Friday, April 26, 2013

Lessons learned about contracting for work

Sincere apologies, but have been out of town waiting for tree-trimmers.  I can share my lessons about frugality and tree trimming!  We had a large nasty tree near our property line.  It is a fast-growing Siberian elm, a species planted by many of the early settlers in the southwest because they grow fast and are drought tolerant.  They are also just plain nasty. They contract bacterial infections and rot internally.  They have elm leaf beetle infestations that literally rain bug poo from the trees. In their defense, they provide lots of shade.

The large elm, about 4 feet in diameter at the base and probably 65 feet tall, was an accident waiting to happen.  The previous trimmers left too much weight up high in the tree (another lesson learned for me).  As a result, it was poised to crash down on my neighbor's home in a high wind, potentially killing them in their sleep. Not good for sooo many reasons, including that they run the only regularly open cafe for a 20 mile radius. For the good of the local economy, I usually would have locals do my tree trimming.  Due to the size and location of the tree, I wanted a licensed, bonded company to do the work.  Better to let them use their insurance if they dropped the tree on the neighbor's house!

I started requesting estimates last November. The town is a smidge remote, but the first guy took 6 weeks and came back with a stunning estimate of $13,000. Having had similar work done before, I knew that was at least 400% too high.  The next guy provided a $1200 estimate for the same work. Probably too low, but if the final bill was twice that, it was still a deal.  SOLD.

Went to the location a few days ahead of their arrival date to prepare the yard for the impending trauma. Got a message that they were having equipment problems and would be a day late.  A day turned into a week, but they finally arrived.  The crew was great.  They worked neatly and efficiently, one man in the air with a chainsaw (bucket truck on a 60 foot boom) and the other 2 hauled the trimmings for a chipper/shredder. They were careful to check with me re: which branches to cut, where I wanted the mulch piles, etc..  The man in the bucket was nice about not dropping chunks of tree on other trees or structure roofs.
Overall I was very pleased with the work, despite getting the unplanned extra week of 'vacation.'  There are a few things that I will pass a long:
1. Decide what your potential liabilities are before you make the decision to do it yourself or pay someone else to do work.  The more dangerous the job, the wiser it is to hire experts.
2.  If the problem requiring the work potentially endangers the lives of others, start early to get the problem taken care of. 
3. Where possible, ask for several estimates from different providers at the same time.  The first guy I asked for an estimate knew I wanted the work done in February and dragged his feet thinking I'd accept his insane price because he had me in some time crunch. I really didn't want to wait until April, but wasn't willing to pay a 95% premium to the bum.
4. Hire licensed, bonded companies for dangerous work. If not, YOU are the employer and may end up paying for worker's compensation or the neighbor's house if YOUR employee goofs up. It may cost you an extra few hundred, but it may save you tens of thousands.

Bottom line:  It is always more frugal to pay a bit more to get something done right than to lose everything to save a few bucks.


  1. I used to do that type of work. Had a license and insurance. I gave a guy an estimate once many years ago to take down a tree real close to his house and hanging out over the porch. He cussed me and told me I was a crook wanting that much money and I said I couldn't do it for less. About a week later I was doing a small job a couple of streets over and I thought I would swing by there and see if he got it done. He had tried to do it himself and had dropped the tree smack dab in the middle of his porch and attached garage. Hard telling what that cost him. stopped by to say hi! the rat

    1. Thanks for the visit and the real-life example! It's amazing how much damage an unskilled person can do in a short time! Bet your estimate looked pretty reasonable after he got the estimate to fix his house and garage!