Necessity of a landscape plan for a bid?

Lori BMay 5, 2010

I've perused some old questions on landscape designers and the costs involved. I saw some hostility in those posts, so please forgive the question if it's offensive to LDs.

We have .25 of an acre with house that is unlandscaped. I have paid a LD to come out and give verbal thoughts and I've poured over books for plants in our region. I have a good idea of what I want now. I took our site plan/survey and scanned it on the computer. I split it into the front yard and back yard so it was large enough to read. Then, I used color-coded shapes indicating the approximate spacing of the plants that I want. There's an identifier for each plant. There is a legend with plant names. It's a loosely scaled, bird's eye (flat) view only.

I need estimates for irrigation, fencing, and landscaping (including sod & plantings). I'm having a difficult time finding landscapers to quote the jobs. I need some reference point on what to expect for the money. Each landscaper wants me to pay them anywhere from $300 - $800 for a Landscape Plan in order to give me a bid.

I have some baggage from a previous bad experience when we paid for a landscape plan for two beds. This time around, I wanted to select the landscaper first before paying for a plan. Since budget is a factor, I think I need a bid to finalize my decision. This is the reason that I spent multiple hours putting my thoughts on paper so that I could solicit 3 bids from landscapers based on my drawings alone.

My question -- is it unreasonable to expect a landscaper to provide a sample bid by plants, by sample measurements?

If I knew where to get a crew to dig the holes, help with the bed prep, lay the sod, etc, I wouldn't mind buying the plants and directing them. Then, I'd have to find an irrigation and fencing company. I want a landscaper whose going to adequately prep the beds, show up when promised, and perform the work neatly. I don't need a yard that will win a local prize.

I realize that I could pay for a landscape plan then shop it to the landscapers, but I'm skeptical of that route.

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It sounds like you have a plan. I don't see why a landscape contractor would not give you a price based on that plan. A plan does not have to be exactly to scale as long as it is a reasonable representation of the site and reasonable distribution of plant material on it. Such things as walkways or patios can be measured on site, if the plan is not to scale.

Some landscape contractors will not take on any job in order to maintain a certain brand identity. That is most likely a small percentage of them. I think that you should pursue more landscape contractors to get prices. You will find someone who will want the job. If the plan is flawed, you should still be able to find someone who will value the job enough to point out a few things that they might want to correct and will do so in order to get the job.

You'll find that there are all kinds of people in this business as in society in general. Some are far more generous than others, some are busier than others, .... if you continue to look, you'll find someone who will value this job.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 7:18AM
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Can you clarify what you mean by "sample bid" and "sample measurements"? They're either giving a bid, or they're not. If you're asking for sample bids before they can approach the real bids- I'd walk too, or expect payment.

Bottom line is this: if I meet with a homeowner and they produce a plan, I'm immediately skeptical. I don't always agree with the decisions made by other designers, or landscapers, or homeowners. If it's a good, solid document, I might be inclined to provide a proposal. But if I feel I need to "fix" a bunch of mistakes and redo part of the plan, or take a bunch of measurements because the plan's not to scale... I should get paid for that, because I've moved from "order taker" back to designer.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but... perhaps you're coming across as cheap? I mean, someone tells me they only paid a designer for a verbal consult, they then did their own plan, and they're shopping it for multiple bids... I have to admit, this time of year when I'm averaging 6-10 new sales calls a week, I'd be inclined to pass in favor of someone who I felt placed more value on my skills.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 7:23AM
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I think you have two options here:

1) Produce a final plan with specifications for materials, bed prep and plant lists, and then send it out to bid as-is. That's not a sample, it's a final bid and deviations from it will require a change order, and you take responsibility for the finished product (good or bad.) If you do this, you should be prepared to hire one of the bidders unless the results are way out of whack. You're looking for a contractor here, not a designer. If a firm thinks they are too good to install a project they didn't design, they're not a good fit for your situation anyway -- they are in a different business.

2) Hire a designer, and pay for their design. Consider the work you've done as a suggestion for what your have in mind, but not a finished product. In this case, you'd need to decide on a designer first, and it would be appropriate to ask for references and go look at projects they've done in the past, and then maybe pay for one or more on-site consultations to ensure a good fit.

Given the cost of landscaping, $300-800 for a finished design doesn't seem excessive to me.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 8:53AM
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Aside from the fact that we cannot 'see' your roughed out plan to determine how detailed it is to develop a bid from, I'm surprised you are having such trouble locating someone to provide an estimate and do the work. While the PNW was not hit as hard in the current economic downturn as many other areas of the country, landscaping is still considered somewhat of a luxury item and there are countless landscape companies here eager to find work, regardless of how small the job.

I think laag's response is pretty much online - keep hunting. A 'perfect' plan is not a requirement for an experienced contractor to provide a reasonable bid on job - lord knows I see enough rough plans on a day to day basis to confirm this......many of them originating from the contractors themselves. It's a big market out there with many participants. And many of them very eager to find a live client :-)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 11:32AM
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It sounds like you want the landscape contractor to act like a GC, but use your sketches instead of making their own ... and it's not unreasonable for them to not trust you.

If you know where the sprinkler systems should go, skip the landscape designers and go directly to the installers for bids. Same with the fencing. They will do their own measuring and not charge you.

LISTEN to them, because they can save you money (mine recommended making the lawn area so 12 or 15-foot heads would just work, which saves a couple hundred). But if you have reasons, as I did, for wanting two controllers and lots of drip zones, they should shut up and plan it out.

For getting beds prepped and things buried, start calling lawn maintenance and yardwork businesses. Again, you will have to act like the general contractor and supervise.

What's your time worth? What's your skill level?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 11:34AM
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Lori B

I think alabamanicole's Option #1 is just what I'm looking for. It's not that I'm opposed to EVER paying a design fee. But I think I should have an idea of what things cost to achieve what I'm looking to do. Once we select the landscaper (based on references, cost estimates, working relationship, a number of factors), *if* we need to go back and pay some for a design based on their experience, we will be open to that later.

Per my GC created allowance, Fencing, Irrigation, and Landscaping should total around $20k. We understand it could fluctuate on our desires so there is a little wiggle room.

We spoke to 5 different home contractors before selecting our GC. None of those contractors charged any consultation fees -- where we talked about their construction practices, time frame, references, and yes...some indication of price (construction costs per square foot). Several of the contractors showed us their properties (inside and outside) and told us the price sf to construct them. This is where we were able to get a feel of what to expect for the money. The GC that we ultimately chose drew us a front facing, street view sketch based off our conversation and photos shared. When he provided that sketch (without any charge), that is what convinced us we should choose him. Then, we hired him to "design" our house and we signed a Design Contract. I hope to find a landscaper that wants to work in a similiar fashion.

I had one landscaper compare himself to a doctor -- reminding me that I would never choose a doctor based on price. He said landscapers were no different. Seems like a stretch to me. It's all a matter of perspective and what you want out of your landscape. Obviously, it wasn't worth my time to even meet him at the house.

I realize people don't want to work without being paid, but sometimes a little leg work is what it takes to win business. Or at least be able to give the customer an indication for costs and services received.

Thanks, laag and everyone for the encouragement and food for thought.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 11:43AM
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I do understand your reluctantance. I have also had bad experiences with landscapers and sincerely doubt I will ever hire one again.

But any competant and honest designer should be able to work within a reasonable budget. The hard part is "competant and honest."

Local practices vary -- and if you find someone willing to work way outside the local norm, you may want to ask yourself why.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 1:16PM
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A detailed SOW can be bid for a fixed price, but if your contractors are used to doing design-build SOWs, then they are not used to operating in a budget constraint. Being like a doctor has nothing to do with it. Don't forget that Drs are held to fixed costs by insurance companies too!

If they are not comfortable with the contracting arrangement then neither should you be if you work with them, because then your budget may be at risk for change task orders or job-walk-offs.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 8:24PM
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