How should I go about hiring a landscape architect?

dah328November 26, 2012

I'm a believer in the idea that a skilled designer will come up with ideas that are far superior to those of an amateur, even one with good taste or an eye for good design. Given that, I'd like to enlist the services of a landscape architect or designer for my neglected backyard which is the focal point of my house's living space and is therefore having a negative effect on the feel of my living room.

Since I know essentially nothing about the discipline, I'm a little intimidated. Are landscape architects or designers typically paid for a design or as a perecentage of the cost of the whole job like a general contractor? I would like to pay for a design and do most of the landscaping work myself to keep labor costs down. My budget is fairly modest -- about $10k total (plants, materials, design, etc.) for a yard that is roughly 100'x30'. Is the scale of that project too small for such a designer? Are there any guides for evaluating the suitability of a designer for a particular project?


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Generally (especially in a case like yours where execution will be DIY) I think most designers charge a fee based on the hours they spend on your design. That's what I do. After the initial consultation, where I walk the site with the client and discuss the scope of work, I figure out how long the project will take me and provide a detailed, flat-fee design proposal that outlines what's included, what isn't, and how long it will take.

I think the size of your lot is perfectly reasonable for a designer or LA to design, assuming you want to do something interesting (which is a safe assumption, I think).

Thanks to the web you can look at work folks have done on their websites and via what they post to Houzz and similar sites. When it comes to evaluating their suitability for your project, the best way is to talk to them. If you like their overall vibe but all the projects in their portfolio are bigger than yours, remember that a portfolio is naturally going to feature the more elaborate projects. Don't be afraid to ask them to see examples of smaller projects, as they may well have an entire archive of such images.

Good luck! It sounds like you value the process and the professionals, which will make people excited to work with you.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Also, don't be discouraged if the first ones that you talk to are not a good fit. There are lots of people out there and many methods of doing business both in terms of product that they deliver and how you pay for it. You can find a good fit.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 7:41AM
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Dan, don't overlook finding out who did existing work that you admire. Drive by a landscape you think is nice looking? Inquire as to who did it. Property owners instead of being annoyed by your inquiry are likely to take the appreciation as a compliment. Many designers will prepare a design for homeowners who intend to build it themselves. $10K can can accomplish a lot when doing it yourself.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 10:15AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd be prepared to hear that your budget might not be high enough to do the whole yard at one time. I'd expect a design fee alone might use up to 20% of your total budget. If you are including irrigation and any hard scape materials you should probably budget another $1000 minimum for irrigation materials(labor to install would be more), and stone/lumber/etc could easily chew up another couple of thousands for materials. For that size of yard here in California, if the whole garden is to be designed, planted and irrigated, mulched, $10,000 isn't enough, even with the homeowner doing all the labor to install. If you also want landscape lighting designed and installed, that would be an additional expense. You do have an advantage living in Texas that most everything is lower cost there compared to California, but it still probably isn't enough unless the design is very simple and mostly just planting without irrigation or lighting or much hardscape. Good luck, it would be interesting to get your follow up on how your search and discussions with potential designers went, and what sort of budget numbers got discussed.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 1:54PM
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This is a great question that may have already been answered but there are others that may be seeking answers to this question. If this is the case, I recommend reading the attached article.

It will help you become familiar with the costs associated with hiring a landscape architect as well as detail what to expect from your contractor.

Here is a link that might be useful: 5 Things to Look for When Hiring a Landscape Architect

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 6:11PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I think it really depends where you live and the amount of competition in your area.

In Southern California, the market is large, and the competition is high there was a lot from which to choose. We got about 5 bids from contractors who all had different ideas, some in common, and some more creative.

We had good vibes with all except one. As soon as he saw the location of our house, he assumed we had endless money and even though we explained that we had already spent a fortune and were trying to keep prices low, he insisted that such a property deserved the work that only his company could do. SALES SPEAK big time! Our chosen landscape contractor starts tomorrow and the contractor doing the finish work will be here tomorrow also for a consultation so they are both on the same page.

Good luck to you. After a couple bids, you will get an idea of the costs.

I would add that it may cost more than you planned, but it will also probably take more time than you thought. Beware of "creeping elegance." It starts with, "What if we added this?" What if we did that..............

Prices climb easily!


    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 10:53AM
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