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Design Fees

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by Summit L & D, Oct 13, 2009.

  1. Summit L & D

    Summit L & D LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 269

    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?
  2. cleancutccl

    cleancutccl LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 698

    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.
  3. Summit L & D

    Summit L & D LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 269

    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....
  4. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,576

    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.

    Last edited: Oct 13, 2009
  5. Summit L & D

    Summit L & D LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 269

    I drew up a design contract today. You live, you learn.
  6. tthomass

    tthomass LawnSite Gold Member
    from N. VA
    Messages: 3,497

    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.
  7. tthomass

    tthomass LawnSite Gold Member
    from N. VA
    Messages: 3,497

    .......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 +.
  8. mdlwn1

    mdlwn1 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,443

    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
  9. Summit L & D

    Summit L & D LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 269

    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.
  10. shovelracer

    shovelracer LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,008

    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.

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