1. What is the most common mistake people make when finding a contractor?
One of the most common mistakes is thinking that by hiring the lowest price contractor you’re going to save money. In the long run, the homeowners are usually the losers in this thinking process because the lowest bidder is often the most inexperienced at bidding. Usually the lowest bids are leaving out costs and profit. Because they underbid the project, they look for ways to cut corners which oftentimes is not the best solution for the client. Oftentimes the lowest bidder underbid a project with the intent of adding on additional work and cost to the job. Sometimes the lowest bidder is a contractor that just wants to work. They make very little profit and their businesses aren’t around more than a few years which leaves clients unassisted. It is never good to be the lowest bidder. Or a relative!
2. Is having a certified landscape designer or architect going to add a lot of cost to my project?
If you want a project that is installed correctly adhering to codes, specifications, and details as well as being creative, you can’t afford to not hire a certified designer. They bring to the table a unique wealth of information that can prevent costly mistakes. Through professional interaction outlining the needs and desires of a client, a professional designer can creatively introduce concepts that meet and expand on the client’s ideas. An experienced designer should be able to conceptualize and visualize how a project will fit a particular site even before the first measurement is taken. A drawn scaled landscape design will detail the materials needed for a job. Scaling a project proportionately is a cost-saving advantage for many reasons, one being the correct ordering of materials, avoiding waste. A design can also help a client visualize their ideas on paper. It is much easier to change a concept on paper than in the field after the materials have been ordered. A designer will know what hard materials blend, how to construct what is discussed, as well as what plant materials are hardy and appropriate for the site. They should have a handle on codes and specification for building. Good designers also typically align themselves with a team of professional contractors on which they depend on for high quality work. A good designer will be worth the additional expense, oftentimes saving money for the client by facilitating the process of design and build interfacing with both the contractors and the homeowner. After seeing the project area and discussing expectations with the client, a design firm will have their own methods of charging for their design work.
3. If I can’t afford an entire project can, it be done in phases?
Yes, projects can be done in phases. It is important to have a master plan so that costs can be determined and discussed. A master plan will add cohesiveness throughout the project even through it is done in stages. With gas surcharges and shipping costs, phasing projects over a few years may result in duplication of charges. It is always more cost effective to order the products for the entire project. This process also ensures that the products will match dye lots and that chosen products are available.
When phasing projects, Landscape Solutions will advocate finishing the hardscaping in one particular area so that heavy machinery does not have to go back over an already finished yard. Once the hardscaping is finished, the soils can be put back and top-dressed with rock, wood mulch, or seed. If possible, you only want to repair a yard once. At this point a phased area can wait for plantings and lighting.
Landscape Solutions helps manage phased projects. For a business it is a great way to continue a relationship with the client making the design/build process more enjoyable.
4. Do you work out of your area?
Landscape Solutions works throughout the upper Midwest. At times because of the distance, the work will be contracted in facilitation/overseeing and designing fees. Other times, when the distance isn’t too great, we can bring a team to an area for an extended period of time until the project is finished. There are always added costs when traveling because of accommodations needed for the crews, as well as the travel fees. This should be discussed from the onset of a project. Most design firms want to install their own designs to ensure the concepts are properly visualized and achieved. Design can be interpreted. It is not uncommon that some changes might occur on site during construction to enhance the project. It is important to have the designer on staff to make sure the project is installed correctly and detailed meticulously. Fine-tuning a project is like putting frosting on the cake.
5. Can you tell me what I can expect from Landscape Solutions?
Landscape Solutions designs and develops complete turn-key projects. The process is outlined as follows:
- Client calls Landscape Solutions looking for help with their project. Landscape Solutions identifies their needs by collecting information about their project. It is our goal to help as many clients as possible meeting and exceeding their expectations, but occasionally because of previously contracted work we will not be able to fit into a particular time frame. It is best to get this discussed at the onset of the project so valuable time is not wasted. Typically after identifying the client’s needs, an appointment is set up to meet on site.
- After having the opportunity to see the site and discuss more detail of the project with the client, the designer can come close to a cost estimate for the design work. It is typically charged by the hour. This initial meeting is important because the designer can visualize the scope of the project, oftentimes advising the client of projected costs of particular treatments. This helps the client make decisions not only based on what he desires, but what is affordable.
- The next step in the design process is to measure the site, which includes buildings and existing trees. Photographs are taken at this time. Obtaining site plans and surveys as well as addressing specific codes is necessary at this time. If the home has an existing house plan, that can help expedite the design process. After information is gathered from site and the initial consultations with the client are complete, the design process can take place. When a rough sketch is complete, the designer will arrange a meeting with the client to discuss basic design concepts.
- Once the client approves the basic design concepts, the drawing can be completed and detailed with dimensions, product information, specifications, and plant materials. At this point, I usually have a second meeting with the client to confirm the project before the estimating process begins. If changes are to be made, this is a good time for this to take place.
- All products and labor are estimated for the job as drawn. At this time, the installation team gets involved by visiting the site and reviewing the drawing, giving them the opportunity to add labor charges as needed for project.
- A final meeting takes place to go over cost figures, meet subcontractors, confirm product choices, and project an installation date. A deposit is obtained to secure products needed for project.
- After utilities are called to mark underground lines, the project is painted out for final approval and work commences. The designer is an excellent candidate to facilitate open communication between the homeowner and contractor. The designer/facilitator also ensures that the project is installed to specifications, sometimes offering suggestions for creative expression. Even though any job is only as good as the contracting team, the designer adds the cohesiveness to the project. The designer oftentimes lays out all the plants and oversees proper installation.
- At project completion, the designer initiates a final walk-through with the client and contractor to address any unmet needs or additional work that is requested. It is important to have the designer included in all additional work, so that final billing can reflect these changes. During the final walk-through, the designer can also offer maintenance tips to the client or arrange for maintenance of the grounds. The walk-through is the opportunity for the client to express satisfaction or concern.
- Final billing includes all charges incurred during the project, including the design fee (if that has not already been paid), materials, labor, estimating, facilitation, office hours, and copies.
Reputable design firms take pride in their work and continue a relationship with the client by checking projects for years, offering suggestions for care. It usually takes three to five years for a project to mature. At that time, it is always nice to photograph the site to obtain pictures to show other potential clients.
Please contact Susan at Landscape Solutions if you have a question that we did not answer. 715 355 1771