November 15, 2011
By Arthur Skolnik

arthur skolnikOnce, at the end of an initial meeting, a client asked me if $2,500 would be a realistic estimate to build a deck, lay several hundred feet of flagstone and create a water feature.  He wasn’t joking.  

Most people don’t know what their landscaping dollar buys. Yet, most homeowners have a sense of the cost and a good idea of what they’ll receive when it comes to kitchen renovations, bathroom tiling, drywall, painting, etc.

A few homeowners are willing to spend big money on the landscape, but most remain bound with trepidation and uncertainty. We seem to be in an era when dream landscapes are more available, but the cost to realize those dreams remains largely unknown. I think it’s partially because the homeowner needs to place much more trust in the contractor who works outside. Outside, the thrill of the realization of the work is untested and un-experienced, compared to the inside guy.  Here everyone has seen the transformation within their own home, or at a friend’s home. They are unsure if that same thrill will be there at the end of the outside job.

After a typical one hour initial meeting with potential clients, the first FAQ is, “How much should I spend on my landscaping?” That’s a good and valid question.

A simple formula I lay on the table is for them to consider a dollar amount equal to roughly ten per cent of the value of the home. That means a million dollar home might have $100,000 as a starting point for a discussion about a client’s needs and wishes, and what it will cost to deliver. Does that include the front and the back? Where does a swimming pool figure in the overall dollars? What if the majority of the work is wet-laid flagstone and tall stone walls? Or, what if the client wants an instant collection of mature and rare Japanese maples?

That’s why the 10 per cent of the value of a home is only a starting point; a threshold for homeowners to wrap their minds around what landscaping can cost. The answer to how much should I spend on my landscaping, is open for interpretation, negotiation and plenty of explanation, but at least ten per cent of the house value is a starting point.

When your clients ask how much they should spend on landscaping, offer dollar amounts for different materials, and explain your fees regarding hourly rates and daily equipment usage

Drop me a line to Arthur Skolnik, and I may include your comments in an upcoming Contractors’ Newsletter.

Thanks to Alica Dusil of Dusil Design and Landscape, Burlington, for her comments regarding the last newsletter.
Arthur Skolnik owns Shibui Landscaping in Toronto and is a member of the Landscape Contractors Sector Group.