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Blog by Coleman Cosby, Yardzen’s In-House Construction Expert

Congratulations! Your design is ready. Next steps on your landscaping journey—find a contractor and get a cost estimate. Get a head start by learning how to read a landscaping estimate. This ensures that you’ll understand the scope of work and exactly what you’re paying for. Remember, as part of any Yardzen package, we offer a free bid review service, and we are always happy to assess any bid you receive for best practices and fair market values.

What is a cost estimate?

A cost estimate, or bid, is a document a landscape contractor provides to their client before installation begins. Most estimates list each item or task required to install a landscape design. Line items in these estimates usually include a quantity, unit price, and total estimated cost, so the client can understand the individual cost of every component of their design.

What line items will I find in an estimate?

Estimates typically include line items for each permanent feature of your design. This includes plantings, structures (decks, pergolas, built-in planters or seating), paving, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, sport courts, hot tubs, or other similar features. In addition to design elements, estimates include features that are required to make your design possible: irrigation, drainage, demolition, waste disposal, grading, soil preparation, and more. Costs related to the contractor’s work are also included, such as site setup and cleanup, equipment provision, and office administrative fees. Estimates do not include furniture, decorative items, or other elements that don’t require professional installation. Such items are sourced and purchased directly by clients.

Does an estimate include more than costs and quantities?

Yes. Estimates also provide descriptions of the work to be done. For example, an estimate for a concrete patio will include the area, cost per square foot and total estimated cost of the concrete, but it will also briefly describe the base beneath the concrete, the depth of concrete to be poured, the placement of rebar within the concrete, the surface finish of the concrete, and the strength standard to be met by the finished patio. The terminology and level of detail can be overwhelming to some, but you can always contact your contractor or Yardzen if you need help understanding your bid.

What if I’m not comfortable reviewing an estimate?

We encourage all clients to take a stab at reviewing their estimate, as it prepares them to be a collaborative partner to their contractor. This being said, Yardzen offers a free bid review service, and is happy to assess any bid you receive for best practices and fair market values.

Do estimates vary from contractor to contractor?

Yes. While estimates all provide similar information, some are more precise, others more general. Each contractor has their own preferred estimate format. The actual costs listed in an estimate also vary from one contractor to the next. This is part of why it is good to be a little flexible when approaching a project budget.

How precise is an estimate?

Prices and quantities in an estimate are…estimates. A contractor takes site measurements to make their calculations as accurate as possible, but the quantities and expected costs listed in an estimate may ultimately differ from the final quantities and costs of an installed landscape.

What if the estimate total exceeds my budget?

Yardzen closely tracks budget throughout the design process, but many variables affect installation costs, from site complexity and access to material costs. These variables can push or pull designs out of sync with budget targets when contractors develop their estimates. Fortunately, it’s easy—and very common—for clients and contractors to work together to develop design adjustments and reduce project costs to hit budget targets. Clients can also reduce budget their without making changes to the design layout. Choosing more cost-effective hardscape materials and purchasing plants at smaller sizes are common practices to reduce project costs.

How can I make changes to my design?

Beyond cost reduction, clients and contractors commonly make design changes for a variety of reasons. There may be previously unforeseen circumstances like difficult access or rocky soils, or a client may simply want to tweak a few things based on the contractor’s advice. After determining design adjustments with the client, the contractor will provide an updated estimate.

What happens once we agree on an estimate?

When the client and contractor finalize design adjustments and land on a plan that works for everyone, the contractor then provides a finalized estimate or contract to sign. By signing the final estimate or contract, the client officially hires the contractor for the installation.

Parting Thoughts

Learning to understand estimates expands your understanding of the work required to install your project, and will allow you to work more productively with your contractor. It may take a little time to get comfortable navigating estimates, but the time spent is worthwhile and leads to more successful project outcomes.

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