Tree-removal contractors flooded with jobs

The crew from Sarc Tree service removes a

The crew from Sarc Tree service removes a large oak tree from a house on Cleveland Street in West Hempstead. Many tree-removal companies are facing the same challenges as the property owners requiring their services -- no electricity, and spotty phone service. (Oct. 31, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Jeff Schamberry)

In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, local firms providing tree removal and disaster recovery services are striving to keep up with an influx of phone calls and work.

But many companies are facing the same challenges as the property owners requiring their services -- no electricity, and spotty phone service.

Rosie Argueta, the administrator of Sarc Tree Service, a Roosevelt-based firm owned by her husband, Cristobal, said poor cellphone service had made it difficult to return calls.


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"When I try to call the client back, I either can't get through or it goes to voice mail," she said.

Since Sunday, Sarc has had 30 jobs, initially cutting down trees before the storm and, more recently, removing those that have fallen. Sarc Tree prices start at $1,000 and depend on the tree's size and whether the company's crane and bucket truck can access the tree or it requires manual removal.

A1 All Counties Tree Service in Mineola, faced with surging demand for clearing roadways and homes of fallen trees, has hired 10 more workers, bringing its work crew to 27 people. Nevertheless, Steven Goodman, president, said his backlog amounts to a waiting period of "probably" two to three weeks.

Bob Putko, owner of Restoration Services Inc. in Shirley, whose menu includes cleaning up after floods, said the storm triggered nonstop phone calls, a backlog of "20 jobs already" and a waiting list. Restoration's prices, Putko said, can vary from $1,000 for a two-to-three hour job requiring "sucking out three feet of water" to $10,000 for an entire house that requires everything from "cutting Sheetrock to bringing in a Dumpster."

The flip side of heavy demand is that homeowners can easily fall prey to scammers and price gouging.

"Desperation is the enemy," said Luana Lewis, senior vice president for programs and services at the Better Business Bureau serving the metro area.

Lewis cautioned against hiring contractors who solicit door-to-door or pressure homeowners to use their services. "It does take time to find a legitimate contractor to do the work and homeowners shouldn't be in too much of a hurry, even if the repair situation is urgent," she said.

Lewis suggested that owners take temporary measures, such as tarping damaged roofs, to buy time until they find a legitimate contractor.

Tips from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the Better Business Bureau on avoiding unscrupulous contractors:
-- Check with your insurance company for what your policy covers and for contractor recommendations.
-- Get three to four estimates.
-- Require references from contractors.
-- Get all estimates in writing, including issues that have been agreed upon.
-- Check that contractors have a verifiable address.
-- Ask for proof of valid insurance, including workmen’s compensation.
-- Never pay the full price upfront
-- Withhold final payment until the project is completed.
-- If you believe you are a victim of price gouging, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline at 800-771-7755 or find a complaint form online at ag.ny.gov.

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