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When you buy a home, you’re not only purchasing the actual house, but the property and everything that comes along with it. Often, if you’re lucky, this includes a few trees that can add privacy, work as a noise barrier and ultimately increase your home’s value. However, a tree can also mean possible property damage and tussles with the neighbors.

Talk it Out

One of the biggest neighbor disputes involves property lines and trees that cross them. Although you as a homeowner have the right to trim anything on your property, or anything that crosses over onto your property, doing so could have disastrous results.

“Property lines are a gray area,” explains Jim Burgess of Snohomish Arborists. He notes that the best option is to talk to your neighbor first before you take matters into your own hands.

If you have a legitimate concern over a tree on your property, or on your neighbor’s property next door, you have every right to address it — even if your neighbor doesn’t agree with you. The best way to tackle the issue without litigation is to bring in an expert.

An arborist, or tree service consultant, can work with you and your neighbor as a third party to find the best way to deal with a tree. Burgess often says that two consultants will be brought in — one for one neighbor and one for the other — so the most impartial decision can be made.

While the consulting session can run upwards of $100 an hour, Burgess says it’s worth it. You don’t know if the tree is dead, damaged or needs to have specific care given to it. Not only can a consultant help you work with your neighbor, they’ll let you know if the tree needs to be removed.

Don’t Do It Yourself

Pruning may seem like a simple task, but when it’s a 100-year old maple or enormous willow,
you could end up killing the tree and invoking the risk damaging your home or your neighbor’s.

“If you thin a tree improperly, a tree can react and produce large, more hazardous limbs that can go through roofs,” said Burgess. “Some trees, if you cut back too much, you’ll expose them to wounding, disease and then the tree dies.”

Bottom line, says Burgess, if you have a tree of significant value or size, you should bring a certified arborist in.

Avoid a Lawsuit

As mentioned before, you have the right to trim the tree branches hanging over into your yard, but be aware if your work causes damage, you’ll end up as the one responsible.

“When trees aren’t taken care of properly, they can drop the price of the property,” said Burgess. “Trees have very high value and if something is damaged it will be a really large sum in terms of settlement.”

The conclusion, said Burgess, is to negotiate before you litigate. Talk to your neighbor and call in a consultant if need be.

Looking for a consultant or arborist? The International Society of Arboriculture provides a list of certified tree services.

About the Author

Erika Riggs, the Zillow Digs manager, covers home design and trends.

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