Why we work for very few Landscape Architects and Designers

Why we work for very few Landscape Architects and Designers

By Mike Gambino

contractors agreementIf one has been building landscape lighting systems for any length of time they have probably had negative experiences trying to work with landscape Architects and Designers. They have probably also witnessed the frustration, disappointment and financial challenges some architects and designers cause for home owners due to their methods of doing business, lack of landscape lighting experience and how they do design development.   Keep in mind I purposely said “some architects and designers”.   Just as there are good and bad system builders, there are good and bad architects and designers. I have personally worked with a handful of great landscape architects and designers.

Below I offer 10 ways I think many landscape architects and designers do a disservice to system builders and property owners.  For simplicity and the necessity to avoid repetition I will refer to the project designer and contact person with the owner as “Architect” and the builder of the project as the “contractor”.

  1. The architect either invites multiple contractors to bid on the project or gives the homeowner the names of 5 (or more) contractors to bid on the project, essentially setting up an auction.  So 5 contractors and all their subs do free estimates for the chance to be the lowest bidder (biggest loser).  Then when the property owner actually buys from a contractor they are the ones paying for all the free estimates that contractor did for the people who did not buy.  I think it would be interesting to hear the reaction property owners might have if they knew they were paying for other property owners’ free estimates.
  2. Most architects have no estimating training and or experience? Many architects say they can and will design to a budget and or quote “per fixture” costs to their clients that are unrealistic.   Then if the contractor bids come in over budget many architects will blame all the contractors for being over-priced.   These same architects then even have the nerve to charge the home owner to redesign the project to get it closer to the original budget.  Why do property owners put up with being treated that way?
  3. Many architects create multiple designs and plan sets for the same project, most of which never get built. When this happens often times the property owner spends so much money on the unusable designs that they have to then scale back the project budget.  Unfortunately the property owner pays for it all the wasted services and contractors waste their and their suppliers time doing multiple estimates, typically all for free.
  4. Some architects charge contractors a referral fee for introducing them to the client, but tell the contractor they don’t want the client to know about it.  In my opinion this is not ethical.   I have no problem with the referral fee as long as the contractor is OK with it.  But hiding it from the client is deceptive because now the cost of the referral is a cost of the project, and, in essence, the architect is asking the contractor to lie about it.   I don’t think contractors need to volunteer the information.  But, if asked about it by the client,  I think the contractor needs to be honest.  Letting the property owner know that their markup on costs has to help cover the cost of the architect’s referral fee could help justify the markup percentage.
  5. The architect provides incomplete and or conflicting plans.  This one creates big challenges for the property owner as well as the contractor.   If the contractor points out the missing details he can be accused of throwing the architect under the bus and probably won’t get the job.  On the other hand if the items are missed or ignored when the contractor provides a price the missed items become change orders and the property owner has to pay the additional cost.
  6. Many architects take the plans too far before knowing if the customer can actually afford the project and or if the project can actually be built.  I think this is one of the worst things architects do to their customers.   Wouldn’t it make sense to make sure that the project and or the scope are realistic before spending the client’s money to bring the plans from concept to ready to quote?
  7. Some architects require the contractor to pay for their design errors or omissions.   That means essentially the contractor has to eat any additional costs to meet project requirements even if the plans and or the design don’t meet code.  Shouldn’t a licensed architect be responsible to design to and be responsible to their clients for the additional costs of what they missed?
  8. Not allowing the contractor to meet the home owner before providing a bid.   I’m really not sure why architects do this.   Why refer a contractor to the project but then not allow both the home owner and the contractor the opportunity to meet and make sure there is a good fit and that the budget is realistic before asking the contractor to invest a lot of his and his trade partner’s time assembling an estimate?  I think this may have to do with number 2 above.   The architect has no idea what the project will really cost and doesn’t want to risk that the contractor will help the home owner figure that out.  If contractors allow this to happen and still submit a bid, shame on them!
  9. They over-design the project past the agreed budget without providing realistic insight about the additional costs.   Again, assuming the architect agreed to design to a budget, refer to number 2 above.   If the property owner asks for things and or the architect suggests things that will blow the agreed budget, shouldn’t the architect make the true price difference clear to the home owner first and ask if they will commit to increasing their budget before expanding the design and collecting bids from contractors?
  10. The architect specifies products out of a catalog he has no experience with.    This one has caused many contractors a lot of money and or lost sleep. Often the products can be difficult to procure, may be new and have not yet been proven to serve their intended purpose long term, and or may be way outside the client’s budget.  By doing this the architect often creates financial hardships for the contractor and the property owner, and can cause serious project failure and or warranty problems that typically fall back on the contractor, not the architect.

This is why at Gambino Landscape Lighting we much prefer to install our own designs with our own products and interact directly with the property owner so we have complete control over the success of the project and satisfaction of the client.

Facebook-iceThis landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 20 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .

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