5 ideas to maximize your property’s outdoor space and greenery to attract tenants

5 ideas to maximize your property’s outdoor space and greenery to attract tenants

Apartments with outdoor space and greenery have always been sought after, and the pandemic only increased that desirability among renters. Though residents aren't confined to their homes these days, property managers and landscape architects say they expect people to continue prioritizing safe, easy access to the outdoors and nature.

“Outdoor spaces improve our fitness and overall well-being, and do all this wonderful work for the environment,” says Deborah Myers, principal at Boston-based Deborah Myers Landscape Architecture.

Here are five ways property owners can tap into tenants’ desire to connect with the outdoors, with options for any budget.  

1. Low-lift, big-impact changes for existing outdoor spaces

Property owners should think about ways to help tenants actively use existing outdoor spaces, says Myers, whose firm works with multifamily properties in the New England area.

Creating a seating area with a fire pit or grill, for instance, is “bringing the living room outdoors,” she says. Adding lighting or a heat lamp extends use into the evenings and colder months.

Some tenants may appreciate being able to garden, says Chloe Larson, head landscape designer at Chicago-based Farmers Market Garden Center.

Installing raised garden beds may cost $1,000 to $2,000, while container gardens are a more affordable and portable option, potentially making them more appealing to some owners, Larson says.  

If your property doesn’t have a sprawling yard, consider getting creative to convert underused areas into outdoor amenities, Myers says. For example, unused parking spaces might have more value as green space or a patio.  

2. Focus investments on high-traffic, high-profile spots

The desired outcome of these amenities is to make the resident ‘stickier’ so they stay at the community longer. — Roger Daniel, founder and president of Daniel Management Group

If you’re investing in plants and landscaping to beautify your property, prioritize highly visible, well-traveled areas that will have the biggest impact, like entrances and patios, Myers says.

“It’s all about bringing attention to where you want it to be brought,” she says.

When Daniel Management Group renovated a property next to a large park in a Milwaukee suburb, it focused on beautifying the entrance, manicuring the surrounding landscaping and accentuating a pathway with mulch, says Roger Daniel, founder and president of the Chicago-based property management company.  

Daniel Management Group also added a playground, grilling stations and picnic tables and rebranded the property, adding the word “park” to its name.

Outdoor spaces are among the most sought-after amenities, and the playground “helped capture the young families leaving the city,” Daniel says. “In general, the desired outcome of these amenities is to make the resident ‘stickier’ so they stay at the community longer.”

3. Rethink the lawn

Farmers Market Garden Center has had clients ask to replace their lawn with a lower-maintenance landscape, like a pathway winding through mulch beds with plants that are native or attract pollinators like bees.

“A lot of people realize the lawn is boring and a lot of work,” Larson says.

Lawn-free landscaping can require a bigger investment upfront, and new native plants will need watering, she says. But once established, these plants typically just need twice-yearly maintenance, unlike a lawn that needs regular watering and mowing.

Still, before making a big change like getting rid of your property’s lawn, think about your typical tenant pool. Zack Thomas, a landscape architect and principal at Seattle-based Board & Vellum, says he still sees demand for lawns, especially at multifamily properties catering to families with kids or those with a yard large enough to host gatherings. But if the lawn isn’t getting used, you might want to shift to something lower-maintenance, he says.

4. Don’t forget the pets

With 62% of Americans owning at least one pet, it’s a good idea to prepare pet-friendly properties’ outdoor areas for four-legged tenants.

Dogs can be tough on lawns, so carving out a dedicated space where they can run around and do their business can protect the rest of the yard and reduce maintenance costs, Larson says. Dog runs are typically made from materials that can take some wear and tear, like turf, gravel or woodchips.

They can also be placed in less-visible areas tenants typically don’t use, like a narrow stretch along the side of a building.

At Daniel Management Group, properties typically fence the dog run off from the rest of the yard so tenants can unleash their dogs while keeping them contained. At some city properties, runs are on the roof. Even though dog runs take space from outdoor areas, tenants are excited when properties add them, Daniel says.

5. Bring the outside in

There’s evidence that interacting with nature can boost health, with studies finding people experienced physical and psychological benefits after spending time walking in a natural environment compared with an urban area. Bringing nature indoors has benefits, too — good news for property owners with limited yard space and those in cities where frigid winters leave outdoor amenities unused for months at a time.

Easy solutions include incorporating furnishings with a natural feel and indoor planters, Myers says. She and Thomas recommend plants with interesting vegetation that fare well indoors, like birds of paradise, lilies, bromeliads, philodendrons and pothos plants.

A more ambitious option: Cover a common area wall with a verdant vertical garden, or “living wall.”

Plantwalldesign has installed them in multifamily properties on the East Coast, says president and CEO Stacy Coleman.

“Your entire vision is hit with a mini forest. It triggers a lot of positive emotions,” she says.

The walls, which require irrigation, lighting and ongoing maintenance, aren’t cheap: Coleman estimates they can cost $170 per square foot for large walls or up to $220 per square foot for smaller walls.

Moss walls, featuring preserved, though still vibrant green, moss designs, are a more accessible, maintenance-free option at about $110 per square foot, Coleman says.

The moss isn’t alive, so the installations are more like artwork, she says. “But you still get that feeling of lush, dense, green,” she says. “The psychological effects are all there.”

By Lauren Zumbach from Story by J.P. Morgan

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