Why You Should Hire A Registered Landscape Architect?


By MIchael Spencer of MSA Design – www.msadesign.com


Here’s the bottom line: There is no reason to be scared! You will receive incredible design, and fees are not a big factor. Now, that didn’t hurt at all, did it?

Let’s dig a little deeper, expanding first on the “why” you should hire an LA:

Landscape architects bring the history of garden design, being completely conversant with every style, historic and modern, and are trained to see the Big Picture. Landscape architects have access to big commercial landscape construction companies and attendant lower prices. And, they have access to new materials and procedures: new paving, new lighting and other goodies.

Landscape architects possess deep management experience — planting, hardscape, lighting and irrigation can become complicated.

Very often, properly designed landscapes are less costly — including fees.

If this is not what you want, go buy some plants and do some ‘landscaping’.

The road to Mr./Ms. Right?

Now you know “why,” so let’s move on to the “how” part of hiring a landscape architect. Start by talking to a few LAs about your needs, your project, your preferences. Then — and only then — talk about fees.

Often, residential or HOA clients have neither the experience nor the knowledge to assess landscape architects, and this is why fee becomes the deciding factor — it’s easily understood.

This is bad. We are not equally talented and knowledgeable.

Imagine you need the services of a dentist: do you open the phone book, call some offices, describe what you need, and ask for a price? Then, you pick the cheapest one and make an appointment. Right?

Wrong. Nobody does that. Fees are never the sole deciding factor in the selection process.

Landscape architects have specialties. Be careful that, in this downturn, you don’t hire an LA skilled in planning but not in planting design. So often I see plants die because they were improperly specified. Considering the aggregate costs of these mistakes, the out-of-pocket for replacements is very likely to exceed a qualified landscape architect’s fee.

Sounds a little self-serving? Yes. And true.

“But Michael,” you wonder, again: “How do I find the best landscape architect?” Here are a few points previously explored:

Most important? Talk. Garden design is intensely personal. Can you talk to this person? Does he or she ask questions? Are you on the same wavelength?

Is your candidate knowledgeable? You can determine this even if you are not knowledgeable. Walk around, go on a field trip, look at pictures. What is your sense?

This, from my colleague Bruce Howard: “If the client is … torn between … designers, (they should see some previous design, talk) … to the other owners and see how they enjoyed their working relationship.” Smart advice.

Evaluate the hardscape: Does it make sense? Is it functional? Evaluate the plant material: Be sure to look at projects more than a few years old. Are the materials thriving?

What’s a reasonable fee?

Start with cost of construction, because this predicts the amount of work. A skilled practitioner will be able to discuss costs after a short interview. I suggest a range, and watch for the “flinch point.” Many of you simply have no idea about budgets, and this is where an experienced landscape architect can really help.

Occasionally, a client will try to withhold the available budget from the landscape architect. This is a mistake: Trust is sine qua non. And anyway, as you progress, an estimated cost of construction will be prepared to whatever desired granularity.

Projects more than $100,000: these would be large homes with extensive hardscape, or they would be modest HOA improvements. Look for fees at usually from 8 percent to 13 percent or so.

Projects in the $15,000 to $100,000 range: This covers the bulk of residential projects. When I discussed this issue with colleagues, all quoted fees in the 12 percent to 15 percent range, plus hourly for supervision during construction, depending on the extent of hardscape elements.

Less than about $10,000, drawing a plan does not make sense. Bad news? Not at all. Sometimes, I simply walk the project with a client, talking about how the client lives, what they like and so on. The work product is a written report with quantities, species and photos. This approach brings professional design to even the smallest projects. Hourly fees will range from around $100 to $150 an hour; four hours can do quite a bit.

Construction observation: This is a hugely fun part of the process and it’s absolutely essential the landscape architect be involved. Expect to pay hourly for this service.

Old Plantation Home Photos Courtesy of Rich Brown of Brown & Crebbin

Mediterranean Home Photo Courtesy of Premier Stoneworks

Teakwood Install Photo Courtesy of Waterfalls & Gardens







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