So… After you’ve had a house for awhile, Homeowner’s Insurance companies will snoop around your property with a camera, taking pictures to use as an excuse to drop your policy. This has happened to us twice now. Progressive is the one who just dropped us, though they farm their homeowners insurance out to Homesite, so they are the ones really to blame.

Painting the window sills? Really? They don’t want moisture-related claims. But as I’ve always understood it, homeowner’s insurance is NOT a maintenance plan, but accident coverage. If you don’t maintain your windows, and something happens because of it, it’s negligence, not an accident. The windows they complained about are on the old side of the house where we don’t even keep anything valuable – the cost of everything in our living room (front door room) probably totals less than $50. (Of course, the replacement value is higher.)  That little bit is insulting, and it’s a lot of work to repaint our window sills. We’re going ahead and totally replacing one of our windows — at a significant cost. Thing is, they only give 30 days. It’s really not enough time. So now we get to play the game of “take photos and post them and beg for them to keep us”. After all, we went with Progressive/Homesite because they had the best price!

We also had to remove the vines from our house. Most of them were dead, but the live ones – they were good to get. We had a kudzu stalk that had grown all the way up a gutter to our roof! Nothing like standing 2 storeys up on a ladder anchored on a hill with some cinderblocks, reaching up and grabbing dead vines with a pair of 2 foot “old people reaching tongs”. Times like these I’m glad some rope from the emergency tarp put on our roof around 2005 is still hanging up there – it gave me something to grab other than siding trim and window sill edges. Glad I’m not afraid of heights.

But the real issue is the trees. They don’t want trees touching your roof. We do have a big dead limb over our roof — connected to a HUGE twin white oak tree in our side (left when facing the house, right when facing out of the house) yard. There’s also a small tree in the back that we left there on purpose after our addition was built, in order to grow a root system into the soil to keep it from eroding away. Our addition is on piers – the soil really needs to remain intact, y’know.

I first looked up some articles on how to self-estimate: Ehow article 1 // Ehow article 2

I then asked all homeowners I know via email for recommendations. Following that, I did a Google Local search for “Tree removal near [MY ZIP CODE]”. Ultimately, I called *seventeen companies*.

So we decided to get estimates for:

  1. Removing the dead limb (“lead”) from the oak tree over our roof.
  2. Removing the next two highest up limbs from the same tree — simply to keep the problem from creeping up any time in the next 10 years.
  3. Removing the small pine tree in the back of our addition.

Not included is the small stuff — I did what I could with a sickle, then went back and did what I could with a hatchet, then bought a pole saw on Amazon for $86 to do the intermediate stuff (too hard to do with existing tools, too small to hire a company for). The pole saw is what Ash from Army Of Darkness wishes he had – a chainsaw at the end of a polearm, instead of a chainsaw at the end of his arm.

Anyway, here is our report on our estimates, so others can know who to bother calling first. We shall list this in order from cheapest, to most expensive, to those who did not ever even give us an estimate:

  1. $600. The Care Of Trees. 703-922-8733. Alexandria, VA. The best price we had. I had to call the central office to get a VA contractor license number (2705134904A), and they checked out. They even offered to do our minor trees for free, but I declined.
  2. $700 ($550+$250). Precision Tree Services. 703-593-4406.
  3. $870 ($695+$175). Savatree. 571-282-2500. Savatree.com.
  4. $915. Northern Virginia Tree Experts, Inc. 703-471-7607. Chantilly, VA. Recommended by my cousin Emily’s husband Chris. They were unable to give a window for an estimate, so they were unable to bother coming while I was here (even though I only left the house to eat).  I tried to make it known I needed to be there to point out the specific work to be done, but because they couldn’t give a window, they ended up having to come out twice (2 days later for the 2nd one). Not impressed with that aspect.
  5. $920 ($600+$320). Originally $1150 ($750 + $400), but they let me know there’s a 20% off special). Richard’s Tree Service. 703-354-3667. Annandale, VA. This estimate included debris removal even though I tried to make it clear that I don’t want my debris removed.  They were, however, the only company that provided a copy of their liability insurance up front. Bonus point.
  6. $975. AAA Tree Services & Landscaping. 703-719-0600. 5419 Oakwood Road, Alexandria, VA 22310. – I seem to have lost their estimate. I feel bad because I slept in and missed the first appointment (that’s why I say to call me first!), and during the 2nd appointment the guy seemed like a really cool skydiving mustached badass, the type you’d want at your back  in a dark alley during a brawl. But I have  no clue where the estimate went. I’ve got to be the worst customer ever for making them come twice and not even having the estimate! Argh! I’m slapping myself! I guess this is why I prefer email estimates to paper estimates. I found their estimate behind some furniture about 5 months after I posted this. I immediately knew it would be the lost estimate! Glad I finally found it. One unique thing that I liked about their estimate was that it specified the equipment and personnel: 1 truck, 0 cranes, 2 climbers, 4 groundsmen. I don’t think anybody else gave that info.
  7. $1000 ($750+$250). Stump Jumper. 703-356-0027.

Another estimate that is hard to compare because of a different scope:

  1. $2035 ($1785+$250+$565[not counted toward $2035 total]). Barlett Tree Experts. 703-550-6900. It’s a bit unfair to include them in the above list. The higher price is because the scope of work for this one estimate is considerably more. The middle number – $250 – for the pine tree out back – is comparable (though a bit on the high side compared to Savatree and The Care Of Trees). The $565 is for an additional tree out back that we decided not to remove. The remaining number, $1785, is to remove more than just the 3 leads – to remove everything so you can look up and see the sky. I have a feeling if the scope of this estimate was limited to be identical as #1-#5, that their price would fall within the same range, but probably on the higher side. I did email them to let them know of  The Care Of Trees $600 estimate, but they replied that they didn’t think they would be able to beat that price. No hard feelings.

Companies where I talked to a human, but they ultimately dropped the ball:

  1. Economy Tree Care. 703-497-6588. Woodbridge, VA. I’d actually used these guys before!  We’d paid them $350 tree around our power line, back when the hurricanes in the mid-2000s came and messed a lot of things up. I remember talking to the nice lady with a thick accent several times. She went out of her way to learn to say my name right and everything. Yet I guess an estimate never happened, despite us talking. I don’t know what happened. It could have been my fault – but as someone who wants my money, the onus is on them to keep calling me. They send me junk mail every year, and when I finally try to act on it – it doesn’t happen.
  2. Richard’s Tree Service. 703-354-3667. 7213 Poplar Street, Annandale, VA 22003-3011. I talked to answering service. They later called me back but I wasn’t there. I called them back and they said James will call to make an appointment. That call never happened. Or if it did – they did not leave a message on our answering machine. I am surprised how many companies miss out on an opportunity to compete simply because they are unwilling to leave a message. Especially when a company employs an answering service: You’re saying that *I* need to leave *you* a message, but *you* won’t leave *me* one? Either that or they just never called.
  3. G & V Tree Services Inc. 703-569-2570. Guy seemed very clueless. I waited for a callback and never got one.

Companies where I never even got to talk to a human being:

  1. Absolute Tree Inc. 703-969-6207. Left message with all my details – they never bothered to call back.
  2. C & W Landscaping & Tree Trimming. 703-671-9574. 3407 Haven Place, Falls Church, VA 22041-1704. Another answering machine/service company that never bothered to call back.

Company that made appointments but couldn’t keep them and couldn’t even tell if they had happened or not:

  1. Gatling Tree Service & Landscaping. 571-283-4990. Least professional company ever. When I called, there were a bunch of people in the background carrying on, talking loudly. The guy had to put me on “hold” (listening to everyone talk and laugh) for 2 minutes to find a pen & paper. When I said my name, I had to spell it. I was too fast and had to spell it even more slowly. He was unable to pronounce it right, despite having written it. (While my last name is hard, and a good 25% of people have problems with it, most people can remember it after having it spoken to them.) They couldn’t make an estimate on a specific day – simply “sometime between now and saturday”. To my knowledge, nobody came. I got a call a week later. They still couldn’t pronounce my name — but this time it was so bastardized I actually thought it was a wrong number (first time ever). He had to ask me if someone came, and I told him nobody had come, and I’d already selected someone else. They don’t even know if an estimate has been made. They don’t even know if one of their own employees made it out there. Do not deal with Gatling Tree Service.