters this time of year really aren’t making me swoon either. It is still going to take lots of work to whip this back yard into shape, so I’m open to ALL of your ideas. In fact, I think adding some smaller, less-enormous tree species back in that corner would be nice (maybe even a fruit tree, now that the sun can reach it? Geez, I am a terrible landscaper!), not to mention leveling all of the lumpy areas out. What can you picture back here?
Disclosure: I have voluntarily partnered with HomeAdvisor and have been asked by them to review their site in exchange for compensation. But, serendipitously as it may seem, I had already begun to use their services independently prior to the collaboration, so it was pretty much win-win that we found a way to work together, and can honestly recommend using their site. And as always, all opinions in this post are 100% my own!
P.S. For those in the Atlanta area looking for the same tree service I used, it’s 770 BAM Tree. The crew was really friendly, prices were good, they were honest, and they did not collect payment until they knew the job was done and that I was happy. I’ve already passed their info onto a family member, FWIW!
P.P. S. I know I briefly covered cost in the Negotiation section above, but I’ll have more details on it in the post with negotiation tips and then link it to this post when that goes live.