What To Know About Landscape Design Firms Service Agreements

Landscape Design Service Contracts

The Importance of Service Contracts For Landscape Design Firms

A well-written landscape design service agreement can ensure a relationship that gets off the ground on the right foot and protects everyone involved.

You've done your research, interviewed several potential landscape design firms and are now ready to hire a professional designer for your landscaping project. Congratulations! It's always exciting to make changes around your home, and you're probably bursting at the seams for your landscape architect to design your dream garden. Before any work can begin, you'll need to have a contract in places.

An agreement can take several forms, and there are some important clauses to understand when entering a contract with a designer. Here's what to expect when you receive a landscape design service contract, so everyone involved has clear expectations and an explicit agreement in place before the work begins.

Why A Landscape Design Contract Is Necessary

A good contractor protects everyone involved, both you and your designer. It clearly defines the scope of work and sets parameters and expectations for everything from communication, to payment, and document ownership. It is the template for building a productive relationship in which both parties understand what is expected of them. 

I include this information based on my experience and for informational purposes. This article is a set of guidelines, and suggestions, not legal advice. You should hire an attorney 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 small fee.

Types of Agreement Documents

Depending upon the scope of work and complexity of your project, an agreement can take different forms. For a small job, a letter of agreement may be all you need. It includes straightforward information about the project, including a clear outline of services provided and payment terms.

Contracts are a more formal and complex than a letter of agreement. While both are technically legal documents, a contract is written more formally. The standard contract format includes the project address, client and designer listed first. Contracts have definitions and clauses that reference one another, which can make a contract harder to understand if you're not familiar with these types of documents. 

Typical Sections Found In An Agreement

Agreements typically include several specific sections written to spell out each component of the client-designer relationship. At a minimum, an agreement comprises:

• Services: This section may also be called the “scope of work.”
• Client Responsibilities: The client typically provides site information before work can begin. All these responsibilities are outlined.
• Compensation and Payments: Fees may be charged hourly, lump sum, milestone payments, or any combination of these.

Let's explore each section a little deeper.

Services and Scope of Work

The service section is broken down into primary and supplemental elements. Basic services are what the designer will provide within the scope of work outlined in the agreement. Supplemental services are additional tasks that fall outside of the contract and are charged in addition to the agreed upon price.  For example, the basic services could be outlined as a scope of work that includes concept design, planting design and construction management, with a definition for each service. 

Supplemental services include any changes or additions requested by the client that is not defined in the basic services agreement. An example of a supplemental service is a significant plan revision after a final site plan has been approved. Rates for any additional services are included in the contract.

Client Responsibilities

Your designer will need information from you before they can start the design process. These responsibilities may vary depending on the project but may include a survey plat or homeowner's association rules. If you're creating a new grading plan, you may need to provide a professional topographical survey.

Payment Terms

Every business has different payment terms; most have a system in place for charging clients for the work. Payment terms in your contract will state the amount to be paid, when and how it will be billed and when payment is due. There are two common fee structures landscape architects will use:

Rates vary depending on the type of designer or landscape architect you are hiring. Rates can range from $50 per hour to $250 or more.

Stipulated / Lump Sum
The stipulated sum contract will include a “not to exceed” amount and may be separated into percentages for each phase of the design in the scope of work. For example, a $15,000 contract may be divided into a 10% down payment, 30% for the concept design, 30% for the construction drawings/documents, and 30% for construction administration. The fees would be due at the end of each phase as outlined by the contract.

Copyright and Document Ownership

Your designer or landscape architect will provide you with a complete set of designs, either as a concept plan or a full set of detailed construction drawings. These drawings are subject to copyright law, even though you are paying for them to be created. The most common vehicle for transferring ownership is through a non-exclusive license. This allows the drawings to be used for construction. 
All this means is that you will be legally allowed to use the drawings to get your project built, which includes sharing the drawings with third-party landscape contractors. The designer retains the rights to the drawings for other uses, like showcasing images on a website and showing them to other potential clients.

About Michael Conway and Means-of-Production

I'm the owner of Means-of-Production, a full service marketing firm that builds Squarespace websites for built environment firms. I design sites that help you get found online, attract better prospects, and capture leads. If you need help with a Squarespace site that you're working on click here to view my calendar and schedule a call. I am a Squarespace Specialist and Authorized Trainer. Together we can build a website that attracts the right clients and grows your business.