What should I expect to pay for residential landscape design?

nbptmomto3(6)May 2, 2007

Please help me get started here. I'm looking for a comprehensive master plan for my 1/2 acre yard, inclusive of beds, foundation plantings, irrigation, lighting, walkway(s). I've read that an hourly rate for a design is absurd. I spoke with someone yesterday who charges $90/hr and estimated 14-15 hours for a project like I described. Does $1400 sound remotely reasonable? She works for a local/large landscape supply company and they give back 1/2 of her fee in a credit for use on materials.

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laag(z6CapeCod)

You can pay anywhere from $0 to the sky. Ninety dollars is a common rate for a landscape architect or a very well polished designer. $1,400 is a reasonable flat rate for such a person and the work you described.

The next questions are these. Is this designer actually a very well polished designer? Do YOU value or need such a person?

Is 15 hours enough to produce a plan that is worth that much money to you? Is she giving you a flat price based on 14-15 hours, or actually billing you by the hour? It is quite possible that she does exactly what I do which is to write up a contract at a flat price and keep you within the terms of that contract by making all additional work be at $90 an hour.

It takes a good couple of hours to measure up a site when you start with a surveyed plan. It takes a few hours to draw up a base plan of existing condition. It takes at least an hour of discussion and walking around your site with you to have a clue as to who you are and how you use or want to use the site. Then hopefully there will be lots of thought and consideration done as the plan is developed. Typically, there will be at least one review meeting as the plan is nearing completion in order to make revisions and then the revision. That is an aweful lot to pack in 15 hours. If you are actually being billed by the hour, I believe it would be a rather hurried plan. But, if it is a flat fee, it is more likely that a lot more time than 15 hours will be put into it and you will get good value.

Again, I would charge you about the same as a flat fee and I use $90 as my spill over rate as well. I've been doing this for 30 years, a bachelor of LA, and a licensed landscape architect. So, I don't think it is unreasonablle if you are getting what you need and have a very good designer.

There are several things that can come up in a landscape plan beyond the planting. The knowledge of those things and the experience of being able to recognise them and deal with them can be critically important. Understanding what needs to go on in the property and how much space those activities require are important. Your designer should be talking about such things with you right away, if she is more than a garden designer.

I believe that $1400 or $90 is way too high for just a person whose knowledge is limited to plants and and arranging them.

You have to understand that garden centers have hundreds of people looking for design advice every day. People know that they get good plant advice there and the logical progression is that these people can do anything related to plants. So, the public values them right away which makes it possible to charge a lot of money.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 7:37AM
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txjenny(z8 TX)

I both agree and disagree with laag. I"m not an LA, but I am a garden designer with a solid business. I don't charge by the hour; I use the flat-rate system. Agree: $90 an hour is probably too much to pay a garden designer ($50-60 is more typical in my area, and a larger landscape firm pays me about that to design on a contractual basis) who is more adept at plants and plant arrangement.

Disagree: Any designer worth their salt should be asking questions about what will go on in the property, how the landscape will be used, etc. I do that with every client. Also, I have charged, and been paid, over $2000 for a design for a very, very large property. Granted, I'm not designing structures like laag is, but the amount of time it takes to design a very large space is worth the extra $$. The homeowners loved the design, I oversaw the installation, and the project turned out fantastic.

I think, bottom line, you have to know with whom you're working, what their credentials are, and see evidence of their prior work, whether they're a landscape architect or a garden designer. Do your homework, check references, and you should be able to make a good decision about what you're getting for what you're paying.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 1:22PM
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nbptmomto3(6)

thank you so much everyone! I'm going to meet with her on Tuesday for an initial consultation at which point I will be asking many of those questions and looking at her portfolio. I'll let you know what happens!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 11:35AM
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spunky_MA_z6(Boston)

Hi, I'm not a professional, just wanted to relay my experience since I'm not far from you (are you in Newburyport? that's my guess from your name).

Is this designer from Northeast Nursery? Did you see a portfolio? Where was she educated?

Our landscape designer charged $75 an hour, and also estimated 15 hours for front, side, and back designs of a 6000 sq. ft. lot. As far as experience--She had a portfolio with about 2 years of projects in it, a degree from the Arnold Arboretum Landscape Design school, and had people I already knew on her client list.

I think she spent more than 15 hours on my job--I don't see how she couldn't have. It takes an hour just to drive to Charette, make copies of the plan then get them to you. She probably spent 5 hours at our home.

Still, we paid for 15 hours, as per the contract.

I did feel like she was ready to be "done with us" on the end of the project--which was plant selection, because we had gone beyond the allotted time and she had overbooked herself. We were invited to keep in touch and refer questions back to her later if we needed, and we could have offered to pay for more time, but I didn't feel the need to do that.

She did give us two layouts for both front and back (the side was perfect on the first try), and then took the parts we liked from each layout to make the final plan.
The most useful thing I got for my $ was a smart layout--the curves are right, the plan is balanced, there's a peaceful flow, and she solved some problems I couldn't figure out on my own. I didn't like every plant she picked for us, but that's easy enough to change out and doing so actually makes it feel more "mine".

There were things that made sense to her, like hiding the trash cans on the side of the house where no one ever goes, that seemed like a nightmare suggestion to me--who wants to trek all the way around the house in the snow to throw out a trash bag? Not me. I want to be able to run out quickly in slippers to take out the trash.

I think $90 an hour is very expensive for a designer from a landscape supply company, especially if you can get Laag for that. I would look around--you are sure to find someone with a lot of experience and a fabulous portfolio of built projects for $90 an hour.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2007 at 6:01PM
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