The Yardzen reviews are in. Worth it? Sometimes. But,
Before I start, I want to preface this blog post by saying I get very excited about new ideas coming out of the Bay Area. This is not a hit piece, and I am not looking to disparage a brand. Rather, I’m only looking to answer the same questions I get asked time and time again, and to create a reference for potential clients looking to know more. That being said, let’s talk about Yardzen.
If you’ve spent any time online in the last 18 months looking for information about outdoor living or design, you’ve probably stumbled across Yardzen. This is thanks to their robust ad strategy on Google, Instagram, and Facebook. It’s clear that this company has found a niche of people who feel underserved, and are happy to pay for the assistance.
What is Yardzen?
If you don’t already know, Yardzen is an online landscape design firm working with clients 100% remotely. To do this, they utilize an API they created to both present designs, as well as receive feedback. They use a series of colorful surveys to determine your needs, desired styles and expectations as well as set their own.
The Bay Area is known throughout the world for forward thinking folks coming out with creative ideas that shape their respective industries. Yardzen is definitely part of this group. I have, and will continue to, refer Yardzen to potential clients who may benefit from this business model. This may mean they have a restricted timeline, limited budget, or aren’t looking for a certain level of commitment from a local designer. But just as I will continue to make these referrals when appropriate, I think it’s important to talk about where Yardzen excels, and where they fall short.
I had the joy of speaking with the founders of Yardzen before they really took off. These were great conversations, and I was (and still am) excited for their success. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this company is how fast they have been able to grow in such a short time. Seemingly overnight, they went from unknown to being a name on the tip of everyone’s tongue in this space.
The COVID19 pandemic has played a large role in their sudden boom. Now that everyone and their mother are well-versed in Zoom meetings, working with a designer remotely is no longer foreign. In fact, in some ways it’s become a new normal. During this boom, they have been producing impressive amounts of design work. More than any other brand, they’ve been able to take advantage of this new business-client environment and implement a streamlined way for home owners to design their outdoor living space digitally.
When clients ask me what I think about this business model, I tend to answer in a few different ways. My opinions usually hinge on the needs of the project at hand, and the needs of the client I am speaking with. While I don’t have a single answer to the question “is Yardzen worth it?”, I do have some thoughts about why going this route can create potential issues.
Yardzen Cost vs. Reality
If you’re looking to find the most affordable landscape designer available, the costs associated with Yardzen look pretty enticing. Paying less than 3k to have your entire property redesigned is a tempting prospect. This is only more true once you speak to Bay Area designers and find out local rates and pricing.
Still, you should be prepared for what low costs mean to the design process. For 3k, you may receive designs, but your designer will never visit your property. They will not be able to get a true feel for your space, and this distance can lead to issues down the road especially when a designer is needed to visit a project site to monitor progress or to interject when the design is not followed by the contractor building it. Still, in the Bay Area, other design services start the conversation at around 5k for a Yardzen style deliverable and up to as far as 10%-15% of the project total for a top dollar Landscape Architect (which is excessive). That said, the appeal of a service such as Yardzen is understandable.
There are multiple reports and Yardzen reviews stating that initial project budgets given by clients don't match up with the pricing contractors they introduce are offering. Some of these Yardzen reviews report differences being in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is possibly the most important casualty of working with a designer/firm that doesn't fully understand how far a dollar does or doesn't go.
It may surprise you to hear, but in the last 12 months, I have received several emails and LinkedIn messages from designers working for Yardzen looking to grow their freelancing business with other outdoor design firms. 100% of these individuals did not live in the United States and from the conversations I’ve had, it seems most of them haven’t visited either.
Another interesting thing about these designers is many of them work for multiple Online Design firms and all of them are direct competitors of Yardzen. Once Yardzen popped up, many competitors came to the market trying to streamline the process even further with a smaller commitment in cost.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with a business model whose emphasis is on affordability needing to hire or outsource foreign outdoor living designers. It’s likely the only way they are able to offer such low rates to clients while still making a profit. Simply speaking, the American dollar goes further in less developed countries, while the designers maintain similar skill and experience with drafting, 3D modeling, and rendering.
So while the skill of your designer is likely to be to par in terms of using technology, their familiarity with the latest trends and best practices is likely a bit out-dated. They aren’t likely to know the unique challenges of living in the Bay Area, customizing spaces to local standards, or have any knowledge of the idiosyncrasies that come with doing major construction in this area of the country.
Additionally, it’s unlikely that they are considering your budget constraints or opportunities, but are rather focused on simply making money to deliver design work based off of a wishlist that was delivered digitally rather than in person or via a video call. Because of the level of disconnect digital design imbibes, there is likely less emphasis on making your space come to life, and even less concern for helping to aid the implementation of the design.
While Yardzen does seem to have a heavy US based presence, a simple search on LinkedIn shows that most US based partners are working in executive and support roles. Still, we cannot speak to how true this is, as we have not worked with Yardzen beyond initial conversations with the cofounders before the company blew up.
Yardzen Project Involvement
Part of the Yardzen promise is that once the design process is completed, they will refer you to a local contractor in their system who can help execute the design. We appreciate this. It is our belief that this step should be mandatory for any quality design company, and still, many local design companies do not do this. So we can definitely appreciate the intention.
However, the feedback seen in many online Yardzen reviews, as well as feedback we’ve heard from clients that have come to us after using Yardzen, is that this process is not entirely thought out. While we cannot say that these reviews offer any universal conclusion, it is worth noting. Additionally, of the eight contractors we work with regularly at Water and Earth, at least half previously installed a Yardzen project. Yet, none of them work with Yardzen anymore, despite being some of the leading contractors in their field.
So what does this mean? At the end of the day, if you want a customer outdoor living space designed and built, it is critical that the designer who created the space is available for continued assistance during the construction process. Outdoor landscaping and design can get complicated, and when problems arise, you may need help from the person who envisioned the space in the first place. Whether that means working around unexpected issues, reconsidering materials, or reconfiguring the layout of the space, a designer should be there to field these hiccups as they come. This is where the limited involvement of Yardzen designers becomes a prominent issue. An initially affordable design that is not executable can quickly become wasted money. In the worst situations, poor communication can turn into an irreversible disaster.
How We’re Different
At Water and Earth, we pride ourselves in offering far more than a simple design service with contact info for a potential contractor. Every project we take on is a project we are fully invested in. At every turn, we are available to help you see your vision through. From designing and planning, to bringing in contractors to bid, to reviewing those bids and monitoring the design process, we are committed to offering full support.
At Yardzen, you are paying for designs. But at the end of the day, designs may only get you so far. Once your Yardzen contact has delivered your design, it’s unlikely that they will be there to provide further assistance and if they are, it will likely be an abbreviated experience.
Water and Earth stays in contact with clients in whatever capacity they need. We can be reached by phone, email, text, Facetime, and yes, Zoom. Throughout any design process, we may have hundreds of conversations with our clients. Why? Because we care about the final product as much as we do the initial designs.
But doesn't Water and Earth design projects remotely, too?
We do! However, unlike Yardzen, our remote clients do not have to remain completely remote if a need arises. That’s why we are sure to take on remote clients in areas where we can assist directly should it be required. All of our remote projects are completed in areas where we maintain at least one professional contact from our organization, or a sister organization that we trust. To put this into perspective- in ten years, we have done fewer than ten projects in locations which we have never visited!
At the time of writing, we are working on our 10th remote design for a local client moving out of state into a newly built home. Rest assured, we will be flying in to check out the finished project.
While you sort of have to dig to find feedback on the company, there are a few places you can see what others are saying about them. The first is their Houzz profile which you can see here. The reviews are stellar and really show what those that engaged the company think of their positive experiences. They also appear to have a Yelp page however it looks as though it was started by a disgruntled client rather than the company as the page remains "unclaimed" which basically means Yardzen hasn't confirmed they wish to take ownership over it.
Our Take on Yardzen and who their ideal landscape design client in the Bay Area is.
As stated above, I regularly refer potential clients we speak to, to Yardzen as well as other Online Landscape Design firms. Typically these clients fall into one of the below categories.
The potential client I'm typically going to refer to this company has a budget of 50k or less for their outdoor space. That amount of money is usually going to be difficult to provide the level of work we have become known for but it is going to be sufficient for you to get a nice space with new lawn, concrete, a simple pergola and plant arrangements which the majority of the Yardzen designs do a very nice job of.
I have seen some more complex projects coming from them and am positive they are able to handle higher budgets. This is just my take on a budget that commands a project size that won't too easily be compromised due to the remote experience.
Level of Service
We speak to many potential clients who aren't overly concerned with collaboration and don't necessarily see value in a designer who is going to stay engaged for the entirety of the project. If you as a homeowner have no ideas where to start, aren't overly concerned with what you have installed because you just need something, this may be a great option.
Our design time for the majority of our projects fall into a 2-3 month design time followed by several weeks of contractor negotiations and a multiple month construction process. If you are looking for something simple that needs to be installed and ready to go for a future date, online design is a good way to go.
So, in conclusion: Worth it? Sometimes.
But designing and building custom outdoor living spaces is difficult enough in person.
Building high end custom outdoor living spaces in the Bay Area is expensive. Not to mention lengthy and more often than not, stressful. Usually, an excellent backyard redesign requires local, experienced providers that can forecast issues, handle delays, and make decisions that put their experience to work. Only local professionals will know your market, the unique challenges that the Bay Area presents, and maintain a commitment to getting it right.
At the end of the day, you can pay a little to receive designs from an uninvested stranger without local insight or expertise. Or, you can pay more for a custom-to-your-space design that you know will actually come to fruition. We know which option we’d choose.