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Summit L & D
10-13-2009, 09:47 PM
We have a very well established reputation for doing high end design and construction work, and seemed to have established a pretty good approval rate for our design and consulting fees. But a recent project has me questioning how we approach the issue of compensation.

We provide a free initial consultation (1 hour) with the client to get a feel for where they want us to go with the project, toss around a couple ideas, feel them out for commitment to our company...the usual. After that all our design and consulting time is billed at the agreed upon rate. I always stress to the client that I am creating a turnkey package that they can shop to other contractors, if they so choose. I do not provide anymore than a rough ballpark figure as to what I anticipate the total project to cost.

I always leave the actual project proposal outside the realm of the design and consulting phase. The project proposal is free, but the design and consulting is not. We bill time for measuring and shooting elevations, running down samples for the customer, basically all the leg work the customer needs to take the plan to another contractor and receive a comparable bid.

My question is this, should I be charging for all that leg work given the fact we are guaranteed nothing more than the design and consulting? The reasoning I am using is that the customer is hiring us to design their landscape down to the smallest detail and those details are part of the design time. Thoughts?

cleancutccl
10-13-2009, 09:51 PM
We give the customer a ballpark price, then if they are still interested we give them a flat rate fee for the design. That includes measuring, samples, etc. The key is to really know what you're getting with a customer, picky or easy going.

Summit L & D
10-13-2009, 10:18 PM
I gave them a price range that our design normally fall into with one or two revisions. This client had 7 revisions to the plan (4 of them were almost start from scratch). I gave them a bill for the design that was a few hundred more than my low number on the range I had provided. The situation started looking a little sketchy so I told them that I needed full payment for the design, before I would put together a formal project proposal. They then canceled the project completely, told me there was no way that I had that much time into the design...and then told me they were cutting me a check for the low number I had given them. Oh I forgot to mention that this guy is in the autocad profession. So apparently his word is the final authority on timing for designs....

DVS Hardscaper
10-13-2009, 10:31 PM
in all reality, you should be compensated for every minute you spend on creating a design for a prospective customer.

It takes valuable time to go out and measure, shoot grades, shoot photos, etc. And it doesn't stop there. As you know, you then need to come back to the office and load all that information into the computer so you can produce a professional design.

In all reality if you go out and get measurements, shoot elevations, come back and load into the computer, or recreate the property by hand - with drive time, you could easily have 4-6 hrs invested in the preliminary footwork. You gotta be compensated for that.

However, not all home owners are able to see it that way. A few weeks ago I had a high end client whom we're doing hardscape work for tell me "it's just a landscape, we're NOT going to pay $2,000 for a design, we can call a landscaper and they'll do it for $200 and will deduct the fee if we have them do the work".

This is one facit I HATE about this industry. People will spend an hour going over the smallest, most minor detail, yet they won't pay for a design that is intended to ensure all the details have been addressed.

We have a speciality service we offer, and I'm really trying to promote it more and grow this service. The beauty of this service is: NO DESIGNING IS REQUIRED!! A client can e-mail me photos and I can provide them an accurate estimate in 20 minutes from my dining room table!

Back to designs - yes, as long as people recognize the value and are willing to pay - you charge for the design and factor in time for measuring, etc. Now if only we could get the entire industry to stop doing this for free.........


Also, we have a seperate agreement that the client signs for design work. The agreement states that the design cost includes one set of revisions and any additional revisions will be billed an hourly charge.



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Summit L & D
10-13-2009, 10:47 PM
I drew up a design contract today. You live, you learn.

tthomass
10-13-2009, 11:21 PM
I didn't read all of the replies but I did see mention in your last reply of a design contract. Just as a designer or architect would do. A contract for the design and its fees. Prior what they are given is explained and costs associated........be it conceptual or construction documents etc.

tthomass
10-13-2009, 11:24 PM
.......if a project requires CAD etc......I bring in a designer/architect I work with. Basically starts at $500 for something basic. Can hit $3-5k for everything but this is also for close to a six figure project +.

mdlwn1
10-14-2009, 10:16 AM
Its too bad all homeowners dont start with a paid for design/plan. Im a maint guy, so I see all the money they burn on having the local schmuck give them a horrible 5-6 year landscape. They almost beg you to screw them over. Im ranting srry

Summit L & D
10-14-2009, 10:55 AM
Its too bad all homeowners dont start with a paid for design/plan. Im a maint guy, so I see all the money they burn on having the local schmuck give them a horrible 5-6 year landscape. They almost beg you to screw them over. Im ranting srry

You bring up a good point. Something I've been noticing lately is that people seem to want to change up a planting scheme after about 5-6 years. Now given, these aren't landscapes that have any real foundation elements, except for a couple major trees. Improperly located plants are the dead giveaway that a either the homeowner put in something that looked good at Home Depot, or their "landscaper" did the same thing.

shovelracer
10-14-2009, 06:59 PM
As a full service company I can explain this one for you. People want instant gratification, and they don't want to do anything for it. Most don't have the ability to vision what will be in a few years. They can only see what is right in front of them right now. I'll use a pfitzer juniper for example. People love the look of the feathery evergreen plant in it's potted form. Well 5 years from now that same plant will be 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. This is not what they want. They want the plant as they see today. In addition they dont want to be bothered with pruning or really any sort of care. So they go with the now and worry about the rest later. I notice this the most when it comes to spacing. We can give a design for a planting bed and get the OK. We can physically show the client the species and size of the plants. We then install the design with proper spacing to make sure there are no problems later on and the client is not happy. They don't see the future they just see the 3-6' spaces in between today. So they either want more plants, or you go by a month later and they have added more of there own.

On the original topic though. You are entitled to be paid for all the time you spend on a design within reason. That means if you have to bring them a piece of bluestone so they can decide if they like bluestone than that is billable within reason. Now if you choose to get your stone from a supplier that is an hour away when they can see it locally, well that is where things get iffy. Do they want the stone that is an hour drive or are they OK with the stone around the corner. The rest sort of plays out with efficency. Are you shooting grades with a laser or are you using a string and a measuring tape. When you load your pictures is it streamlined or are they being billed for for you sorting out the pics from last weekends party. Are they billed for an hour because you are trying to cook dinner, when an other time it would take 10 minutes. When I go on the clock for anything hourly I am very careful what I am actually billing. In addition I now keep records of everything I'm doing on the clock, the start and finish times, etc. I used to just provide a total time or bill, but a few times it got questioned and getting paid became tough. Now I can provide a detailed breakdown if need be to justify my time although I really dont like to. This has really saved my rear a few times and gotten me paid with much less hassle. Whether it's design or labor getting paid hourly requires a level of trust that not everyone is capable of giving. Especially when there is someone else willing to give a fixed price for their time at a fraction of the cost.

kootoomootoo
10-14-2009, 10:34 PM
Lawnmowing guys consider the time they spend doing estimates for lawn work as a "cost of doing business" why is this any different.

If you are a "slow designer" should the customer be penalized?

Moneypit
10-14-2009, 10:44 PM
How can you compare the time it takes to estimate the cost of cutting grass to the time and effort it takes to design a five or six figure complete proporty?

They are not talking about designing a 200 sq ft walkway here.

DVS Hardscaper
10-14-2009, 11:30 PM
Many professions charge hourly. Attorneys. Accountants. Web Designers. Commercial Truck Mechanics. I could go on and on.

Estimating grass cutting??? I miss the days of doing lawn estimates. heck, in terms of residential - you can do them on the spot, in writing in 10 minutes.

Construction? You have to spend an hr consulting. Then you have to measure. Then re-create at the office. Then design away. Allow a day to come back and review with a fresh mind and make changes. It's alotta work.

A design derives from:

a) experience
b) creativity
c) formal education (architects)
d) passion

My experience and knowledge is valuable.


A lawn mowing estimate does not entail any of the aforementioned, therefore there is no value in the estimate.





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Summit L & D
10-15-2009, 12:46 AM
I consider myself a reasonably skilled designer. Am I the fastest, no, am I the slowest, absolutely not. But here's the thing, the client is hiring us on what they know our skill set is. They have seen the finished product, heard the good referrals and have chosen to work with us (or any company that is chosen for a project), at that point being super fast or slow with designing is totally irrelevant. The client knows that the contractor is skilled and trusts the outcome. Price is not the object, finished product is.

kootoomootoo
10-15-2009, 02:06 AM
Many professions charge hourly. Attorneys. Accountants. Web Designers. Commercial Truck Mechanics. I could go on and on.




Estimating grass cutting??? I miss the days of doing lawn estimates. heck, in terms of residential - you can do them on the spot, in writing in 10 minutes.

Construction? You have to spend an hr consulting. Then you have to measure. Then re-create at the office. Then design away. Allow a day to come back and review with a fresh mind and make changes. It's alotta work.

A design derives from:

a) experience
b) creativity
c) formal education (architects)
d) passion

My experience and knowledge is valuable.


A lawn mowing estimate does not entail any of the aforementioned, therefore there is no value in the estimate.





.

Thanks Captain.

You aint designing anything period unless you are getting paid..........hence my point some of you lawnsite millionaires are designing for free.........just like the mowing guys who do the same....

either you are giving them concepts with a ballpark price or you are getting down to details with all the features and getting paid.

If you are getting paid where is the problem.
"Price is not the object, finished product is." ..well apparently price is.
"They then canceled the project completely, told me there was no way that I had that much time into the design...and then told me they were cutting me a check for the low number I had given them. "


This aint my first rodeo

ps. many lawyers have the first visit free.think about the concept.

Summit L & D
10-15-2009, 08:28 AM
Thanks Captain.

You aint designing anything period unless you are getting paid..........hence my point some of you lawnsite millionaires are designing for free.........just like the mowing guys who do the same....

either you are giving them concepts with a ballpark price or you are getting down to details with all the features and getting paid.

If you are getting paid where is the problem.
"Price is not the object, finished product is." ..well apparently price is.
"They then canceled the project completely, told me there was no way that I had that much time into the design...and then told me they were cutting me a check for the low number I had given them. "


This aint my first rodeo

ps. many lawyers have the first visit free.think about the concept.

You have a point. However, this particular situation is a case of a client wanting everything for nothing. I'm sure you've run into this before. I have never had trouble with our design rates being questioned or people paying for the design, thus the reason for me not have a contract in place already. Going forward, you better believe there will be a signed contract and a down payment. I think I stated in an earlier post that we do provide a free initial consultation, just fyi.

DVS Hardscaper
10-15-2009, 11:07 AM
Actually, for most hardscape jobs under $20k, I do the design for free. Not necessarily by choice, either. It's because the other so called 'hardscape contractors' do not charge for their designs. With the soft economy I'm doing all kinds of stuff that I would normally never do to remain busy.

I'm a believer in charging a consultation fee. A small $30 to $50 fee for the initial consultation. The purpose of the fee isn't about money, it's to establish the seriousness of the perspective client. If they're serious about getting the work done, they'll have no issue with paying 30 bucks for me to drive out and talk to them, etc. However, due to the soft economy, I can't risk not making a sale, therefore I'm not charging the consultation fee as I have successfully done in the past.

What's funny is, if you go to Home Depot and want them to install new carpet in your home - they charge you a small fee to send someone out to confirm the room measurements. Yet, these paver cowboys will not blink an eye about riding around in their $42k pick up that gets 10 miles to the gallon - to do free estimates and designs!




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kootoomootoo
10-15-2009, 11:27 AM
. Yet, these paver cowboys will not blink an eye about riding around in their $42k pick up that gets 10 miles to the gallon - to do free estimates and designs!

,

But its shiny.

Dreams To Designs
10-16-2009, 10:39 AM
If you value your design work, so should your client and you should be paid appropriately. A designer should be justly compensated for their skills, knowledge and ability to relate that information to a client.

Many customers don't have a clue about design or even a basic understanding, but they all know what looks good to them. A quality landscape design should involve the soil, elevation and drainage of the property, the style of home, the sun exposure, the intended use of the space, the lifestyle of the intended users and a budget. Most of these items are never seen by the clients or understood, but are all vitally important to a good design and take time to gather and organize. Most homeowners don't comprehend a CAD or drawn design, but they must be made to realize that the drawing is a blueprint for a successful, sustainable installation. Photo imaging, will do more to help a client understand your intentions than a planned drawing, but these should only be used as presentation tools, and they should be paid for as well.

There will always be a client that will not value design work, and often they will attempt to steal it from you. Few will consider the price and value of design when they formulate their project budget, so sometimes, design becomes a budget issue. Often the landscaper installed project, without a design, looks great to many people as they don't understand the consequences or long term expense, so they see no need for drawings. And you will always find at least one client that thinks they are so important, to themselves, that they shouldn't have to pay for designs or changes as you should be honored to be working for them...

Your time, knowledge, skills, tools, education and future are valuable to you, you are in business to be paid for these assets, whether it is design, installation or maintenance.

Kirk


Kirk

shovelracer
10-16-2009, 10:51 AM
And you will always find at least one client that thinks they are so important, to themselves, that they shouldn't have to pay for designs or changes as you should be honored to be working for them...



That's funny because I run into these all the time. Like almost everyday, seriously. They take this attitude everywhere, because I get them on the execution end. Most recently was requested(ordered) to drive 4 hours to get 1 out of season plant that couldn't wait till the spring. Now I I didn't get worked up over the delivery cost, but man was that one expensive shrub. LOL

White Gardens
10-16-2009, 10:52 AM
I charge for the designing but not necessarily the leg work.

In order to help ensure that I've gotten the job I designed, I credit back the design fee at the end of completion of the job.

That way I can charge appropriately for my designs while the HO finds the value in paying for the design if they are going to get that money back at completion.

I've only had a couple of designs go over 4 figures. One project I'm working on now, and another that might not happen for a couple of years. But, that's a job that I can count on in the future.

I generally do photo rendering so the HO's can see what the landscape will look like after maturity. I can do them pretty quickly, so there really isn't much time involved with 90% of the designs I do. The rendering are only conceptual, so, I don't run around looking for samples and such. If they decide to do the project, then that's where the leg-work comes in. I don't want to put too much time in a design that I'm not going to get a return on.

Now, if they need an auto-cad for specific site measurements, etc... then the price goes up with the time invested in taking all the measurements of the property, etc.... I explain this to the customers, and only once has someone requested this as they wanted a "map" of the existing utilities, irrigation, and other aspects of the property.

ozarkearthworks
10-16-2009, 12:52 PM
Now, if they need an auto-cad for specific site measurements, etc... then the price goes up with the time invested in taking all the measurements of the property, etc.... I explain this to the customers, and only once has someone requested this as they wanted a "map" of the existing utilities, irrigation, and other aspects of the property.


Check with your local (county/city) GIS pages and you can usually get all measurements from an aerial. They are very accurate, plus you can take the client an aerial of their home, as well. They seem to eat that up! Plus, it cuts out a lot of the leg work for the designer...

alf500series
10-19-2009, 10:36 PM
I drew up a design contract today. You live, you learn.

was wondering if you made the contract from scratch or you had a template you used from somewhere else.

Summit L & D
10-19-2009, 11:02 PM
I made one from scratch. Just figure out what you want covered and write it out in detail. Be fair though, I believe that any contract should have elements that are beneficial to both parties.