If you've watched TV shows featuring professional yard makeovers, perhaps you've wondered how homeowners in real life go about finding and vetting such professional help. But first, there's a more fundamental question to answer: Should you hire a landscape architect or landscape designer?
Is the project you have in mind a massive, complex makeover, involving both hardscape and softscape? Are we talking about a large retaining wall, perhaps a swimming pool? Then you probably need to hire a landscape architect or, at the very least, a respected contractor who has access to a variety of specialists.
If, on the other hand, you just need someone with an artistic eye to installing some new flower beds, perhaps accompanied by features such as small waterfalls, hiring a landscape designer should be sufficient. It's important to avoid overkill, since hiring a landscape architect will cost you more money.
Let's say that the project you have in mind is complex enough to require you to hire a landscape architect (and you have the budget to back it up). What specific questions should you be asking before you go ahead and hire a landscape architect? For that matter, how do you even find a landscape architect?
Word of Mouth
Start by asking around to see if you can't learn something through the grapevine about local landscape architects. Do you know someone who has a terrific-looking yard that provides a nice example of the features you're looking for? Ask them who did the work and:
- Are you satisfied with the job done by this landscape architect?
- How long did the job take?
- Did any unexpected problems arise in the course of the project? How did the landscape architect resolve them?
- How much did the landscape architect charge?
- Was the landscape architect a good listener and a good communicator?
- What was it like having the crew around on a daily basis? Were they personable and considerate?
- Did all parties act in a professional manner?
- Was the landscape architect amenable to correcting mistakes, if any, at the end of the makeover?
Receiving answers to such questions could be your first lead in your quest to hire a landscape architect. Don't underestimate the importance of personality questions. Remember, you're going to be seeing so much of these people that, after a while, you may have to remind yourself they're not family members.
Bad reviews are just as vital to the decision process. Fortunately, if a landscape architect deserves bad reviews, there's usually a good chance you'll hear about it. It's just human nature: If word of mouth spreads fast, then tales of woe spread like wildfire. If your neighbor knows a friend of a friend who once had a bad experience with this particular landscape architect, your neighbor will probably be more than happy to pass the word along. people love to share disaster stories.
This whole process of finding a landscape architect should begin well in advance of the date you project for the start of the makeover. Successful professionals are often booked well in advance. Landscape architects are no exception. Begin doing the footwork the year before you expect to see a shovel first break ground. Landscape architects may be least accessible for interviews during the summer, their busy time.
Do Your Internet Research
Finding a landscape architect through the grapevine is probably the ideal. But what if word of mouth yields no leads? Well, the internet increasingly provides a nice alternative.
For example, you can use the "Find a Firm" feature on the website for the American Society of Landscape Architects to find landscape architects in your city. They'll come up in the search results, with the appropriate contact information.
Ask the Right Questions
Before you get in touch, draw up a list of questions. The questions should reflect what you want to see a landscape architect achieve in your yard. Trust your instincts afterward.
- Was the representative courteous and informative?
- Were your questions answered to your satisfaction?
- Were you rushed off the telephone, or did the representative make you feel special?
Besides your questions regarding the specifics of your own makeover, ask for references. Landscape architects worth hiring will benefit from reports from past clients. Trustworthy landscape architects will be glad to provide a list of telephone numbers of local clients satisfied with a job well done.
Meet the Candidates
If a landscape architect's references furnish glowing reports, it's time to invite the landscape architect to your property for a face-to-face interview. If you can draw a rough plan of what you desire on paper beforehand, something concrete to show the landscape architect. But most landscape architects will also bring some sort of portfolio to such an interview, giving you a chance to point to a picture and say, "Yeah, I want something like this." Walk the property together and describe exactly what you envision.
Besides coming away with an estimate, don't forget some of the less glamorous details. Request to see certificates of liability and workman’s compensation insurance, and check that they are current. Phone the insurance company to verify current policy information.
If there's more than one landscape architect, interview them all. Competition is a good thing. All else being equal, select the landscape architect who leaves you with the feeling, "This is someone I can work with, someone who will listen to me and do what it takes, within reason, to satisfy my expectations."