How much do you charge for Landscape Designs?

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by tyler_mott85, Dec 11, 2009.

  1. tyler_mott85

    tyler_mott85 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 582

    Hey all. I am in the middle of a 18 week course with Ashworth College for a Landscape Design Diploma.

    Several lessons back the author in my text was talking about pricing for landscape designs. I'm not sure how dated this text is so I thought I would get some feedback on what you guys charge if a customer wants a design but no install. Do you give them a credit if they want it installed by you?

    How much are you charging now? Did you charge a lot less when you were starting out?

    I'm very excited about this new career path in front of me and can't wait to start some drawing. I've picked up some basic essentials in the supplies department. Gotta start practicing my drawing skills now!

    Thanks for any information you're willing to share.
  2. Stillwater

    Stillwater LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,889

    For a formal design approved and certified 9% to 15% of total initial installation cost. Using the current labor standards and material cost for the geographical area in my state where the design is for. A piece of the action baby weather I install or not
  3. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    That is like asking how much do restaurants charge for dinner. You can get a burger from the dollar menu at some of the fast food places for - well, a dollar. Then you can find a burger on the menu in some high end restaurants for over $20. Then there are other things on different menus all together. Probably more important is that the person who frequents the dollar menu is highly unlikely to be found in a high end restaurant or vice-versa. It is no different in landscape design.

    The first thing that will limit how much you can charge is the level of service you are providing. You were probably told that it is common to get 10% of the price of the overall landscape as a designer. What you probably were not told is that includes contract administration which is being completely responsible for finding contractors, inspecting and approving their work, being fully responsible for the completion of the job and everything that comes up during and after it. Most landscape designers are not hired to do all that, nor are most capable of doing all of that.

    Most designers do only a layout plan and hand it off to the client to find their own contractors and manage the job themselves. That is a plan drawn to scale showing the location of plants, hardscapes, and other features on a single sheet of paper. The reason that this is the most common practice is that this is what most clients are wiling to pay for. You can't make a living trying to do something that people are not buying, so more designers offer this level of service than not.

    Other levels of service include construction documents. These are plan sets and specifications that cover the most minute details of how things are to be put together and exact materials to be used. This is a huge amount of work in many cases and the designer takes on larger responsibilities if the plans are followed and something fails. Obviously this work takes a lot more time ($) and exposes the designer to more risk ($). That drives the cost up as well as protects the consumer by having a more guaranteed outcome. The problem for the designer is that he needs a much deeper knowledge, has to sell a more expensive service, and has to protect himself with costly errors and omissions insurance.

    The third thing that is going to limit your price is your market. Your market is whom you are selling your plans to rather than just the geographic area you are selling in. The most realistic definition of "your market" is the people on the other end of the phone line when your phone rings. You can't decide what your market is. You have to position yourself to be worthy of a particular market. You can be fully capable of designing high end residential landscapes, but if those clients are looking somewhere else, or don't have great confidence in you if they do find you, or find others to be more experienced then they are not "your market".

    "Your market" is going to have some opportunities and some constraints. The smaller the budget, the less likely they will pay for a landscape design. It takes a certain amount of time to do even the most limited plan. Bare minimum is two hours if you include driving to a site, meeting the client, and scribbling on a napkin. How cheap can you charge for two hours? That has to be at least $100 no matter how inexperienced. Someone with a budget of $1,000 is not going to drop more than that for a plan and probably won't spend a dime. Someone spending $10,000 on a landscape is not going to spend more than $200-$300 on a plan and also is unlikely to spend a dime on it.

    You really need to know how much you need to charge to do the level of service you are going to provide. Then you have to ask yourself if "your market" is going to pay that much.

    I have a certain way that I work which requires detailed measuring and accurate drafting. This takes considerable time ($). I produce 24"x36" black & white layout plans, usually at 1"=10'. I have found that the minimum that I can charge for any plan is $900. If the job does not warrant that much for design, I simply don't do it. That cuts off a huge amount of people who want to have a landscape. They are out of my market. I find that the total budget cutoff for people willing to pay for design has a floor of about $20,000. If people are not investing more than that, they are not going to invest in design.

    I usually charge $1,500 for a residential landscape layout plan, but range between $900-$3,000. Many of these include multiple level retaining walls, swimming pools, patios, walks, driveways, fencing, pergolas, .... The built work ranges from $20k - $200k.

    You have to remember that I have been doing this professionally for 30 years, have a degree in landscape architecture, worked in a civil engineering office for ten years, have an extensive resume, am a licensed landscape architect, and can talk a dog off of a meat wagon. I also make my living with a full time in a civil engineering office, so I have the luxury of not taking on landscape design work that don't pay enough or that I don't want to do. Those prices might sound good, but I only do about a dozen landscape plans a year (could do more if I did not work full time, but don't think I could replace my job income and benefits).

    It is a very competitive profession. You have licensed landscape architects, people with landscape architecture degrees, horticulture degrees, landscape design certificates, home gardeners looking to make extra money or just apply their hobby somewhere else, lots of people losing corporate jobs with graphic skills who think they "can do this", and the biggest competitor of all is the very well experienced landscape contractor who knows what he is doing - is willing to do the design cheap in order to land the construction job and is more likely to get the phone call than either you or me.

    Don't expect to get rich quick.

    Your best use of the skills that you are learning is to use it to sell install services. When I was in design/build, I found that once I did the design, the install was mine to lose. Selling the design can almost translate to selling the build. Don't price yourself out of making the real money on the build. However, don't design for free. That does not work. Anyone will take something for free whether they value it or not. You need them to show some commitment. If they give you $100, they probably are not taking three free designs from others. It lets you know that they are focused on you.
  4. glaciator

    glaciator LawnSite Member
    Messages: 66

    Stillwater...I just completed a design for a bid I prepared for installation. At your rate, I would have to have charged between 10K and 16K for the design. No one in their right mind would pay $10,000 for a residential landscape design, no matter how elaborate. Guess, what, I did it for free! Why, because I wanted to get the installation contract, which it turns out I did not. It took me a day to to the design (8 hours) plus $30 in copy fees, plus 3 hours with the customer. However, the customer did not get to keep the design. I made my presentation and went over the design and bid, rolled it up and walked away, hoping I'd intrigued them to see more. That said, I would have charged $800 for the design had I been contracted to to the design only. Granted, I'm still learning...I hope we all perhaps that wasn't the best approach. But this guy wasn't going to pay for designs from 4 landscape contractors, so I made my best stab at getting the whole contract.
  5. glaciator

    glaciator LawnSite Member
    Messages: 66

    AGLA, great post...I believe I fall into the category you describe...

    "and the biggest competitor of all is the very well experienced landscape contractor who knows what he is doing - is willing to do the design cheap in order to land the construction job and is more likely to get the phone call than either you or me."

    I do design work to get the installation....that is where I can make money (some). But I too was out of the industry for 12 years sitting behind a desk trying to "change the world". Then laid off and decided to take my 15 years of landscape and horticultural experience as a landscpe and nursery employee and try to "do it right myself". I just opened in 2008, but I am finding a market. Thank you for your insightful post about knowing and finding your market. That was a joy to read.

  6. Stillwater

    Stillwater LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,889

    Yep looks like you guys are around 4 to 10% useing agla's numbers, a little better than I am doing
  7. Stillwater

    Stillwater LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,889

    Those are not my rates those are rates from the firms in the city of Boston.
  8. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    9-15% is not for a landscape layout plan handed over. It is for overseeing the design. Some over in Cambridge get 20%.

    There is no standard throughout all landscape design. There are lots of levels of complexity, lots of levels of detail, lots of levels of drafting, lots of various deliverable design products, ....

    More importantly, there is no standard client. Some value design enough to pay. Some value design and just don't feel there is room in the budget to pay. Some just don't want to pay. There is someone out there that is willing to provide a service for each and everyone of these clients. The difficulty is matching these four things - client needs, client budget, designers skill set, and designers pricing. It is harder because sometimes either or both the client and designer are not so forthcoming to make the match easy to determine. Making that happen is another skill set that a designer needs in order to make a living at it.
  9. Paradise Landscapes

    Paradise Landscapes LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 959

    I pretty much charge about 20.00 per hour doing design work if it's in the 10,000.00 range, 40.00 per hour if in the 20,000.00 range. It may take as long as 14 hrs for a professional design. When I get my masters' I'll be charging more.

    I too, want to get my Landscape Architecture degree from OSU after KSU.

    Forgot to mention, 85.00 for 1.5hr consultations.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2009
  10. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    Well, there you go. You're also competing against college students charging $20/hr. How many ads do you see on craigslist right now for landscape, interior, and graphic design that are looking for "student designers- can't pay much, but build your portfolio"?

    What you charge is going to depend in large part on how you choose to position yourself, and who you're selling to. I've been on sales calls where the homeowner tells me "wow, I've now had quotes of $300, $1200, $3300, and $5000 to design my yard." On this example, I knew most of the players. THe $5K guy is an older LA, coming from over fifty miles away. The $300 guy is my buddy who was looking to get the install, so his fee was more just covering his butt a little bit. In the middle were two local designers, offering two different levels of service.

    I choose to quote a design fee independent of any project management. As others have mentioned, the design fee is often a decent chunk of the budget. There's no guarantee that the client will move forward with the project right away, or will even opt to work with you on the install. I'd rather just get paid fairly for whatever time I have into a project.

    Sales ability is going to be your biggest asset when it comes to getting design contracts. Just being an order taker isn't going to cut it, especially nowadays. You not only have to bring something to the table, you have to be able to explain what that is and why it's critical.

    As for design as a viable percentage of budget, it partly depends on what the project is. I agree, there's probably not a lot of room (or perceived value) for a designer on a $10K planting job. But, I do a lot of detailed custom arbors and trellises, and I have no trouble getting design fees for those. It's good to specialize (and it doesn't hurt that the off-the-shelf stuff sucks).

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