Is this a normal rate for landscapers?

pam29011June 10, 2011

We had a landscaper come out to give us a quote on making our front yard ready for grass seed (it has a lawn now but it's mostly crab grass and dandelions). It included loam on top of tilling the existing lawn under.

The loam price looks normal. But they estimated it would take 4 men 4 full days to do the work. The yard is roughly 125'W x 50'D (minus a double width driveway) and it's already graded well (slopes slightly away from the house).

They charge $35/man hour for labor (he hires high school kids so he can't start until late June). That came out to $4500 in labor costs. I really liked this guy, but I just think that sounds really high to till and spread loam 3" deep across the lawn.

We also have rental yard very close by and I can rent a mini skid steer with a loader bucket, leveler, and ground ripper for a week plus a monster rototiller for a day ... total price: $900. The skid steer is really small, it's a Dingo that you stand on the back of (instead of sitting inside the thing). I'm thinking that if I used the ground ripper to bust up the sod, then got the monster rototiller for a day to really till the ground, and used the skid steer to spread the loam I could possibly do it all in a week. And if I'm right, that would save me $3500 in labor costs. I have plenty of vacation time so I could take a week off work to do this.

Am I crazy? Is it really hard to do this (is it really a 4 day job for 4 men)?

Thanks in advance,


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I'd say to get another estimate or two. Maybe someone else is less, or maybe he's in the ballpark.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2011 at 7:07PM
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Get someone to strip off and remove the existing sod and then loam it. A good company can easily do that in one day with the right equipment. ... and men/women instead of children.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2011 at 10:06PM
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Hi Laag - I was thinking it was a 1 day job for someone who had equipment and knew what they were doing (or a week for someone who was renting equipment and didn't know what they were doing ... like me).

Marcinde - good suggestion to get another estimate. Last fall when we had a load of trees dropped I got a card from one of the guys - he runs a logging/excavating company - and he'd given me a verbal quote of $13k to do the backyard. That area doesn't need sod removed, but it is 2.5 times as big as the front yard and there are a ton of stumps to remove (from those trees he helped take down). Anyways, I think we've decided to do the front yard ourselves and we're hiring him to do the backyard work. My front yard may not wind up "golf course smooth" but since I don't golf ... I'd rather keep the money (so I can spend it on the big project in back).

    Bookmark   June 10, 2011 at 10:25PM
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Well, GREAT news! The guy I talked to last year came back by this morning and that $13k quote was for both front & back yard. We walked it again and he thought it might come in a little less than $13k, maybe down to $12k, it would depend on how much fill & loam he has to bring in.

I am SO happy about this. Now I can take a week of vacation to watch these guys work & answer questions about "where to put the bigger rocks" that need to be moved. That's a much better job than trying to learn how to use power equipment I've never used before. And ... I'd rather pay someone else to do the work as long as it doesn't bankrupt me (help the economy, blah blah blah).


    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 9:36AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Too bad you bought a wooded lot and are now spending tens of thousands of dollars scalping it, and altering the natural topography.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 5:49PM
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Hi BBoy,

I should probably give you the history of this lot ...

Yes, it was covered in a mixture of large trees and small undergrowth when we bought it. The backyard is only about 125' deep and you could only see into it about 30-40'.

We hired a tree cutter to come in and remove the diseased trees, those that leaned dangerously, and the small stuff. We are left with 6 massive trees that were carefully worked around (no trucks allowed within 15'-20' of their trunks. 5 of these trees are oaks, 1 is a maple. The smallest one has a circumference of 8' at about 4' above the ground. The largest is over 10' in circumference at that height, and flares out toward the base.

After the rest of the trees were removed, we could see some dips & depressions in the yard. These areas need to be filled in so the terrain is smooth slopes from one tree's root zone to the next. That will let us plant grass and mow the area, which will keep all the underbrush from growing back and reduce the competition for water & nutrients (helping the massive trees we kept).

I don't think this meets the definition of "scalping it and altering the natural topography" in the way you are describing. Other homes in our neighborhood have done what you describe and their backyards are a wasteland with no trees.

People don't always type out their entire history on a forum, and when you (or anyone) fills in gaps by guessing the worst about a person - then you leap to conclusions so you can insinuate they are wrong or stupid ... Well, you're wasting your effort and not contributing to the conversation. It takes longer to ask a question like, "How many trees did you remove?" or "Did you keep any trees?" - but it leads to more productive interactions.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 8:12AM
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I'd still get another quote. I don't know the extent of the job but grinding out stumps isn't an expensive job and shouldn't be the bulk of cost.

Does the quote include putting in a sprinkler system or is one already there? Keep in mind that tilling under what's there and then putting loam on top is going to make it necessary to raise the height of any existing sprinkler heads.

I would get a firm bid from the excavator vs his comment of "it would depend on how much fill & loam he has to bring in". That lower bid could easily end up over $13K.

You'll be glad you didn't tackle the job. Tilling and ripping out sod is not a job I'd take on again! Been there.........

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 2:38PM
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Quick update:

Mr. $13k came out & ground the stumps. 2 guys, 1 big (self driven) stump grinder, and 2 full days later .... stumps are done :) There were over 30 (I counted, just curious) and about 8 were big enough that me and the dog could stand on them at the same time. Now, my dog is only about 30 pounds, but still...

We aren't putting in a sprinkler system. It's probably crazy and we'll regret that the first 3 years when we have to water the lawn to keep it healthy. But ... we collect the rainwater off our roof & use that to water, so it's a pretty manual process of hooking up the pump & connecting the hose/sprinkler to it. I don't think our little pump could drive sprinklers, it's not a real well pump. We retrofitted a sump pump for the task (We had an extra, it works, so until we burn it out it's a good solution). Something tells me we'll wish for more, bigger rain collectors in about 3 weeks. We have city water, I just like to use rainwater as much as possible.

In another 10 days the crew is coming back with the dozer/bobcat (to move some big rocks) & he thinks it will be 3 days with the bigger crew to clean the site (leaves, sticks, general forest floor debris), get the loam delivered, spread & rake it out. He did tell me it won't be over $13k, but it might be less. So the $13k is a ceiling.

I'll be relieved to have this done :)

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 7:33AM
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