the cost of mature trees

The big shade tree in the front yard of the investment property in Tulsa

One of the things that give older homes some of their charm is the mature landscaping that is usually on the property. Big old trees provide a certain aesthetic, as well as shade, character, and a habitat for animals. I really love trees, as a rule, but I am also really tired of owning homes with big, old trees. Often it just goes hand-in-hand with purchasing an old home, and when you’re ready to close on the property the trees are probably the furthest thing from your mind.

two large trees on sides of ranch style home
Google street view (from waaaay back) gives you an idea of how big/damaged these trees were (the one to the left of the car was the one I debated having removed completely. The one on the side of the house was great after a nice pruning!)

When I bought my CO home back in 2017, I loved the huge shade trees on two different sides of the house. They were some kind of maple and had probably been planted when the house was built in 1956. The one next to the driveway had already cracked the sidewalk and driveway, and it had one limb, in particular, that gave me a lot of anxiety parking underneath. After the first year in that house, worrying about what might happen but loving the privacy and shade it provided to the cars, I hired a company to prune both of the huge trees on the property. They were healthy, overall, but definitely needed some weight and precarious branches removed. I debated having the one by the driveway taken out completely due to its damage to the sidewalk and driveway…back then, the quote for removal was actually cheaper than the pruning! The y wanted $800 bucks to remove it (looking back that seems like such a bargain rate!). Instead, I paid $600 per tree to have them cleaned up and rejuvenated. I lived there for two more years with no issues, and the squirrels were sure happy about it.

tree being cut down in yard
One of the many that needed to be taken down at the Bella Vista house for various reasons – this one was way too close to a retaining wall, as well as unhealthy.

With our Bella Vista house, we bought it sight-unseen in March, from Colorado. Our realtor here had given us a video tour, but we had no idea how many trees we would actually have (and therefore need to maintain) surrounding us. Luckily, the previous owners had removed several from the front yard, and the ones that are left are in pretty good shape. It’s the side and back forest that is starting to worry us. We could easily take down a tree a month and it would still take years to clear the property. We’ve taken two trees out ourselves this year with a chainsaw and a lot of sweat, but there are a few others I’d feel better hiring a company to take care of. Specifically, this big ole guy behind the house leaning toward the home below/behind us on the hill.

dead tree in a forest
It doesn’t look nearly as big from up on the deck…should’ve taken a shot from below. Either way, our neighbor’s house is just to the left of the patio umbrella, downhill from the dead tree.

At some point soon, we’ll need to have someone come and remove it. It’s too big, and in too precarious a location, for us to attempt it ourselves. But my real learning experience this year has (of course) been at my mid-term rental in Tulsa. If you scroll back up to the top and take a look, you’ll see the big oak tree in the front yard. When we left it to the first tenants on April 1, the leaves hadn’t fully appeared yet and we hadn’t gotten a chance to really enjoy its shade in the hot Oklahoma sun. I also didn’t realize the tree had health issues. The first sign was when a massive chunk of it fell onto the neighbor’s brand new car at 3 am. That sure was a fun bunch of missed texts when I woke up the next morning!

tree limbs blocking driveway
The view from across the street – the huge branch also landed on our retaining wall, so that is another repair on the list now.

As a new landlord who’s never had this situation happen at any of my personal residences, either, I really didn’t know what to do. I started by calling the insurance company, and trying to Google “emergency tree removal in Tulsa” while I waited to be connected. John was still asleep, I had to go to work in less than an hour, and was texting both the neighbor and the tenant at the same time. Trying not to completely lose my shit. I learned an important lesson after chatting with an insurance representative -a random limb, or even the whole tree, landing on a car and blocking two driveways is not a covered peril. Now, there would’ve been exceptions for things like riots and explosions causing it to fall, but there wasn’t a storm or even a gust of wind. It was completely unexpected from a healthy tree.

new car crushed under tree branches
Look carefully on the left to see the neighbor’s new Mazda under the weight of the limbs. Also note how close it is to the window and corner of the home.

After a couple of early phone calls from random companies I found online, I found a guy who could get his crew over to the house before 7 am to start work. I knew I’d pay for that convenience, but I felt like it was my only option as a concerned neighbor and landlord (and being out of town myself). The tenants and my neighbor were all grateful (and impressed) at the speed in which the giant limb was removed. To be clear, this “limb” was the size of most typical trees. The tree itself was huge and was probably planted when the home was new, back in the 1940s.

Her poor car (they’d added trash bags because rain was in the forecast and there was no glass left).

I knew this wasn’t the end of the tree saga, and started calling around over the next few weeks (when I wasn’t panicked, under pressure, and desperate to hire the first person available) to have other companies take a look at the tree as a whole and give me their thoughts on its longevity. Most of the tree trimmers were prepared to prune, thin, and clean the whole thing up for between $800 and $1,000. I also got estimates for removal and stump grinding, which ran between $1,800 and $2,200.

The company I ended up hiring actually sent an arborist out to take a detailed look at the tree from a science standpoint. This particular company only did removals but was happy to recommend other professionals in the area if I decided to stick with pruning. The verdict was that the tree had a fungus, starting at the heartwood, that was slowly killing it from the inside out. The arborist was incredibly knowledgeable, gave me way more information about tree health than I expected, and even gave me two more names if I wanted other opinions. She actually suggested I hire someone to examine the canopy from a boom lift to get a more thorough inspection, but by that point, I already decided it was going to come down.

In the end, it came down to how much of a risk I could live with. As it turns out, not very much when it comes to liability and overall safety in the neighborhood. When we visited the house this past weekend, my neighbor showed me just how close the giant limb had come to busting out the windows and potentially smashing a corner of her home. We were lucky it was “only” her car, and that neither of the houses (and no living creatures) was harmed when it fell. Had it landed a matter of inches in another direction the story would’ve ended very differently. My neighbor’s comprehensive car insurance covered her vehicle (a new one is on the way!) and I split her deductible with her. She is such a great person and was so kind and understanding through the whole process – I am definitely lucky to have gotten such a great family to keep an eye on things since I’m not there!

Takeaway Lessons:

  • “Emergency” tree removals are much more expensive than those you can schedule
  • If you can, take the time to get multiple opinions and quotes for tree work
  • Check with your insurance company to understand exactly what kind of tree/shrub coverage, if any, you have
  • Mitigate potential issues by keeping things trimmed up and a safe distance from roofs and vehicles (which, of course, isn’t always an option – but still a consideration when buying a property or making changes)

Final Numbers:

  • Emergency tree removal: $2,200
  • Splitting the deductible for my neighbor’s car: $250
  • Tree removal/stump grinding a month later: $2,000
  • Peace of mind: Priceless
The yard sure looks empty….but I have high hopes for grass next spring!

When we were there this past weekend, a few days after the removal, I was really impressed with how well the company I hired cleaned things up. Someone asked me what happened to the hole – the great thing is that there really isn’t a hole! I wasn’t there to see it, but I’m pretty sure most of the grinding from the stump filled it, they raked and organized a bit, and it sort of just looks like a bald section that mulch was thrown on. I walked on it and didn’t really notice anything except a little squishiness. I plan to put seed right on top of the spot the way it is! The yard does look pretty naked, and the sun is brutal without it shading the house and yard, but I am optimistic that after an overseeding this fall we’ll have a decent lawn next spring. We also opted for installing a Coolaroo sun shade on the front porch to help keep some of the intense heat out of the front windows, and we felt like it really helped in the two days we were there.

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