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What to Know About Trees Before Buying a House

Toronto home with "for sale" sign

Does a home inspection include trees?

So you’ve decided to take the plunge into GTA real estate, but what about the trees when you’re buying a house? Whether you’re a first-time buyer, looking to move from a condo to a house, or are upgrading to a property with sizeable trees for the first time, let’s check out what you need to know about a property’s trees before buying.

Tree Inspections for Real Estate

You’ve thought about a home inspection — so the inspector will look at the trees, right? Probably not. Some inspectors may take a quick look at any trees to see if there are obvious problems, like a large branch draping over a roof, broken limbs, or dead trees. However, a home inspector is an expert in houses, not trees. They’re the right people to check out basements and wiring, but they’re unlikely to know a lot about tree care.

When Is a Tree a Problem?

How do you know when a tree is a problem when you’re looking at a house? Many people worry about trees that are too big. However, size isn’t usually a problem in itself. A large tree can be a good thing — the shade, aesthetics, and cooling effects can add value to a property.

What might be a concern with a tree is damage, disease, or infestations. Any of these can run a risk of property damage, depending where they’re located. It can also mean you’ll have to have the trees removed eventually.

A tree that’s an invasive species might also be a tree you’d prefer to remove, though an established tree won’t necessarily cause problems just by being there. Certain species of trees, like elms, ash, and oak, are also particularly susceptible to diseases or pests common in Southern Ontario. An arborist can check if there are any signs of disease in a tree.

Large dead or dying trees could mean you’ll be spending thousands of dollars in removal costs in the next years. If the tree is in a hard-to-reach area, like a backyard with narrow entry, removal costs can easily become very expensive.

Roots and Tree Placement

Large white house with tall trees in front

A tree that’s located too close to the house may be a concern. Sometimes a tree may  predate a house, and the house was built too close to the tree. Other times, a small tree that was originally located a reasonable distance from a house may have grown over time, and is now too close to the building for a tree of its size. It’s safe for small trees (under 8m at full height) to be as close as 3m away from a house.

In other cases, an addition or renovation may have been completed improperly, meaning that a mature tree is now too close to a house. Trees too close to a building run the risk of property damage from breaking branches or growing roots.

Trees should be planted the proper distance from a house because the roots also grow outwards underground. When a tree is too close to a building and doesn’t have enough space for its roots to grow, they may grow into foundations, plumbing, or underground utility lines or pipes. This leaves the potential for big problems later on.

Tree Branches

Branches overhanging a roof, windows, garage, driveway or walkway could cause problems if a tree isn’t maintained. Tree branches scraping against your roof or siding can cause wear and damage over time. Branches over top of the house are also at risk for storm damage.

A broken branch during a summer or winter storm can damage your house, car, or yard. If the tree is otherwise healthy, this doesn’t have to be a big concern. Regular pruning is affordable and helps you avoid storm damage and broken limbs.

Neighbouring Trees

If the house has large trees that overhang a neighbour’s yard, you should pay attention to these too. If a neighbour is concerned about trees for aesthetic reasons, like sunlight in their house or light over a garden, pruning any part of the tree overhanging their yard is their responsibility.

However, you may choose to pay for pruning or share costs. If your neighbour prunes the part of your tree over their yard, they’re responsible for making sure the work is done safely without damage to the tree.

An arborist can help you determine if a tree close to a property line is your tree or a “boundary tree” that you share responsibility for with a neighbour.

Construction

If you’re planning a renovation or addition on a property you’d like to buy, it’s important to note if any trees may interfere with your plans. If a large tree is located in the area you want to build, or too close to it, you’ll need the City of Toronto, or your GTA municipality, to approve the removal before you can get a building permit. An arborist can advise you whether the city would be likely to approve a removal.

Real Estate Arborist Reports

Brick home with garden and Toronto real estate sign

All these potential issues are reasons why it’s in your best interests to get an arborist report before buying a house. An arborist report for a home purchase will focus on the trees, unlike your home inspection report. A certified arborist is the best person to speak to tree condition and safety on a property, and help you foresee any problems. They can also look at the condition of other plants like shrubs and hedges.

After talking to an arborist, you can plan tree care, renovations, and negotiate with the seller if a property has a tree that’s likely to be a big expense for the new owner in the near future.

Your arborist can also help you figure out whether trees are your responsibility or city trees. In Toronto, many front yard trees are considered street trees. This means that the city is responsible for their maintenance, and pruning or removal when needed.

It’s easy to jump into a real estate decision in the hot markets in the GTA, but don’t neglect the trees! A mistake could cost you in the long run.

Need an arborist report for your future home? Contact Vista Tree for a quote now!

 

 

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