DIY or Hire a Pro? 3 Factors to Consider

I read a funny comment on a message board recently about do-it-yourself landscaping. The comment said:

“DIY is fine, if you’re happy with it taking twice as long, resulting in half the quality.”

As a self-proclaimed cheapskate, I have to disagree. However I have seen my fair share of DIY projects go sideways to know where this person is coming from.

A few years ago my neighbor rented a Bobcat and no sooner than the blade broke ground, water was gushing ten feet high in the air.

A project that was supposed to save a few hundred dollars, ended up costing my neighbor a few thousand in repairs to his backyard.

But don’t let the horror stories scare you away from doing it yourself. I’ve taken on several home improvement projects and most, if not all, saved me money.

For example, a few years ago we got a quote of $25,000 to remove gravel and install some fieldstone at the front of one our houses.

Another guy wanted $2,000 to trim some bushes out back and $900 to lop off a couple tree limbs hanging over the roof.

We decided the gravel was fine since we were going to sell soon anyway. And after a trip to our local hardware store and $127 later, I was able to remove the hanging tree limbs and trim the bushes myself.

It’s not every day you get to turn $38 (pole saw) into $900. And $89 (hedge trimmers) into $2,000!

Which brings me to my next question: when is hiring a pro worth it?

First, know there are different types of pros you can hire when it comes to landscaping.

Landscape Designer vs. Landscape Architect

Both landscape designers and landscape architects know how to “age” your your plantings up to 20 years into the future and “hardscape” your yard with walls, pathways, benches, and pergolas.

They’re trained to notice problems before they evolve and pros have the experience to turn your yard from an eyesore into a functional work of art, all for a price.

If you hire a landscape designer, you’re looking at spending between $50 to $150 per hour. And for a landscape architect, you’ll be paying between $150 to $250 per hour.

What’s the difference?

Designers are unregulated and don’t have to pass a certification test to work in the field. Whereas landscape architects go to school for four years and serve lengthy apprenticeships before they are required to pass the Landscape Architect Registration Exam.

But that doesn’t mean you get less quality work if you hire a designer. In fact, most outdoor projects only require a designer’s eye and expertise to be done right.

When you should consider hiring a landscape architect is when you’re faced with more challenging projects that involve unusual grade changes or extensive hardscaping that requires more engineering.

Some other benefits you get from hiring a pro are as follows:

Experience and Knowledge

Pros will ensure the job gets done right the first time. You’re not relying on your father-in-law’s experience of digging one or two holes on his property 15 years ago. You’re relying on someone who’s dug up 100 if not 1,000 or more holes in backyards, who’s seen it all.

You’re also paying for a pro’s knowledge about plant characteristics that can prevent plant loss within the first few seasons. One of the costliest mistakes you can make is having to replace plants and trees that die due to incorrect planting a year or two later.

Sourcing of Quality Products for Less

In most cases, a landscaper sources products in bulk and at wholesale prices. If you pay for a pro, you often get the added benefit of having those savings passed down.

And for big projects where transportation has to be factored in, bulk purchases can significantly reduce your overall costs. Landscapers also typically have relationships with multiple suppliers so you tend to get better quality products.

Skills

As I said earlier, for projects that require more engineering expertise, it pays to hire a pro like a landscape architect. They’ll take into account everything from the pitch of your lawn to what building permits you need signed in order to keep your project moving along schedule.

Having to learn how to use certain pieces of large equipment not only wastes time on a project but can be downright dangerous if you don’t have the right training. Pros have been trained with the right skills to get the job done safely and correctly.

Up on Modern Trends

Reputable landscapers usually keep up to date with the latest trends and will be able to advise you on new ideas that might increase the curb appeal of your home.

Several new complexes and estates require you to follow a set of landscaping guidelines, that typically have you incorporating indigenous plants. A pro will be able to follow these guidelines and ensure your yard conforms to the requirements.

When Should You DIY

That all said, there are still several instances when it’s worth your time and money to DIY. Here are few rules of thumb for when you should take on an outdoor project:

1. If It’s a Small Job, with Little or No Hardscaping

Installing a small garden, trimming some bushes or limbing a few small branches off a tree are all good candidates for DIY.

The risk of injury and messing up your yard are low for these types of projects. Your only costs are the equipment you buy or rent and your time.

As for designing, you can find lots of good ideas in gardening books, magazines and online. Talk to your neighbors and friends with green thumbs and see if they can offer some insight.

Another benefit to taking on small projects is it usually means fewer trips to your local nursery.

Transportation of plants and mulch and soil, back and forth add up in gas money and time. Smaller projects typically don’t have you running around as much.

2. You Have A Professional Design, But You’re On A Budget

Sometimes it’s worth hiring a landscaper just for their eye. What you can do is pay a pro to mock-up what they would do for your property, which should include a plant list and bill of quantities, then you go out and do the work yourself.

This works well when you’re on a budget. If you have the time and necessary help, landscaping can be a great way to get some extra exercise in on weekends and save you money. Just choose your projects carefully. In some cases, hiring a pro will be the same price as doing it yourself or cheaper.

3. You Love Gardening And Have No Time Constraints

Another reason to DIY is simply because you love gardening and being outdoors. Life’s about spending time doing the things you love.

It might be cheaper and faster to hire someone to do the work, but if you like doing the work and have the time, why not take on a big project yourself. Working on your yard in stages can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby once you retire.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

— Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap

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