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Selling Black Walnut Yard Trees (IL)

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From: Gerry Bailiff
Glendale Hts, IL
We want to remove several mature yard trees (walnut, cherry, oak, and hickory) for different reasons and I hate to see them chopped up for fire wood. I would think they could be put to good use as lumber...any suggestions? How much are they worth? How do I go about selling them?

Extension Message
From: Jay Hayek
Extension Specialist, Forestry
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
Greeting Gerry:

Wow, this is an extremely popular question, both within and outside the state of Illinois.

The question is, “Is my yard tree worth anything and how does one go about selling a yard tree(s)?” The first thing I always ask people is why they want to remove and sell their yard tree. Is it because the tree is a liability or hazard? Is your tree declining in vigor or unsightly? Is it interfering with your house, deck, patio, driveway, grass, view, fence, neighbor, septic system, sewer, etc.? I am quick to remind people that most yard trees often add significant value to an individual property – especially homes situated in urban neighborhoods. Therefore, please think twice before taking a chainsaw to your mature and established yard tree(s).

“So, is my yard tree worth anything?” Well, that is the million-dollar question and unfortunately, there is no simple email answer without an on-site evaluation and appraisal. Theoretically, if you have a desirable high quality/high value tree species, said tree could be worth several thousand dollars as a veneer tree; or several hundred dollars as a sawlog tree for lumber; or a hundred dollars as firewood. The more likely scenario, however, is that your black walnut tree is going to be a “net cost” removal proposition to you the homeowner because the cost of removing an urban yard tree in today’s litigious and tax/fee oriented society commonly exceeds any potential monetary value the tree has as a potential lumber or veneer tree. Thus, it will likely cost you anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars based on the complexity and risk associated with the tree removal project. Yeah, but my tree is a highly valuable black walnut tree! It doesn’t matter: removal fees less potential timber value still equals a net cost to the homeowner in most situations!

So, you are POSITIVE you want or need to remove your yard tree(s) – correct? Okay, most prospective buyers usually are not interested in removing a mere one or two trees from your yard - even if they are black walnut trees. Many yard trees contain internal and external defects that make them undesirable as sawlog trees for lumber or veneer logs for high-end veneer products. Therefore, most timber buyers are not willing to make a risky investment on a yard tree with a high probability of defect.

HOWEVER, there are always exceptions to the rule! So, what sort of defects renders a yard tree undesirable to a prospective buyer? Examples of internal and external tree defects include bird peck from yellow-bellied sapsucker (woodpecker); metal from nails, screws, staples, fence, insulator pins, etc; old limb scars; old pruning wounds; multiple lower limbs due to lack of pruning; crooked form; mower damage; internal rot and decay; holes, seams, scars, and cracks; etc. Many potential timber buyers will offer minimal value (if any value at all) for yard trees simply because most yard trees are “high risk” to internal defects that cannot be seen until the tree is cut down. Consequently, the “value” of your yard tree(s) is a function of tree species (e.g., black walnut, black cherry, white oak, red oak, sugar maple, etc.); tree diameter measured at 4.5 feet above ground line; log length and log diameter (i.e., volume of wood); log defect and risk of defect; how difficult the tree is to remove from your yard; demand; and your homework, marketing skills, and persistence.

Therefore, if you are interested in maximizing your return from selling your yard tree(s), this is what you should do: 1) Contact a portable/custom sawmill owner directly to determine if they are interested in your particular tree (you’ll need to send them a lot of pictures and also provide them with diameter measurements):

(2) Contact a local woodworking shop or woodworkers club through the Internet or phone directory and ask them if they can put you in touch with someone within their network who may be interested in your walnut tree:

(3) Place an advertisement in your local newspaper, Craigslist, etc., to see if you can solicit local interest in your walnut yard tree.

Oh yeah, I personally would not allow anyone to cut down a tree in my yard unless they were fully insured. Do not simply take their word for it, actually have them provide you with their insurance papers and call the insurance company to make sure their policy is current! Remember, we live in a very litigious society – you can never be too careful!

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