Questions to Ask a Landscape Designer Before Embarking on an Outdoor Project

Creating a livable, fun, and functional outdoor space has become more essential than ever before. Whether you desire dining, relaxing, entertaining, playing, or a blend of these activities, designing such a space takes a talented team.

Before you embark on your outdoor design endeavor, here are some questions to ask a landscape designer to ensure that you get the outdoor living space of your dreams.

Does your company only do design, or are you a full-service Design + Build?

Some landscape designers, like some architects, will create a conceptual, or schematic, design. Once the design is complete, the client has to hire a contractor for the “construction” of the project. If you prefer to work with a single company, consider a full-service firm that offers Design + Build.

Do you charge for an initial meeting?

Some designers may charge a fee, but many don’t. At Harrell Remodeling, the first appointment with potential clients is a free fact-finding mission to discover more about the clients, their needs, their budget, and to see the property in person. It’s also an opportunity to see if both parties are the right fit for one another.

Are you certified by the APLD?

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers certification program is an industry standard that ensures those holding an APLD designation have met certain criteria and have passed a rigorous review of their work. APLDs are also committed to continuing education and must maintain ongoing continuing education units (CEUs).

Do you have a website where I can see previous work?

Being able to see a designer’s work offers insight into their ability to design a variety of outdoor spaces.

Do you have client reviews on Yelp, Houzz, or Google?

Independent reviews from past clients, rather than curated references, provide real-life experiences. Not only can reviews share what went well, but if there were any challenges or unforeseen obstacles, they can provide insights as to how the designer worked with the homeowner to overcome any issues.

Can you help us understand the pros and cons of what we want and need?

An expert landscape designer should help a homeowner understand the pros and cons of their choices, such as what types of stone will work best in their environment and which species of plants will thrive in their microclimate. An expert landscape designer will also ask in-depth questions about the activities, and the people who will use the areas. Determining the best options for each unique project is part of the design process.

Lisa Parramore, Harrell Remodeling’s APLD Landscape Designer, shares this example: “A potential client wanted shade over an attached deck. They initially were thinking of a pergola. I provided three different options: the pergola, shade sails, or a retractable awning. By providing three-dimensional renderings that allowed them to visualize the space, they quickly discovered that the awning was the best fit; when the awning is retracted, they can see the deck and the back yard from their second story balcony. They didn’t realize this was important to them until they could see the space.”

How does the design process work?

Understanding how a designer works enables homeowners to better grasp the creative process. Inquire how many initial design concepts you can expect and if the process is a collaborative one.

What if we don’t like the design?

Most designers understand that creating a design is not a “one and done” endeavor. Lisa explains that clients can provide reactions to and feedback about multiple design concepts to arrive at a final design that meets their approval and budget.

Can you work within my budget?

Landscape designers will need to understand your project budget and list of requirements to determine if the two align. A professional should give potential clients an idea of what is possible for the funding available and offer alternatives to bring the wish list and budget inline if necessary.

What is the average cost of an outdoor project?

An experienced landscape designer should be able to provide a ballpark estimate for your project. The cost of creating an outdoor space is relative to the current market value of your home. Lisa says as a rule of thumb, homeowners can expect the following:

5% of home value: basic landscaping with plants and a specimen tree, irrigation, a patio, and a pathway.

10% of home value: The above plus built structures such as pergolas, arbors, fountains, simple BBQ island, and larger trees.

15% of home value (or more): Custom features including an outdoor kitchen with plumbing, electrical, and appliances, swimming pool, vineyards, plus the above.

Do swimming pools add value to my home?

Pools are rising in popularity, especially during the pandemic when people wanted a yard filled with entertainment and exercise options. Whether a pool adds value to your home depends on many factors, Lisa explains. Real estate agents are a good source of information as to whether a pool increases your home’s value in a particular neighborhood. For those who have no intention of moving, it makes sense to evaluate how much you and your family will use and enjoy a pool, regardless of its impact on resale value.

Will permits be necessary for my outdoor project?

Permits are in place to ensure the safety of, and functionality for, the homeowners. Any design aspects that require professional installation by a licensed plumber or electrician will require permits. This includes outdoor kitchens with gas or electric appliances and running water. Swimming pools will also require permits.

As part of each of Harrell Remodeling’s projects, we conduct thorough research. The resulting feasibility study helps determine necessary permits.

Will you handle obtaining all of the necessary permits for my project?

Knowing whether your landscape designer works for a firm that will apply for and pull any required permits is good to know upfront. Homeowners who opt to apply for permits themselves should understand that it can take quite a bit of legwork to ensure that the plans contain all of the information that a building department requires. Conceptual drawings from an independent landscape designer may not be sufficient. As a Design + Build firm, Harrell Remodeling applies for and pulls all required permits on behalf of the homeowners.

How do we pick out materials?

Be sure to inquire if your landscape designer will assist in helping you choose materials for your outdoor project. If they do, ask more about how that process works. Will they bring samples to your home, send you links to websites, or meet you at a local showroom – or maybe do a combination of all three?

Can outdoor tech features be integrated into my existing smart home technology?

There are all kinds of technology that can be incorporated into outdoor living spaces. If tech is a must for you, ask your designer if they can integrate it into your project.

Can you help us design a garden or outdoor space that’s low maintenance?

A landscape designer should be able to meet the needs of their clients, including creating a space that is attractive and functional but low maintenance. Lisa suggests inquiring about drought-tolerant plants, durable materials that require minimal upkeep, and automated irrigation systems. A good designer will review all the options and help homeowners find the “sweet spot” that best fits their lifestyle needs.

How long until construction on my project begins?

An independent landscape designer may not be able to give you start dates, especially if you need to secure a contractor to perform the work. They should be able to provide you with an idea of how long the design process could take.

How long until our project is complete?

Most homeowners want to know generally how long their project will take. Design + Build firms can provide a basic timeline from design to completion. It’s important to note that the city planning/building, and permitting timeframes are outside the control of any designer, contractor, or Design + Build firm.

How do you manage lead times?

If a designer provides the conceptual drawings only, they may not deal with material lead times; this will fall to the contractor. Full-service firms should have a process in place to minimize lead times of materials.

Will you help oversee the installation of structures, plants, etc.?

Some landscape designers will be more involved with installation than others. If you prefer professional placement of plants, shrubs, and trees and someone who will be available to oversee the installation of critical components, Lisa recommends asking this question to designers you interview.
A member of the Harrell Remodeling team is on-site daily at each of our projects, and our designers review essential elements of the project.

What is your warranty?

An independent designer may or may not provide any warranty, but full-service Design + Build firms typically have a workmanship warranty. For outdoor living projects, plants may be covered by a limited warranty; pre-fab structures, materials, and appliances typically have manufacturer’s warranties. Inquire what is covered and by whom. Ask how to make claims and if warranties will be transferred to you once the project is complete.

As a single source from conception through construction, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality. Working as a team, our Design + Build process can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Are you dreaming of ways to reimagine your outdoor spaces? We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced APLD-Certified Landscape Designers.

Or attend one of our virtual workshops to learn more about the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build experience.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.