View Full Version : Charging for landscape estimate

04-01-2006, 01:40 PM
I think I am going to start charging $15.00 for new landscape estimates for residential customers. I have ran into quite a few dreamers who want the work done and just dont have the money or they just want an estimate and ideas for there personal use, for them to do the work themselves. I have a guy today at 3:00 I am giving an estimate and I can usually tell when they JUST need to see what you would charge. What do you guys think? and Im pretty some of you charge for estimates

04-01-2006, 01:53 PM
Sorry my estimates are free..it's all a part of doing business.I do charge for my landscape plans though..is that what you mean?

04-01-2006, 01:53 PM
yes thats what I mean

04-01-2006, 01:54 PM
I think I am going to start charging $15.00 for new landscape estimates for residential customers. I have ran into quite a few dreamers who want the work done and just dont have the money or they just want an estimate and ideas for there personal use, for them to do the work themselves. I have a guy today at 3:00 I am giving an estimate and I can usually tell when they JUST need to see what you would charge. What do you guys think? and Im pretty some of you charge for estimates
This has been talked about before and will be again, especially when gas prices hit 3 bucks a gallon again.

It's really not a bad idea but it probably won't fly. Another thing that we've conditioned customers to expect for free.

My mom's fridge is on the fritz. Calls Whirlpool. Whirlpool dispatches to a local company. They send someone out for a $55 estimate/diagnostic fee. If she wants it fixed, that will cost more. The tech arrived 2 hours later than the 8:00 to 12:00 window they gave her. The diagnosis took 5 minutes. "That'll be $55. We'll be back next Wednesday to replace the thermostat and that will be an addition $230."

So, the fridge guy gets $55 for a simple diagnosis but my propective client wants me to drive 30 minutes across town, burn $5.00 in gas and tell them why their grass looks like crap. I've said it before, estimates are never free, people just aren't asked to pay for them.

04-01-2006, 01:55 PM
Everybody offers FREE estimates only an original thinker would think about charging for them. :)

04-01-2006, 01:58 PM
Well Scottscape you don't give them your plan at all tell they sign on the dotted.You can show it to them,like wave it in the air in front of them and point at it but don't leave it with them.A good landscape plan can run up to $150.00.

Kate Butler
04-01-2006, 04:10 PM
I charge $50.00 to come out and make an estimate. Some take 10 minutes, some take 2 hours: same fee, refundable if they choose us to do the work.

Works really well. I live where you often have to travel to get to a clients' place. Some are an hour away, many are a half hour away. some are close. It's the way the landscaping business is (how it differs from mowing).

04-01-2006, 04:20 PM
I have a bunch [10-15] of pre made up plans. [Most houses in the new developments are just cookie cutter homes.] I get a budget from them, show them some really nice plans and tell them we can change a few things to fit there budgets. Customers ofter can not visualize what the finish product will look like and they love to see the plan. If they sign up I'll redo a plan with any changes that they needed and the plans are theres at that point, they payed for them.

04-01-2006, 08:15 PM

O.K., so you burn up a tank of fuel and spend (X) hours walking 5 yards over the course of a week giving "Free" estimates. How much have you have you spent? You're out (X) dollars in fuel, (X) dollars in wear and tear on your truck, (X) dollars worth of your hourly labor wage, and what ever dollar amount your professional experience is worth. This all on a "chance" you'll get the work.

That's not a money making proposition any way you look at it.

Any time I pull into a driveway it costs $55.00 for a service call. That buys the potential customer a walk around the yard and listening to what they have in mind, offering a few suggestions, and pointing out any problems I see in the landscape. ( pruning needed, bugs, fungi problems, weed problems, etc.)

If they want a design and landscape plan, I explain design time is $75.00 per hour with a $300.00 retainer paid up front and that 50% of the design costs will be credited against the final invoice. (does not include work done by subcontractors if they are required) Plans and estimate belong to the homeowner once the design costs are paid.

While this method may not work for you, you've got to think of something to pay for your time. How much would you have made had you spent those hours on a landscape job? There's truly no such thing as a "free" lunch......

La. Landscape Contractor #2576

04-01-2006, 08:58 PM
i was talking to a consultant for hosptials today that makes from $150 to 700 per hour and he gives free estimates, what are you talking about? Sometimes I think people on this site are trying to reduce competition by throwing stupid advice out there. I mean that in the most respectful manner possible.:confused:

04-01-2006, 09:14 PM
There is Free estimates and there is consulting

The difference is that if someone knows that they want 5 bushes and just needs a cost--That is a free Estimate

If someone has no clue of what they want and you need to tell them, then that is consulting.

The Estimate is free
The consulting is charged for at a minimum 25.00

The consulting free is non-refundable since it is in fact a service.


04-01-2006, 10:38 PM
There are circumstances where a landscape company has more leads than time to chase them down and it makes perfect sense to cut down on the amount of job calls they go to by charging a fee. It also prequalifies their customers to those who are not afraid to spend money on something they believe is of value. The problem is that not everyone is in that circumstance.

It is one thing to have expenses and feel like you should recover them. It is another thing for a potential client to feel the need to pay you. If you can get that prospect to feel that need, you are all set.

High profile design/build contractors and high profile nurseries do this successfully because they are getting 20 calls a day and can not possibly see them all. By charging a fee, they reduce the on-site meetings to only those who are willing to spend. It is much less to do with covering costs than it is to prequalify their clients.

Six years ago I worked for such a company that was charging $45 to have someone go out and try to sell design work and/or landscaping. It really narrowed the clients down from tire kickers to viable prospects.

In more recent years I work for a much better and more high end landscape design/build company. There is no "consultant" fee. But, they don't advertise all over and get mostly word of mouth referals. Sometimes we get someone that saw a truck or an article in a magazine and are not in the right demographic, but not often. When that happens, we treat them like anyone else and send them a proposal to do a plan for $x. That separates the men from the boys and only wastes about an hour going to meet them and writing up a quick proposal. This is also not a typical situation because it is not highly marketed and the niche is more involved jobs which also means it does not take many jobs to fill in a years worth of work (fewer jobs, but in the 6 figure and up range).

The middle ground is very competitive. You have lots of competition and you need to do a lot more jobs because they are smaller. You have to market to the masses and because of that you have to respond to the masses. It is like fishing with a big net. The trick is to be efficient at getting through your meetings. That means to know when to cut and run and when to put a little more effort in.

When you have someone who seems like they are for real, you have to make them latch on to you. Once they do that, everyone else is old news. Drawing a sketch plan, if you are a reasonably good designer, is the fastest way to make that happen. You don't even have to be good at drawing. You just have to know some basic techniques.

If you make a plan for one small portion of their job and throw on some colored pencil or marker and show it before you leave (with it), you'll make an impression. If you are just a lawn mowing guy that wants to throw in plants for the big bucks, it won't help you.

The one thing that I have learned about customers after working about every angle of this industry is that it is only about the money when there is not enough value coming with the price tag. You can't charge big bucks just because other people do and you don't need to charge less because other people will. All that matters is that you understand the value of what you are selling and match it to those who value it equally enough to pay for it and ignore everything else.

Now, do you understand the value of what you can produce? That is the hard part. The other hard part is learning to ignore those situations and people that do not fit into your business plan.

04-01-2006, 11:42 PM
So what do you do for the small jobs that don't require a plan but still need more thought concerning plant choices than the time spent on the site? To me this should be paid time. Would it be fair to charge a consultation fee without providing actual plant choices at the time of consultation?

Coffee, I tried the non-refundable consultation fee and didn't get past the phone call. She asked if I credited it to the job. I said no an maybe went into why. I decided maybe not crediting it may be a bad idea. For designs I would not credit. I like your overall theory though, I to believe that our knowledge and time to chose plants is a service. Otherwise it is a price for what? You have nothing to price without the plant choices, as far as the plants go.

04-02-2006, 01:00 AM
I think I am going to start charging $15.00 for new landscape estimates for residential customers

I think the objective is small scale design for new residential customers. And anyone one of them can spend $30 and by the software needed to design a plan for a residential home. What your selling is your knowledge of what grows good in the area whats available in the area and how to group certain planting to achieve the best look for there property and give them some color variation yr rd.

It only takes a few min. as agla said to draw something out that will leave an impression with the customer. If they like it you can do a full scale design for $300-$500 that they can purchase and shop around or they can have the design if they sign your contract, the cost should be built into the bid.

If you don't get there attention while your face to face theres a better than 50% chance that you will never hear from them again.

To try and charge a residential customer for a plan for a new install would never work in my area when there are 50 other companies that offer them free. Estimates are only free to potential customers, otherwise there a part of doing business and need to be figured into your costs.

04-02-2006, 04:47 AM
i give free estimates. all they got to do is bring a blueprint by the office that was drawn by an architech.

04-02-2006, 07:08 AM
The magic is in screening the phone calls

I always ask what type of landscaping are they looking for

I do not cut grass or rake leaves,I do not do maintenance contracts

I only do design, installations,drainage,mulching,and tree pruning and removal.


04-02-2006, 11:31 AM
You have to have knowledge that is of value in order to get paid for that knowledge. Basic horticulture knowledge is all over the place and is of little value because of that. That knowledge includes a lot of people with horticulture degrees and about 5 zillion Master Gardeners. If you are a self taught landscaper who has not been around for long (I'm not saying you are), does Suzy Homeowner get any thing of value by paying you for your limited knowledge? Well, maybe. But, if other more established or better educated people will come out without a fee, the answer is no.

Guys are out paying thousands of dollars for doorhangers or mass mailings to try to get work from the general population. When you get a call, you have someone who is at least interested enough to want someone to give a price to do work. That is a pin point targeted prospect which you have the opportunity to make a sale to. She can and maybe has called others to land this job as well. If you know your stuff, if you can show that, and if the person is not a complete crack pot, it is up to you to make that sale. This is an investment of your time that is essentially a marketing expense. An hour is all you need, if that.

You have to have a system to get in and get out. You have to quickly identify whether it is worth your time or not. If it is not, make it really short and get out. If it is a good prospect, find what you can do to make an impression without committing a lot of time at no charge. An hour is not a lot of time, if it gets you a job.

If the job is big and too much to write up a quick contract when you get back to the office (or in the truck), then take a small portion of it and sketch out a quick plan that they can see, that makes a big impression, and then ask if they want to spend a reasonable fee for a complete plan that you can price out.

If it is fairly simple job, you can nail it by doing a quick complete plan that you can show them, but take it with you to use to write up a proposal. Don't fool yourself into believing that you can whip off a plan if fifteen minutes that is some kind of brilliant idea that the world has never seen before. It is a basic planting plan that is worth doing to land the job and should not be left for others to bid on, but not worth anymore than the next landscaper who comes by (myself included) can whip off in fifteen minutes. The investment is little and the payoff is great. If the payoff of getting the job is not good enough, you should have cut and run in the first 5 minutes.

Remember that the only people who are your competitors are those who can take work from you that you are likely to get. If they always get the job, then you are not competition to them. If you always get the job, thenthey are not competitive with you.

04-02-2006, 12:51 PM
You have to have knowledge that is of value in order to get paid for that knowledge. Basic horticulture knowledge is all over the place and is of little value because of that. That knowledge includes a lot of people with horticulture degrees and about 5 zillion Master Gardeners. If you are a self taught landscaper who has not been around for long (I'm not saying you are), does Suzy Homeowner get any thing of value by paying you for your limited knowledge? Well, maybe. But, if other more established or better educated people will come out without a fee, the answer is no.
I agree with the bulk of what you have to say but I need to interject something. In my landscape maintenance travels, I've seen some great, some not so great, landscapes designed and installed. They're all very pretty and everything but when it comes to practicality, functionality and maintainability, they fail miserably. We all know that just because something works on paper doesn't mean it's going to work in reality. Many, if not most, landscape plans end up looking at least slightly different once installed.

I don't claim to be a landscape designer and there's people out there that have far more talent in this area than I do. We all have access to the same materials and we all know what grows best and where. Where I see designers fail miserably is that most have never spent a day in the field maintaining this stuff. Sure, they know the growth habits, color schemes, textures, how one plant plays off the other, etc. but often times clients have no idea what to expect 5 years down the road. I can't tell you how many times I've been handed a landscape plan that someone paid $150 to have drawn up and they say "here, make this happen." I just look at it and wonder what the designer was thinking. Maybe because we are looking at it through a different set of eyes but often times the plant placements are all screwed up, no thought has been given to the potential size of a plant (a grouping of 3 deodar cedars within 6' of eachother looks great when the trees are 8' tall, not so great when they're 40' tall) or the plan is filled with common plants that everyone already has and just formed into a different fashion - let's see how many purple rhoddies we can stuff into that corner and fill the rest with viburnums, carpet roses, nandina and maybe a few grasses for movement. Or, a landscape is designed and installed by someone else and the client ends up calling me after living with it for five years because it's driving them crazy and they want me to rip it out, re-arrange it and add to it.

It just doesn't make any sense to me because people pay money for these plans and feel like the designer is some kind a landscape guru. I point out the pitfalls and they look at me like I'm from a different planet. What could I possibly know? I've only been babysitting plants for the last 10 years. As I said, I'm no designer but maybe, just maybe, I bring something to the table that the designer doesn't.

04-02-2006, 01:32 PM
I have thought about charging something insignificant such as $5-$10 for an estimate. I haven't figured out how I plan on approaching it. I already charge $100 to schedule a job, just to hold a place in our schedule. This is a non-refundable deposit. So if they get antsy waiting 2-3 weeks for us to perform the work and call someone else, at least my time wasn't completely wasted. This is explained after we agree on a price to complete the work.

but the $5-10 fee is blown off how serious are they, this seems a good way to seperate the people who call 10 people. I plan on implementing a pilot program dealing with this, it should be interesting.

Travel'n Trees
04-02-2006, 11:03 PM
Quality makes a difference, If you are good enough they will pay. My software cost $$$$. I'm worth more than free!! I might discount it off the price of my job. I am getting ready to charge. They see our work in different books and magazines. You pay for what you get. You buy a FORD and save a buck and you pay 20x as much for it as you use it. You buy a GM and pay more and save more as you use it!

04-03-2006, 08:12 PM

I'm not sure what you are getting at. If you have been growing and maintaining plants for ten years, you most likely can figure out what will go into an area and then can use a ruler, graph paper and a circle template to map it out. What do you usually do? Just say the landscape will cost and then go shopping at the nursery and see what fits when you get to the site?

You don't have to go to school to be a designer. In fact most landscape contractors are designers who learned just as you have explained. They do not somehow lose all of their knowledge and experience when they start putting it on paper, or if they take drafting classes.

There are a lot of inexperienced want-to-be designers out there that don't know what they are doing. That is very true. But any of you who believe you know what to plant, how far apart to plant them, and everything else should then be able to scratch it out on a piece of paper. It is not to tell you what to plant, it is a document that is part of your contract that clearly shows what you are (and are not) going to do for the money. It keeps you from getting screwed and makes your customer more comfortable in committing money because he knows what he is going to get. If they complain that the plants aren't big enough or are not enough, you can upsell them, but they can't get out of paying you because it is in the plan.

A plan does not have to be a work of art. It does have to have the necessary information in it that shows what plants, how big, and where they go. It is the same for hardscapes. You can get really detailed if necessary, but don't need to when not necessary.

By the way, a lot of designers have spent a lot longer than 10 years as maintenance workers, contractors, estimators, ..... Not all are just school boys or old granolas.

04-04-2006, 12:01 AM
We charge $50 for a 1 hr consultation estimate fee. It is refundable if they hire us to do the work. Our past clients do not pay the fee since they have already demonstrated they are serious about hiring us. Roughly about 1/2 of people who call for an estimate hang up when I say there is an estimate fee. It's safe to say almost every one of them would never hire us if I gave them a written estimate. When a potential customer is on the phone I try to give them ballpark price ranges when possible since many of them have no idea what professional landscaping costs.

Our landscape design fee can also be credited to the final invoice. This is at the discretion of the salesperson. We usually give them a credit only if they ask for it since designs are usually a money loser for us.

If you are a small company and you're not spending all of your time doing estimates I would not charge a fee. As you build up a reputation and grow the business charging an estimate fee becomes a good idea.

04-04-2006, 01:23 AM
I should tell you my story about this lady. I went to her house two Saturdays ago. She wasn't there. She said she had some kind of emergency and I hadn't called so she thought I forgot, sue me it had only been maybe 3 days since I talked to her. So I went back again last Saturday came up with a simple plan for her, a very small area. I call her today with a price, telling her how expensive the topiaries would be and so on. She proceeds to tell me that she found out she can get the plants cheaper from someone else, apparently he does not install them. I asked her about the lava rock, I was going to add some more. She said her husband can get that and put it down too I think. She asked me how to spell topiaries, I guess to tell her discount plant person. So basically she ended up giving me the lava rock part and she wanted a cost just to plant it and do the lava rock. I said it may not be worth it to me (hard to believe I felt this way at that point, I know). I looked at the numbers slightly and called her back and told her it wasn't worth it. Although I could have made some money, there were probably just more issues down the road. Anyway that was my worst experience so far with that type of customer. I can safely say that that was a complete waste of over three hours of my life, besides the fact that I learned there isn't such a thing as a small green Liriope and topiaries are more than I thought they would be wholesale.

6'7 330
04-04-2006, 03:05 PM
For installation consultations we charge an hourly fee, refundable if we do the project.We do not have enough time to meet with prospective clients as it is.Our time is also money,and we ain't gonna waste 1 sec of it,on the shop around clientele.

Helpless in Lombard
04-04-2006, 06:50 PM
I do free estimates but it hurts every time I do it. I sometimes do free designs too(If I am not too busy). This winter, I had a lady that wanted to change her mind every few days and not pay for the changes. I told her that when I got a 50% downpayment I would complete the design. Since I had her hooked, She sent the money. You have to find out if the people are serious before you waste your time.

Most people are throwing money at me because they want to get on my schedule. I just had someone send me a $500 check and I have never met her in person. I jut sent her a quick design via email. I had a subdivision board member tell me he would not pay 50% up front. When I told him that I had just collected 4 checks in my car of people who were serious about getting on my schedule, he changed his tune and gave me a down payment. (25% not 50%) Sometimes you have to play hard ball to get the check. But that may not be the customer you want in the long term. I dont cash the check until I am ready to do the work. That way I can back out if something happens.

I charge $500 for 1/2 a yard. Most people say its too much and hang up. Even when I tell them its part refundable. I dont know if someone is charging less or they just give up. I think $500 is too little, but have had a lot of resistance from the people.