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  • Writer's pictureEric McQuiston, PLA

Landscape Budget:

What you should expect your residential landscape to cost

As a practicing landscape architect and contractor with many years of experience I find that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in the design of a new landscape is determining a budget. Typically in municipal, commercial or institutional work a budget number has been factored into the design and construction costs of a project. However, when it comes to residential work, the budget for a project is a moving target; seldom disclosed, discussed or agreed to.

Let's clear this up!

Why have a budget?

As a homeowner who is considering a landscape project you probably have spent more than a few minutes thinking about and researching solutions. You may have checked out some cool stuff on Pinterest or Houzz and have visions of how those beautiful and functional gardens could fit into your own space. Images of beautiful patio terraces, water features, recreation lawns, pergolas and so many other elements of a gorgeous garden dance through you head. But, you may or may not have the skill set, time or desire to build your dream garden as a DIY project. If that's the case, you realize that you will have to hire someone to make your dream a reality. This is where the landscape designer or contractor comes in.


Most people have a healthy suspicion of contractors. This is well earned as some contractors are shady at best and a few are downright unprofessional in every sense. But, there are many very professional and highly educated & skilled craftsmen out there. While it may seem prudent to hold your cards close, I feel it is in everyone's best interest to make budget a key factor in determining who you will hire to accomplish your work. You do not have to lay your cards on the table right off, but having a realistic budget in mind at an early stage allows for a more satisfactory result and avoids hard feelings or worse.

A good contractor or designer might ask what your budget is at an early stage. There is nothing wrong with this, they are simply trying to answer one of many questions that will determine the scope and size of the potential project. Knowing this budget early on will help them in guiding you to realistically achieve what you want.

Understandably, you may not want to share this information with them. You may have looked up average costs of work online and feel that you have a general idea of what things cost but feel that if you share that with your designer they may either get greedy or walk away. If this is the case simply say that you don't know what these things cost. A good designer or contractor will accept that and proceed to listen to what you desire them to do.


The bottom line here is that you may already know what you are willing to spend on a project and the designer is in a position to figure that out based upon your desires. This is okay! Ultimately arriving at an agreeable budget is one of the most important factors in the success of your project. You and your designer and the contractor must be on the same page.


After discussing your desires the designer should be able to give you a ballpark figure. If this is beyond the budget that you have in mind, you may have to reduce the scope of your project to accommodate your budget.

I should mention that it is not uncommon to pay a fee to the designer or contractor for an on site consultation and/or an estimate.


Establishing A Budget

If you and your designer and/or contractor have not arrived at a ballpark budget before they begin to design and estimate a solution, it is almost always going to miss the mark! In some cases the estimate will be way beyond what you thought it would be. In others the design may seem far more than a common sense budget would allow. There are so many pitfalls to designing and estimating without a budget in mind that, in most cases, it is doomed to fail.

So, where to start?

I use a 10% 'Rule Of Thumb'. 10% of the appraised value of your home should be in your landscape. This is based upon my experience as a Realtor and much documented data. This can be modified of course, but it is a good starting point. In my experience, and in most cases, of that figure 25-30% should be in the front yard and the rest in back. Keep in mind that this does not include swimming pools, spas or tennis courts. Those would be extra.

So, if your home is appraised at $500k, your landscape budget will be around $50k. Maybe $12k in front for walks, planting, lighting etc. and the balance ($38k) in back. (For the sake of this example I am assuming a standard ¼ to 1/3 acre lot in a typical housing development.) Existing landscape could be counted towards that depending on it's condition and ability to become part of the new landscape. I would also consider that 5-10% of that $50k be dedicated to design and estimating ($2-5k) . It costs money to develop a good plan and estimate. You are paying for the designer and/or contractor's years of experience to achieve your desires. If someone offers 'Free Design' you should be very suspicious!


Establishing a Rapport

Making this kind of investment in your landscape and lifestyle is a big financial commitment. Establishing a rapport with your designer and/or contractor is crucial to a positive and successful outcome. This is a relationship that must be nurtured through a solid contract and easy, frequent communications. Your contractor should have multiple means of contact; phone, email, website, etc.

In your due diligence, do not place too much importance on online reviews or web presence. Most reputable contractors are too busy too keep up with this. Ask for references and examples of similar projects. Trust your gut and if you are concerned call them! They should take your call or get back to you asap. If not, then be concerned.

Ultimately your contractor and designer should be considered your partners in achieving your dream landscape. Once completed your contractor may check in with you to see if there are any problems. You might even be asked for a review or to act as a reference. Any reputable company understands that building and maintaining a business is fundamentally about building and maintaining relationships. This is the feeling that you should get from your contractor/designer.

Best wishes on your project! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

- Eric

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