Learn The Types of Service Contracts Landscape Designers Use

Landscape design service agreements can ensure a working relationship that gets off on the right foot and protects both parties.

You have interviewed several landscape design professionals, and now you are ready to hire a professional designer for your landscape project. Congratulations! It’s a very exciting time, and you are probably bursting at the seams for the landscape architect to design the garden of your dreams. Before the designer can begin work, you will need to have an official agreement in place.

AFLA-Landscape Design, original photo on Houzz

AFLA-Landscape Design, original photo on Houzz

An agreement can take several forms, and there are some important clauses to understand when going into a contract with a designer. Here’s how to make sense of the landscape design service contract so that you and the designer have clear expectations and a clear agreement setup before the work begins.

Why a Contract Is Necessary

A contract protects both you and the designer. It clearly defines the scope of work and sets expectations for communication, payment and document ownership. It sets the stage from the very beginning for a productive working relationship in which both parties know what is expected of them.

As a landscape architect, I am including this information based on my experience for informational purposes only. This article is not legal advice; landscape designers need to hire a lawyer to create and review contracts. A helpful starting point is the American Society of Landscape Architects’ standard form contracts. Sample contracts are available to ASLA members for a fee.

Murdock Solon Architects, original photo on Houzz

Murdock Solon Architects, original photo on Houzz

Types of Agreement Documents

Agreements can take different forms, depending on the scope and complexity of the project. For small, simple projects, a letter of agreement will serve you well. A letter of agreement includes straightforward information about the project with a clear outline of services provided and terms of payment. 

Contracts are more formal and complex than a letter of agreement. (Technically, though, they both are deemed contracts in a court of law.) They are written in a standard contract format, with the project address, client and designer listed first. Contracts have definitions and clauses that reference one another, which can make a contract hard to decipher if you are not familiar with contract documents.

Pedersen Associates, original photo on Houzz

Pedersen Associates, original photo on Houzz

Typical Agreement Sections

There are sections typically included in the agreement, and they are written to spell out each component of the client-designer relationship. At a minimum an agreement includes these sections:

  • Services: The services may also be called the scope of work.
  • Client responsibilities: The client usually provides some site information before work can start. Those responsibilities are outlined.
  • Compensation and payments: The fee structure might be hourly, a lump sum or some combination.
Singing Gardens, original photo on Houzz

Singing Gardens, original photo on Houzz

Services and Scope of Work

The services piece is broken down into basic and supplemental. Basic services are what will be provided within the scope of the agreement, and supplemental services are additional tasks that incur additional fees. For example, the basic services could be outlined as a scope of work that includes concept design, planting design and construction administration, with a definition for each type of service.

Supplemental services are defined as anything requested by the client that’s not defined in the basic services. An example of a supplemental service is a major plan revision after a final site plan has been approved. Rates for supplemental services are included in the contract.

Client Responsibilities

The designer needs some information from you before he or she can start the design process. The responsibilities vary according to the particular constraints and setting of your project, and might include a survey plat and homeowner’s association rules. I also require a professional topographical survey if I am being hired to create a new grading plan.

Payment Terms

Each company has different payment terms, and most have some form of system in place for charging clients for work. The payment terms state the amount to be paid, when and how it will be billed, and when it is due. There are two very common fee structures used by landscape architects:

Hourly: Rates vary depending on the type of designer or landscape architect you are hiring. As with architects, the rates can vary from $50 per hour to over $250 per hour.

Stipulated sum (also called lump sum): The stipulated sum, with an amount not to exceed, may be separated into percentages for each phase of design in the scope of work. For example, a $15,000 lump-sum contract might be divided into 10 percent for a down payment, 30 percent for the concept design, 30 percent for construction documents and 30 percent for construction administration. The payments would be due at the end of each design phase, as listed in the contract.

Archiverde Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz

Archiverde Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz

Copyright and Document Ownership

The designer will provide you with a set of design drawings, either as a concept plan or a full set of detailed construction drawings. Those drawings are subject to copyright law, even though you are paying for them to be done. The most common vehicle for transferring document ownership is called a non-exclusive license, which allows for the drawings to be used for constructing the project. All this means is that you will be able to use the drawings however you need to in order to get the project built, which includes sharing the drawings with landscape contractors. The designer retains the right to the drawings for other uses, like showcasing the images on a website and showing them to other potential clients.

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This article is by Houzz Editorial Staff writer Falon Mihalic. Falon writes about the landscape design and construction. She is a Landscape Architect in Texas and Florida and owner of Falon Land Studio LLC.