Landscape Designer Prices

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  • #3561553
    Amber
    Participant

    Hi, I’m wondering what other landscape designers charge and how long on average it takes them to complete a design. I live in California and have a landscape architecture degree but no license. I’ve done a few design jobs working under a landscape contractor and now I plan on working from home as a designer. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

    #3561554

    Hello Amber….Your question is a good one. For me, I practiced @ 2 Landscape Architecture Firms for about 13 yrs..then, went on my own in 1991 @ Age 41 (a 1 man Design Firm). Over the past 10 years, a majority of my design projects have been “virtual”,,.as I work out of my home.

    The time it takes to design any project really depends on the “type” of project you’re designing and the “Scope of Services”. Is it a simple project or very complex. Does the Client have a “Budget”?

    For Residential Projects, for instance, I always first create a “Preliminary Design along with a Preliminary Cost Estimate” for my Clients. Then, ask for feedback. Do they want any revisions or changes? This can take several days to a week or longer. After receiving “approval “from your Client, you can proceed to produce Final Plans. Again, the TIME it takes depends on many factors. Final Plans can take from 1 to 2 weeks or much longer for large/complex Residential Projects.

    I designed a Luxury Residential Project earlier this year that took me close to 3 months time (it was a $5 Million Estate on 8.5 Acres and a very complex project). And, I have designed many smaller, simpler Residential Projects as well…Residential Projects that take me approx. (2) Weeks to design. Sim TIME is money & you need to fully understand what your Client is wanting designed…and then, do your best to estimate your time to produce the project. Some Landscape Architects will use an “Hourly Rate” while others will use a “Fixed Fee”. Just be sure if you go with a “Fixed Fee” you feel good about that Fee (and that your Contract Agreement) has a “Revision clause” in it…as some clients will make many revisions that could cause you to earn ZERO profits. Also, charge for hourly rates to visit the project site; charge for print costs.

    And, of course, more experienced Landscape Architects & Designers should take less time than less experienced designers. The more experience you have…the projects just seem to go more smoothly & more quickly.

    I was “curious” a few months ago about what the “Average” Design Fee that was charged by Landscape Architects/Designers for a Single Family Home in the United States. I found on-line, that that Average Design Fee is $4,000,00. This figure is for the “average” Home. And again, it really depends on what a Home Owner is wanting designed “Scope of Services”.

    One thing I have ALWAYS done over the years for EVERY Design Project…..Get a Signed & Dated Contract from the Client. For Residential Projects, I request 50% of the Design Fee up front with a Signed/Dated Contract.

    I hope some of this is helpful to you. GOOD LUCK!
    Bob

    #3561555
    Amber
    Participant

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! That’s a lot of good information. I’m definitely planning on having signed contracts and I’ll take your advice and add the revisions clause too. I can see how endless revisions could be an issue with some clients. I’m glad to hear that you request 50% up front. I didn’t realize any designers did that but I think it’s only fair since we put so much time into a design. It could be devastating if someone didn’t pay for any of it.

    I realize pricing questions are difficult to answer with all of the variables, but that helps. My next question is what’s the smallest project you would be willing to take in order for it to be worth your while? Do you have a minimum design fee for such a project?

    Amber

    #3561556

    Hi Amber…You’re more than welcome. Yes, I really feel strongly about getting 50% of the Design Fee up front (with a written (signed & dated Contract)…The contract isn’t “personal”, just good business practice. And, when a Client puts up 50% of the Design fee..they have skin in the game. Some Clients will take advantage of some Landscape Designers & just take the “Preliminary Design”…and run to their nearest Landscape Contractor. If they do, the Landscape Designer who didn’t get that 50% of the Fee up front…is plain out of luck.

    I have read on-line, that new Landscape Architects these days, earn approx. $28.00 per hour (plus benefits) when they join a Landscape Architecture Firm. So, with a few years of design experience….Hourly Rates could be from $35.00 to say $50.00. Back 10 go 15 years ago, when I was SUPER busy and working tons of hours daily…I was able to get over $100.00 per hour…but, part of that was due to my years of experience.

    I joined the Website called “Upwork”. It’s free to join. They just need to verify who you are with an on-line Skype chat…and verify your physical address (I used my Texas Driver’s License). This Site has it’s pluses & minuses. Most Clients are wanting the LOWEST DESIGN FEES possible…so, you just have to search. I have only designed a few Projects on Upwork, as the FEES normally don’t very well for me. But, if you know autoCAD and have some design experience…it’s worth looking into. All Design work is Virtual..for every State in America. I even designed a project in Sydney, Australia on Upwork.

    For me to take on a Design Project now…I really feel like I need to earn around $65.00 per hour. But, I’m pretty selective, as I don’t need to design any longer…just do, because I enjoy it. But, there are many Landscape Design Projects on Upwork that pay from $25.00 to $50.00…but, there is a lot of competition…even with Designers from Foreign Nations who are willing to design for $10.00 to $20.00. Some are very talented, some aren’t.

    I also design for (3) Out of State Landscape Architecture Firms…to provide Preliminary Designs & Color Renderings (High-End Residential, Commercial & Multi-Family Projects. In my past, for many many years, I designed something like 200 Apartment Communities in 9 different States (because I designed for a Dallas, Texas LA Firm) that specialized in Apartment design work…so, learned that niche…really top dollar for those types of projects. I practically made a Career designing Apartment Communities…as the Fees for each Average $25K each. But, I have some Landscape Architect Friends who have done very well designing Residential for the past 35 to 40 years…Residential, especially the High-End Residential market will always keep going. And, Residential is also the easiest way to get “experience” and land new projects when you beginning your design career.

    If you have any other questions, feel free to ask or message me. I have mentored many many younger Landscape Architects & am always happy to help. I remember when I first began my design career…it just takes some time and experience to learn this profession, but, it’s a GREAT profession, for sure!

    Bob

    #3561557
    Amber
    Participant

    That’s very interesting and helpful! I didn’t know about Upworks. I don’t like how competitive it sounds, but I’ll check it out just in case. Thank you for your time and generosity. I’ll take you up on that! 🙂

    Amber

    #3561558
    Andrew Garulay, RLA
    Participant

    Check your state laws on how much you can legally ask for up front. I think California limits that to 10%.

    The simple yet complex answer as to what landscape designers charge is this – whatever someone is willing to pay. We are not selling something that comes in a box that is the same thing in the box that the next landscape designer is selling, therefore pricing is not one size fits all.

    However, like any product in a box, the higher the price, the more likely the buyer needs to know what is in the box. If you are a known commodity like Bob, it is fairly easy for a potential client to understand the value they are getting for what they are being asked to pay. That value is built on a portfolio of built work, a reputation established by a body of work, and by direct referral from people that have used the designers services.

    The thing that most people coming out of school have been convinced of as being of high value are credentials such as a degree, LA license, or membership in professional associations. Those on their own have little value unless there are regulations that exclude others from engaging in the same services. However, the process of gaining those things typically gives one a lot of experiences that can generate those other things that I mentioned that are valued.

    Your rates need to be based on the value that your potential clients perceive and how they perceive your skill set and experience matches their project. A big influence on that perceived value is what others offering the same potential are charging. If you value yourself more than the potential client does, you are not going to get work very often.

    If you don’t get work very often, you are limiting your ability to produce a body of built work, a referral network, and a portfolio.

    My opinion is more important for a new designer to invest in building his/her value to establish a good billing rate, than to declare a good billing rate which can limit your development.

    There are millions of good designers, many of which are not getting much work. You will see that some “good designers” get a ton of work while other “better designers” get overlooked. The key to this business is not that you have to be a better designer than the next person, but that you have to be better at getting the jobs than the next person. Ninety percent of that is from building a body of work, getting known because you built a body of work, and getting referrals from those you have worked for or with in the past.

    If you are buried in work, you are charging too little. If you lack work, you are charging too much. As your body of work increases your schedule will fill and you adjust your rates accordingly.

    #3561559

    Hello Andrew….You’ve made several very good points here. The only thing I question is your statement about “State Laws” controlling how much $$$ Landscape Architects can charge up front. I’ve just never heard of that issue before. My concern over the years is that “some Clients” after you have spent many hours creating a “Preliminary Landscape Design or Master Plan”….that Client could just take that Preliminary Design & hire a local Landscape Contracting Company. In my opinion, that Preliminary Design is easily worth 50% of the overall Design Fee…not 10% of the Design Fee. So, at least for “Residential Projects” I have always requested and received 50% of the Design Fee upfront. Then, I normally don’t invoice for the final 50% until after I have completed the Final Plans & delivered the Plans to my Clients.
    Bob

    #3561560
    J. Nielsen
    Participant

    There is a lot of good information here.

    I am on UpWork and have completed a few jobs since I signed on in March.

    I have found that I am hustling for work far more than I am working, but that is the nature of freelancing. What Bob said about the competition and that clients are looking for Filet Mignon on a hamburger budget is absolutely true. But the upside is the ability to choose from a wide selection of projects and UpWork provides of a lot of financial logistics. It balances out.

    My metric for billing is How much I have to make to clear my overhead per month (software licenses, state fees, taxes, etc.) I also take into account that UpWork cut’s 20% off the designers end and factor that into my hourly rate.

    Do the math and figure out what is the absolute minimum amount that you can afford to do the work for, then add 10% – 20% on top of that as a buffer to cover you between jobs. Freelancing is feast and famine. you’ll find yourself with more work than you can handle one minute and none the next.

    #3561561
    Andrew Garulay, RLA
    Participant

    I’m all for 50% retainer, but I know there are some states that limit how much you can take up front. I’m almost certain that California is one that limits it to 10% or $1,000 which ever is more. I might be confusing this with Oregon, but I don’t think so.

    #3561562
    Amber
    Participant

    Thanks for your input Andrew.

    • This reply was modified 6 months ago by Amber.
    #3561563
    Amber
    Participant

    Thanks J.

    #3561565
    J. Nielsen
    Participant

    In Oregon, any project that exceeds $2000 requires a contract.

    #3561571

    As I mentioned…..regardless of the “Design Fee”, if would be sure that “every” Project I designed first had a “written Contract…signed & dated by both parties”. It’s just good business. Include “Scope of Design Services:, Fee, When the Fee is to be paid, Clause for Revision time (hourly rate), Hourly fee for Site visits & Site Meetings; Hourly rate to handle Bidding process, etc. I even charge for “print costs” if I think it could be substantial. The LA Design Fee should be for “Design Only”…everything else is “extra”.

    I’m sure if you look around on-line, there are some good “examples” of some good Landscape Architect’s Contract Agreements.

    Bob

    #3561572
    Andrew Garulay, RLA
    Participant

    Amber,

    If you are just starting out you might want to start with flat rate fees. That makes it much easier for a prospect to feel comfortable about the overall cost. You’ll need to write a contract with the scope of work described so it is clear what you are and what you are not doing for the fee. You should state how many revisions you’ll do with that fee (I suggest one) and have an hourly rate for work that goes beyond the scope of work in the contract.
    Keep that rate on the high side for two reasons. One is to get paid well, but the other is probably more important if you are just starting out – that is that it will encourage the client to be more focused on giving you information to ensure that you have enough to complete the design without going beyond the scope of work. Basically, it gives them a financial incentive to make sure you can get them what they need in the first draft.
    It is not the best long term solution, but it sure helps to close on design jobs to get things going. The design business is like a heavy load. It takes a lot of effort to overcome inertia, but once it gets moving it takes less and less to keep it moving. It all starts with getting as much work as you can get to build a body of work, get some referrals, and decorate a portfolio with BUILT WORK.
    Another way to overcome inertia is to work for someone else and make connections and be identified as having been part of that successful group. The trick there is to get hired. If you are not getting hired you’ll have to go out and get it on your own.

    #3561690
    Amber
    Participant

    All good advice. Thank you.

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