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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is a Landscape Design?

How to buy landscape: The right way!

Do we provide free estimates?

Why do I need a design? I already know what I want.

The area I want to landscape is small. Can I assume the design work will take less time, and therefore cost less?

What geographical area does your company serve?

We decided to terminate the design process before completion. Do we still have to pay design fees even though we don't have (or need) a plan ?

How much does it cost for a landscape design? How long does the process takes?

Who owns the plans, ideas, and information generated during the design process?

What if I don't like your plan - Do I still have to pay your fee?

I want to install the landscape myself. Will you do the design work?

What is the average cost of a landscape?

Why do you collect a retainer for design services?

Why do I need a landscape designer? Can I do this on my own?

What is the difference between design and consultation?

What if I like the plan, but the installation costs far exceed my budget, do I still owe you for the plan even if I'm not going to use it?

Can you do the work in stages if I'm unable to afford it all at one time? What needs to be done first?

When the landscape project is completed, will I get a finished set of plans?

Can I hire subcontractors to do some of the work instead of your company?

When is the best time to contact Houston Landscape Images regarding a landscape project in order to be completed by a desired date?



What is a Landscape Design? What is a landscape plan?*

Landscape Design is a complex process that combines the practical with the artful in a unified, functional composition. 

A Landscape Plan is a printed means of communicating the design intent to a property owner or installation crew.

Building a good landscape involves three distinct steps: design; installation; maintenance. Failure to consider any one facet can affect the success of a landscaping project. An extremely well conceived landscape cannot succeed if it is poorly installed, nor can a poorly designed landscape be redeemed by good installation procedures. 

The design process begins with a thorough design analysis, consisting of a site analysis and an analysis of people's needs. Until the needs of the property and the people using it are known, they cannot be met. As a part of the site analysis, the land itself must be studied to determine if alterations are necessary to provide drainage, usable areas, and a more comfortable environment. A general study of these beneficial land features, as well as those requiring alteration is best; they are refined later, as plans are completed.

After all factors surrounding the land and its occupants have been studied, the designer can start to formulate specific design concepts. The property is divided into usable portions for the functions indicated in the design analysis, and necessary terrain alterations are planned. Shade, wind protection, screening, and enclosure can then be provided. At this stage of the design process, it is best to make general choices, not choosing specific materials until all design criteria have been evaluated.

All circulation routes are also considered during this design stage. Again, it is best to determine the general size and shape of sidewalks, drives, patios, and so forth, without specifically determining the surfacing to be used. Aesthetic decisions come later.

After all general determinations have been made about area sizes and shapes, environmental requirements, and circulation routes, the aesthetic design factors can be considered. The design becomes more specific at this point. Choices are made: a trellis or a tree for shade; a wall, fence, hedge, or mass planting for a screen; and so forth. Ground-surface patterns take form as surfacing materials are chosen and lines of demarcation are determined. All elements in the landscape can be tied together effectively in a unified design that is aesthetically pleasing. Textures, colors, and forms are blended together to form a functioning landscape that is pleasant to view. Materials selection climaxes the design process.

The experienced designer will mull the separate parts of the design process over simultaneously as he proceeds. The designer continually shifts his attention from one factor to another, ensuring that the final design will be unified in all phases.

Those ideas that have been conceived in the designer's mind during the design process are recorded on paper in such away that others can read and understand them: this is the landscape plan. The plan must communicate those ideas to the property owner as well as to any potential installer. Maybe most importantly, the landscape designer uses the plan to communicate ideas to himself throughout the design process. Recording the various design concepts on paper during the design process allows the designer to relate one area to another, comparing concepts for compatibility.

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How to buy landscape: The right way!

The first step in buying a landscape is to select a reputable company or designer qualified to handle the size and scope of the intended project. The design process then begins, producing at some point a "plan" (i.e., Master Plan) and specifications. If the designer is also a landscape contractor, then a proposal to complete the project is usually submitted along with the plan. If desired, the plan can also be sent to competing landscape companies for their bids (i.e., prices to do the job as specified).

 

For all practical purposes bids, prices, estimates, and proposals are the same things. An estimate should be free (i.e., "free estimate") because it is merely a price to do a previously defined job. Do not confuse estimating with designing: one task is done for free, the other is not. You can expect a good landscape designer to charge at least $65.00 per hour, to produce a plan: total design costs are directly related to the size and complexity of the job. Some design-build companies, such as Houston Landscape Images, offer design-purchase rebates where some or all of the design fee is rebated when the project is completed: this can be a decided advantage over companies which only offer design services.

 

After reviewing all proposals, the customer then contracts a company to do the work, and the project begins. A customer should expect to pay 25% - 50% of the estimated project cost prior to initiation of work: this is called the deposit, or prepayment. Other payments (i.e., draws) are made at predetermined intervals if the project is going to take longer than 30 days. The balance is made upon completion of the project.

The following is a review of the proper manner
and sequence for buying a landscape:

  1. Select a qualified designer;
  2. Initiate the landscape design process;
  3. Settle on a "plan";
  4. Review the proposal (s);
  5. Award a contract;
  6. Begin the project;
  7. Complete the project; and
  8. Begin to enjoy the new landscape.

 

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Do we provide free estimates?

Before answering this question, let's first define "estimate." An estimate is an approximate price for completing a well-defined job.

If we receive a complete and accurate set of landscape plans, detailed construction documents, and project specifications for a project that we are interested in and qualified to work on, then "yes" we will  provide an estimated price for completion of the project at no cost to the customer. We only provide such services to clients who have expressed a genuine interest in wanting to use Houston Landscape Images as their landscape contractor, and who are located within our serviceable business territory. We also only provide such estimates on projects for which we can realistically schedule commencement of work in a timely fashion. In general, we do not seek to "bid" on work in which we are unfamiliar with the project with any aspect of the project; Houston Landscape Images does not get involved in this type of "free estimating."

Most of the time when people ask us if we give free estimates, what they really mean is do we design landscapes for free. Our estimate, or price, must be based on a plan and a detailed set of specifications, which are the end product of the design process. It is impossible for us, or anyone for that matter, to give a meaningful price without a plan that was generated through the design process. To do so would be merely guessing. At Houston Landscape Images, we charge for our assistance in conducting the design process and in generating plans and specifications needed to develop the landscape.

So, the usual answer to the above question is "no" for the same reasons other professionals (e.g., doctors, lawyers, architects, webmasters, financial planners, consultants, etc.) do not provide their services for free. A qualified landscape designer has many years of concentrated education and experience behind his/her counsel. The landscape design process (see WHAT IS LANDSCAPE DESIGN?) is both time consuming and exacting. It requires skill, creativity, and the ability to communicate effectively with others using several different types of media. In order to be effective, designers must form a partnership with their clients; all parties must be committed to the project, and trust each other. Such commitment and trust is easier when the designer is formally working (i.e., under contract) for the client. Free plans generally do not have the client's best interests at heart; they are usually at best a guess as to what the salesperson thinks they can get the potential client to buy - this is salesmanship, not design.


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Why do I need a design? I already know what I want.

Before answering this question, let's define a few terms. DESIGN is an information gathering and problem solving "process" which is intended to culminate in a plan of attack for completing a project (see WHAT IS LANDSCAPE DESIGN?). A landscape PLAN is a communication device (it can be written, verbal, graphic, computer generated, etc.), which attempts to translate the results of the design process into a set of instructions for completing a project. The terms design and plan are not synonymous, nor are they interchangeable.

Our experience is that many people who ask this question, in fact, really don't know what they want. They may think they do, but in going through the design process, come to understand that many of their ideas just won't work on their site. Others may say they know what they want, hoping to shorten the design process, and thus reduce their design fees. Ironically, design fees for this type of client are usually higher because they try to skip vital steps in the design process, which leads to many time-consuming dead ends. They don't realize that good landscape design does not cost, it pays. The bottom line is that if a person has the education, experience, talent, and creativity of a professional landscape designer combined with the installation, construction, and maintenance experience of a veteran field supervisor, then they don't need our services; they can and should develop their own landscape. When told this many people realize they really do need our professional help. At this point, we have a client who is committed to working honestly through the design process with us, and the end result is usually a very well developed landscape.

A professional landscape designer asks questions about the site that the client might not think to ask. These questions are the basis of the design process. The key to the development of a good landscape is the design process; this is the basic and founding premise on which Houston Landscape Images operates.

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The area I want to landscape is small. Can I assume the design work will take less time, and therefore cost less?

There is a correlation between design fees and project size/complexity. The design process takes longer for larger, more complex projects, because there is more work to do: more information to gather, more measurements to take, more problems to solve, etc.

Small spaces, however, frequently present bigger challenges on a per-unit-of-area basis. Many people think that since the space they are dealing with is small, it must be simple and easy to deal with. The fact is, small spaces present complex and challenging problems for designers. When space is at a premium, there is little room for error. Larger spaces, on the other hand, can absorb more flaws without being severely handicapped, and, in many cases, the flaws are not even recognized except by the most trained observers. Most designers consider small spaces to be far more challenging than larger spaces.

The size of the task is usually inversely related to the size of the space. Do not confuse small with simple, where simple is equated with less expensive. As a general rule, small projects are considerably more expensive per applicable unit of measurement than larger projects. Small spaces do present big challenges!

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What geographical area does your company serve?

Most of Houston Landscape Images' work is carried out in the Houston and surrounding areas. At least ninety-five percent of our job sites are located within Harris and Forth Bend County. Beyond 75 miles, mobilization costs can become excessive.

Occasionally, we do take on distant projects (having ranged as far as 400 miles), but only under certain circumstances. Such circumstances include a previous customer whom has relocated, wants only Houston Landscape Images to design and build their project, and is willing to pay the extra costs associated with distant travel. Furthermore, the project has to be large enough in scope to allow for some economy of scale; this generally precludes projects of less than about $50,000.00. The more distant the project, the larger it has to be, for economic reasons. The project site should be such that we can set up and maintain a remote project headquarters; this helps to maximize productivity and minimize mobilization costs. Access to equipment suppliers, product vendors, and reliable subcontractors local to the job site also help to make distant work more practical and cost effective.

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We decided to terminate the design process before completion. Do we still have to pay design fees even though we don't have (or need) a plan ?

The design process can be terminated before completion for any number of reasons. Such reasons can include: a sudden job transfer necessitating an unexpected sale of the home; a client's eventual realization that their wants and needs exceed their budget; discovery of a site problem or other situation for which there is no practical or economically feasible solution; etc. When a client enters into a design/ consultation agreement with Houston Landscape Images, they are agreeing to pay for the designer's time and expenses.  If the agreement is terminated during the design process, the client is still obligated to pay for the designer's time and incurred expenses at the previously agreed upon rates. 

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How much does it cost for a landscape design? How long does the process takes?

This is a difficult question to answer, because there are so many variables that can affect the amount of time it takes for a designer to conduct the design process and arrive at a plan of attack for developing the landscape. Such variables can include the intended size, scope and complexity of the project,  unusual site problems; local or regional restrictions and ordinances, etc. Because of all these variables, Houston Landscape Images will determine the fee for its design at the initial consultation. (this fee will vary depending on project size.) 

Basically, not much can be accomplished in less than four to eight hours, depending on the complexity of the project. We feel so strongly about the importance of the design process in the development of a landscape that we rebate our design fees when we complete the job.  This is a win-win situation for the customer and us, and is done to remove the concern over design fees from the decision whether or not to hire Houston Landscape Images as your professional landscape designer.

The normal procedure and course of events at Houston Landscape Images is for the designer to accumulate as much information from the client on the initial site visit. Such information would include a completed landscape design questionnaire (see LANDSCAPE DESIGN QUESTIONNAIRE) and relevant information about the site, such as surveys, house plans, neighborhood restrictions, etc.  During this initial site visit, the designer may begin collecting site data, measurements, and visual images (i.e., photographs), or he/she may want to come back and do this at a later date, depending upon the circumstances. Sometimes it is best to allow some time for assimilation of first impressions and new information before proceeding. Eventually, the client is thoroughly interviewed as to their needs and wants, and the site is thoroughly measured and photographed.  Once the site has been thoroughly analyzed, a base drawing is produced.  The preliminary drawings are then presented to the clients for their input. Revisions, if necessary, are made, and a final plan and proposal for doing the job is produced incorporating the results of all the efforts made to-date.

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Who owns the plans, ideas, and information generated during the design process?

All plans, ideas, and information generated or discussed during the design process, whether written, oral, graphically represented, or electronically recorded or transmitted, are solely the property of Houston Landscape Images. until such time as all design fees are paid in full. Any use or implementation prior to payment in full is a breach of the our design agreement Any publication, reproduction, installation or revision prior to payment in full is a violation of copyright laws and subject to prosecution. The landscape design and consultation services provided by Houston Landscape Images are understood to be improvements to real property under Texas law, regardless of whether or not Houston Landscape Images actually provides construction labor or materials to implement the plan.

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What if I don't like your plan - Do I still have to pay your fee?

At Houston Landscape Images, it is practically impossible to go through the entire design process and produce a plan that the customer does not like. The reason for this is that the design process cannot go forward without constant input and effective communication between the designer and the client. The preliminary drawings/plans produced during the design process are based on existing site conditions and information given to the designer by the client. The design process would never get beyond the preliminary plan stage without the approval of the client. The preliminary plan stage is where any remaining problems are resolved. The final plan is based on preliminary plans (modified, or not) which have been approved by the client.

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I want to install the landscape myself. Will you do the design work?

Yes, we will charge you for the design and consultation fees. (click here to go to our design services page) But generally, we believe that the best landscapes are designed and built by the same responsible party. We think this continuity is important. Our entire company is set up to manage a project from beginning to end.

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What is the average cost of a landscape?

There is no such thing. Landscaping is personal. Some people invest nothing in their landscape while others invest great amounts. However, from a real estate point of view, (click here to read an article by the smart money magazine) if a homeowner invests less than five percent of the value of their house on landscape development, then they are probably not doing it justice. A landscape investment will probably not significantly affect the resale value of a house unless it approaches ten percent of the value of the house. Landscapes involving outdoor living areas, water features, seasonal gardens, and various other hardscape elements obviously represent much greater investments by their owners.

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Why do you collect a retainer for design services?

We collect a retainer to cover the initial costs of our design services. We feel it represents a solid commitment to the design process on the part of the client, and this is necessary for success of the project. Furthermore, it shows that the client has confidence in us and our abilities, which is also important for success.  At Houston Landscape Images, we normally rebate design fees when our crews complete a project. However, consultation fees are usually not rebated, because there is rarely any crew work associated with advice given outside of the design process.

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Why do I need a landscape designer? Can I do this on my own.

Most people can do anything they put their minds to. The reason we are not all experts at everything is because of limited time. We tend to be good at those things that interest us, because this is where we spend most of our time. A qualified landscape designer has many years of concentrated education, training, and experience behind his/her counsel. The landscape design process is both time consuming and exacting. It requires skill, creativity, and the ability to communicate effectively with others using several different types of media.  If a person has the education, experience, talent, and creativity of a professional landscape designer combined with the installation, construction, and maintenance experience of a veteran field supervisor, then they don't need to hire a landscape designer; they can and should design and build their own landscape.

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What is the difference between design and consultation?

DESIGN is an information gathering and problem solving "process" which is intended to culminate in a plan of attack for completing a project.

CONSULTATION is the act or process of giving expert or professional advice.

The primary distinction between design work and consultation lies with the intended outcome or objectives of the endeavor. The objective of the design process is to arrive at a plan of attack for completing a desired project. The objective of consultation is simply to provide expertise and advice on specific issues.

The main difference between a designer and a consultant is the degree to which they are involved in a project. The designer has overall responsibility for conducting the entire design process. A consultant only provides expertise and advice on specific issues. A consultant can give valuable advice throughout a project without fully understanding the overall scope and objectives of the project. Such is not the case with a designer. The designer must understand everything about the project; how everything fits together. By definition, a designer is a consultant, but a consultant is not necessarily a designer.

At Houston Landscape Images, we normally rebate design fees when our crews complete a project. However, consultation fees are usually not rebated, because there is rarely any crew work associated with advice given outside of the design process.

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What if I like the plan, but the installation costs far exceed my budget, do I still owe you for the plan even if I'm not going to use it?

Sometimes a landscape plan is produced that a client cannot afford to install. This can happen for a number of reasons. The client may have withheld accurate budgetary information from the designer the client may have requested, or demanded, specific features which were inherently expensive and beyond their means. The client may have wanted a designer to put together a "dream" landscape regardless of cost just to see if it's affordable. Since pricing a project is about the last step in the design process, it is very easy to be over budget without knowing it until the very end. Such a situation does not negate the honest efforts of the designer any more than a dry well would negate the efforts of well drillers.

Obviously, one of the objectives of the design process is to try to develop a landscape that the customer can afford. Sometimes this is not possible. Unfortunately, some people want more than they can afford at one particulate time. The good news is that we have some financing options that may help with this problem. click here for details 

When a client enters into a design consultation agreement with Houston Landscape Images, they are agreeing to pay for the designer's time and expenses?  If the designer produces a plan in accordance with the needs and wants of the client, then the client is obligated to pay for the designer's time and incurred expenses at the previously agreed upon rates. 

The important thing to note is that the client must be honest and up front with the designer about their finances. It is often uncomfortable or awkward discussing budgets early in the design process. For some it's like putting the cart before the horse. But a successful landscape plan demands realistic budgetary figures from the clients early on. Many clients give mixed signals. For instance, a client may request a swimming pool, gardens, deck extension, and a split-rail fence around their yard and then tell the designer they have a ten thousand dollar budget. This is unrealistic; they know it and the designer knows it. If the design process moves beyond this point it is with the understanding that such a project will cost far more than ten thousand dollars.

There are other ways to handle over-budget projects. One way is to phase the project. Most projects can be separated into distinct parts. These parts can be completed when the client can afford to do so. Another way to handle an over-budget project is to change it. Sometimes this can be as simple as using smaller plants or less expensive varieties. Less expensive construction elements can also be substituted for those originally specified. Rarely is a project so far out of line that it can't be salvaged; the design process simply won't allow it.

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Can you do the work in stages if I'm unable to afford it all at one time? What needs to be done first?

Phasing the work is a great way to develop a landscape, especially the larger, more complex and expensive projects. At Houston Landscape Images, we are glad to phase projects for those customers that request it; in fact, we often encourage customers to phase their projects. However, phasing sometimes add to the overall cost of a project due to extra mobilization costs and other work related inefficiencies. (click here to see our financing options)  Despite the extra costs, sometimes phasing a project is the only way a client can afford it, much the same as a car loan makes it possible to purchase a new vehicle.

Phasing a project cannot be done haphazardly. It must be done in such a manner that work completed in an earlier phase is not affected by work done in later phases. Compare the phasing of a landscape with painting the floor of a room having only one exit; you must start at the furthest point and work towards the exit, otherwise you will be trapped, or ruin your work trying to get out. In general, construction work (i.e., hardscapes) must be done before planting work.

Each project is unique and has its own logical phasing scheme. Once a landscape plan is developed, it is easy for the designer to define a phasing plan to suit the needs of the client. It is important to note that often the landscape element the client wants most, or that is the main focal point, cannot be included in the first phase, because doing so would make completion of later phases impossible or prohibitively expensive. Phasing requires patience.

 

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When the landscape project is completed, will I get a finished set of plans?

Before answering this question, let's define a few terms. A landscape PLAN is a communication device (it can be written, verbal, graphic, computer generated, etc.), which attempts to translate the results of the design process into a set of instructions for completing a project. A DRAWING is an assemblage of lines on some type of surface; the surface can be almost anything, including paper, sand, blackboard, stone, leather, etc. It is important to note that although paper drawings are common components of contemporary landscape plans, they don't have to be components at all. Many excellent landscapes have been developed using other forms of communication.

Normally you will have a set of plans before any work take place, but during the course of some projects, changes are made to the original plans; these are made for a multitude of reasons and always with the knowledge and consent of the client. Therefore a revised set of plans will be given to the client at the end of a project to reflect all of the changes that were made.

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Can I hire subcontractors to do some of the work instead of your company?

It depends. We usually insist on hiring our own subcontractors, if needed, so we can control the overall quality of the project. However, there are times when we welcome a client's help and participation in the role of contractor. This might happen if the client has a previously established relationship with a particular subcontractor, or is for some reason in a better position than we are to coordinate the work of a subcontractor. Such instances are rare, but they do happen.

Houston Landscape Images is a design / build landscape company. We believe that the best landscapes are designed and built by the same responsible party. We think this continuity is important. Our entire company is set up to manage a project from beginning to end. But we will provide design-only services for people who want to complete the project themselves, or with the help of subcontractors. (click here for details)

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When is the best time to contact Houston Landscape Images regarding a landscape project in order to be completed by a desired date?

It is never too soon to begin the design process; the earlier, the better. The problem is not starting too early, it is starting too late. The design process takes time, It could take hours, weeks or months. If you would like work to begin in the spring, contact us the prior fall or early winter at the latest; if you would like work to begin in the fall, contact us the prior spring or early summer. If you contact us during the busy seasons (spring and fall), it may be difficult for us to give you immediate attention. Sometimes we can accommodate last minute projects, but it would be wise not to count on it.

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For more information please contact us at (281) 340-9206 or go to our online request form.

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