Two days after a destructive storm struck, Patrick Breslin and his tree crew hopped into his vehicles and drove into Atlantic County on a mission to see if their services were needed.
The owner of the Haddonfield-based Haddon Tree Co. went to one development and saw that a tree crew was already working, so they moved to the next in Mays Landing until they eventually found one with little competition and homeowners looking for their services.
“You don’t want to saturate an area with tree companies,” Breslin said.
With dozens of trees falling on properties across South Jersey, companies that specialize in their removal are seeing increased demand.
Several companies from faraway have come into the region, while other firms that don’t normally do tree clearing have started doing that work due to the demand. That is in addition to individuals who own chain saws and are offering their services to homeowners.
“It’s beyond busy,” Breslin said.
In light of the heightened demand, some homeowners are contracting with tree companies eager to get the work done, while others said they are taking it slow and doing as much of the work on their own.
Breslin’s customer Elaine Valentino, a retired Monmouth County supervisor who lives in Mays Landing, said she and her husband couldn’t wait for the work to get done with multiple downed trees, some as large as 20 inches in diameter, on their property.
They were first approached by two men with chain saws who offered to help clear their driveway, but when they told her they didn’t carry insurance, she politely declined. Next was a man and his two sons who carried saws and were able to produce an insurance certificate.
Valentino said she agreed to have them cut a path from the street to her house but they lacked the heavy equipment to move the large trees. That’s when Breslin arrived. He gave her an estimate of $10,000, which included several men working three days using heavy equipment to cut up and remove the many large trees. They also brought a wood chipper and through their work began returning the property to a more pristine condition.
“Because of where they were hanging in relation to your home, you couldn’t wait three weeks,” she said of the tree work. “If these fall on your house, you’re going to have more than $10,000 worth of damages.”
The homeowner also had heard stories from a neighbor, who had called a tree company he had done business with in the past only to be placed on a waiting list.
“He was No. 96 on the list,” Valentino said.
A short distance away in Mays Landing, Dr. Satish Shah said he tried calling tree companies but couldn’t get anyone so he turned to Jim Cahill, of S.J.C. Contracting, who is the husband of someone who works with Shah. Cahill normally does excavation work but because he knew Shah he decided to take on the tree clearing.
With his four men, dump truck, tractor, backhoe and wood chipper, Cahill charged a daily rate of $2,000, which amounted to $6,000 for three days.
Tree clearing can range in price from several hundred dollars to several thousand. Sometimes two estimates for the same work will vary greatly.
Mike LaManna, an environmental consultant and certified New Jersey tree expert in Toms River, said estimating tree work is highly subjective.
“It’s all over the map and it always has been,” LaManna said of prices, adding that they are typically based on the amount of time workers spend on the property and the equipment and materials they need to use.
As long as contractors are licensed to work in the state and carry insurance, they are not required to be certified, which makes the work attractive to anyone with a chain saw.
“There are no barriers to entry,” LaManna said.
He recommends getting five estimates for the work from licensed contractors who carry insurance and asking family and friends for recommendations. Unless the tree is about to fall on a house or structure, most of the work doesn’t need to be done immediately and can wait until there is less demand for tree service.
“Because demand is high, prices are high,” LaManna said. “It’s not price gouging, it’s just economics.”
Marty Manno, 52, of Mays Landing, said that even before the storm, different tree companies would offer him different prices for the same work. In one case, an estimate was five times greater than a second.
“Their pricing is all over the chart,” he said of tree companies. “They can charge you whatever they think.”
While he may need to call in a tree company to address a tree that is leaning into his property sometime in the future — after the insurance adjuster takes a look at it — Manno said he is looking to do as much of the work on his own and with the help of his wife and two teenage sons.
Other homeowners, such as Patrick Tkacz, 57, of Mays Landing, said rather than deal with expensive tree companies, he turned on his own chain saw, attacking what he could do on his own now and then inviting family over to help.
“By Christmas, I’ll have this done,” he said.
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