How to Sell Your Trees for Timber

Big lots sell better than single trees

stacked wood
Jekaterina Nikitina / Getty Images

Can you sell your trees for lumber and make a profit? Lumber from trees such as red or white oak, black walnut, paulownia, and black cherry is expensive, and a tree in your yard might contain an impressive quantity of wood. While it's possible to sell one or more trees for lumber, research and effort are required to get a good price from a reputable buyer. Before making the move, think through the pros and cons.

Do You Want to Remove Your Trees?

Before seeking a buyer, be sure you have good reasons to remove a valuable hardwood tree from your yard. Are its roots damaging your foundation? Is the foliage overwhelming your home? Or are you just eager to have more lawn?

If there's no solid reason to remove the tree, its value might be greater in your yard than at a sawmill. A large hardwood tree provides shade, which cools your home and lowers air conditioning costs. It improves air quality, controls water runoff, and raises your property value. Your tree also might provide homes for songbirds and other native animals.

Can You Sell a Single Tree?

It's generally much easier to sell trees in a woodlot harvest, where many trees are sold and harvested at the same time. To cut down your tree, a timber buyer must bring in laborers, a log truck, skidder, loader, and other equipment. The buyer must cut the logs and haul them to the mill to sell. After expenses, it's unlikely that the buyer will make any money from cutting a single tree unless it's extraordinarily valuable.

If you're determined to sell your tree, your best option might be to look for an operator who owns a small, portable sawmill. Small operators have less overhead and make their money finding single living or dead high-value trees, then sawing the lumber to specifications attractive to woodworkers and turners.

Tips for Selling Multiple Trees

Although it's easier to sell timber from multiple trees because the profit margin is much greater for the buyer, pitfalls remain even if you're selling a lot of wood. One botched sale can cost you much of the value of decades-old timber and can negatively influence future harvests.

The following are suggestions for selling multiple trees.

Find a Professional Forestry Partner

Selling timber requires expert advice. Studies show that timber sellers using professional foresters get up to 50% more per sale. A forester who sells trees for a living and practices within your sale area would be your best partner; he or she will know timber product grades and values and be familiar with local timber buyers and the market. Private foresters usually offer their services for a fee. Timber owners often find this expense more than offset by the higher selling price received for their timber.

Find a forester and listen to them as you would to a doctor or lawyer. You and the forester will have to determine which trees should be cut and how they should be harvested. Your partner will also help you to estimate your trees' volumes and value.

To find a professional forester, according to the U.S. Forest Service:

"Contact your service or County Agricultural Extension or Forestry Extension agent. Service forestry personnel are often located within the state Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, or Forestry Commission. Extension Forestry personnel are typically located at your local Land-Grant university in the Forestry Department. Alternatively, you can visit the website of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, which contains links to every state's free services, often including forestry assistance by professional foresters."

Understand Your Timber's Value

To sell timber, you should know something about the quality and value of the timber you are selling. Each tree has unique marketable characteristics and associated volume. Your forester partner will inventory the timber for these characteristics and provide an estimate of volumes and an estimated value for harvest. This report can be used to estimate a fair price to expect for your sale.

The inventory should tell you:

  • The type of timber forest products you have: Different timber products bring different prices.
  • The timber species you have for sale: Some species command higher prices than others due to high demand, low supply, or special qualities.
  • The quality of your timber: Quality affects timber values as it does any other product.
  • The volume of timber you can sell: Logging requires heavy equipment and employees, so larger volumes of timber translate to higher profit margins.
  • The distance from the closest market: Transportation of forest products is expensive. Local mills should be able to pay higher prices for your products than more distant mills.
  • The size of your trees: Generally, larger trees bring the best prices. Large saw logs and poles are worth more than small ones.

Identify Prospective Buyers and Send Prospectuses

You should now identify prospective buyers. Your forester partner most likely will have a list to work from. You might also want to prepare a list of buyers in the county of sale as well as in surrounding counties. Call your state forester's office or state forestry association for a list of buyers.

Mail a prospectus and bid invitation to each buyer within your procurement region. Use a sealed bid system, which generally results in the highest selling price. A bid prospectus should be simple but informative and include:

  • Date, time, and location of the bid opening
  • Terms of payment
  • Timber product, species, and volume summary
  • Location map
  • Bid form
  • Information about the deposit/performance bond
  • Statement of the seller's rights to reject bids
  • Notice of a "show-me" tour of the sale area

The potential buyer will probably insist on examining the timber before making an offer. A tour, or "show-me" meeting, on the timber site allows interested buyers to check the volume and quality of the timber and estimate their logging costs. They should also be allowed to inspect and keep a copy of the contract or agreement you will attach to the sale.

Understand Your Contract

After all bids are received, you and your forester partner should notify the highest acceptable bidder and arrange to execute a written timber contract. Any deposit or performance bond agreed upon should be collected. Copies of the contract should be prepared for buyer and seller.

Regardless of the size of the timber sale, a written contract prevents misunderstanding and protects the buyer and seller. The contract should contain, at a minimum:

  • A description of the timber sale
  • The selling price
  • Terms of payment
  • Which timber will and won't be cut
  • Time allowed to cut and remove timber
  • A requirement for adherence to all forestry best management practices

Special provisions might include cutting extensions; the location of log landings, roads, and skid trails; conditions under which logging won't be permitted; protection of residual timber and other property; a procedure for settling disputes; responsibility for wildfire suppression; disposal of litter; subcontracting parts of the work; erosion and water quality control measures; and contractor liability exclusions.

An easy way for a do-it-yourselfer to get into trouble is selling timber using a "lump sum" value with only a handshake and without a tree inventory. Don't sell lump sum without a timber inventory, a contract, and a down payment.

Another way to get into big trouble is selling your timber on a "pay-as-cut" basis while letting the buyer grade and measure logs without you or a representative inspecting the work. Pay-as-cut allows the buyer to pay you by the log load, so you or your forester partner will need to verify the amount of timber in each load.

To make sure terms of the timber sale contract are being met, either you or your agent should inspect the operation several times during the harvest and upon completion.

Time Your Sale Wisely

Timing is important in getting the best price for wood. The best time to sell, obviously, is when demand for timber is up and prices are at a peak. This is easier said than done, but you should be aware of current stumpage prices and market conditions in your area. Your forester partner can help you time your sale correctly.

With the exception of a specific disaster (from pests, weather, or fire), you shouldn't be rushed into a sale. Trees, unlike other farm products, can be stored on the stump during poor markets. One constant confirmed by history is that timber values eventually go up.

Protect Your Land After Harvest

Steps should be taken immediately after harvest to protect the land from erosion and to ensure the productivity of this future forest. Roads, skid trails, and logging decks should be secured and reshaped if necessary. Bare areas should be seeded with grass to prevent erosion and provide food for wildlife.