Proper Landscaping for your Investment Property
Should I landscape my investment property? I mean, isn't it a waste of money to plant flowers, prune, water the lawn?
There are many aspects of property management that are not glamorous, exciting or necessarily exhilarating. After the adrenaline of the acquisition has faded into the not-too-distant past, there is the day-to-day care and feeding of the investment property itself and landscaping falls into this category. The thinking on this topic is all over the map, including some property owners who believe that the more concrete one has, the better. According to that line of thinking, shrubbery is simply an added expense. I would disagree, however. Remember the primary theme that governs our acquisition and finance of investment grade real estate, namely that we want to own properties that are charming, romantic, and beautiful. That is, we want to own the very properties that people want to live in for all of the intangibles reasons that we've discussed on this website - great properties don't have vacancies, but waitlists, great properties protect our downside because they will hold value better than unattractive properties, and great properties will appreciate faster in an appreciating market.
An investment property with no landscaping lacks all of the beauty, charm and romance that we consider to be critical to our overall real estate investment strategy. After all, who wants to live in a concrete jungle? You don't want to and your prospective tenant won't either. So you should landscape. Tenants who comment on or are attracted to well-maintained surroundings are the types of tenants that you want. They notice beauty and they care about their surroundings. Nice landscaping also tells prospective tenants what your standard is for the care of the building - by landscaping, you setting expectations up-front.
Lastly, good landscaping helps you build relationships with your neighbors, particularly if your apartment building is nestled in a residential neighborhood among single family homes and you do not live close by. Neighbors who appreciate good landscaping will stop you on the street and ask you about your plants, so it's a great platform for starting a conversation, and you want your neighbors to be your friend. They live with your building and your tenants every day, so they are probably the first to know if something goes awry. If you have a good relationship with them, they will notify you right away if they see anything suspicious.
Okay, I agree I should landscape. What exactly should I plant and what shouldn't I plant?
Here are my high-level guidelines for landscaping your investment property:
- Very large trees close to your property that grow quickly with large roots. Very large trees create ongoing maintenance problems that a property owner must deal with on a regular basis, including potential foundation and plumbing problems, not to mention expensive pruning of high branches.
- Very large trees close to your property that shed profusely. Very large trees that shed profusely will tend to clog the gutters of your building, not to mention the mess that accompanies the falling leaves, particularly during the fall. If your building is in the Puget Sound Area, you must also take into account the rain during the winter season and the fact that leaves can clog gutters, which can cause roof leaks if the building has a flat roof.
- High maintenance shrubbery. There is a class of plants called ornamental annuals, which are typically used to provide splashes of color to an otherwise colorless or indistinguishable garden. Examples would include begonias, petunias and hollyhock. These are plants are lovely and they do exactly what they are intended to do, namely provide a garden with color, character and personality. That said, ornamental annuals, however, should not be part of your investment property landscaping plans. Why? They die at the end of the year, so you must replant next year. This is expensive and time-consuming. Save the ornamental annuals for your own personal flower garden. What a property owner should plant is something called perennials. What are perennials? They are the opposite of annuals. They only need to be planted once and they will beautify your investment property for years to come. They require maintenance too. All plants require maintenance, but perennials won't die on you at the end of the year. You will need to be aware of the water requirements, the heat resistance of the types of perennial that you plant, and how vulnerable they may or may not be to direct sunlight. For sunny gardens, try Bergenia Winter Glows, Russian Sage, or Baptisia Australis. Of course, small evergreens are always desirable because they stay green and theoretically live forever. Your best bet would be to visit your local nursery (in Seattle, I would recommend Molbak's in Woodinville) and ask the nursery to recommend hearty, long-lasting perennials for your investment property landscape.
- Other Considerations:
- Consider the basics - climate, location, sun exposure, soil conditions and moisture requirements.
- Choose hearty plants.
- Consider scale (the size of the plant at maturity) to the size of the building. Plants that are too small make a big space look "lonely." Plants that are too big make a place look cluttered. Don't plant tall things in front of short buildings and stuff like that.
- There is the aesthetics part about balancing texture, colors and scale to make sure everything mixes nicely. This requires that you pay attention and develop an "eye" for style.
- Consider the impact of your choices on the building. Plants should be at least one foot from the building, if not more and they should not block windows.
- Other than watering, your shrubbery should not require light weeding, trimming and deadheading more than once a month. Regular fertilizing and preparation for seasonal changes will increase the longevity and health of your plants.
- The "preferred plants" are "hard working" and offer something nice to look at for at least three seasons of the year (bud, bloom and foliage). This is about stretching your landscaping dollars.
- Grass. Grass is lovely, but too much grass creates huge maintenance problems. Grass is also extremely inviting to dogs, cats and other animals. Grass invites animals to do things that you may not want them to do on the grass, at least not on a regular basis. You get the point. Grass also grows quickly in the summer and can make your property look like an Amazon jungle if not maintained regularly and sometimes at significant cost. In the Pacific Northwest, one can create charming gardens with minimal grass that instills charm to your property without the attendant maintenance inconveniences associated with excessive grass. Use your best judgment when it comes to grass, but use grass sparingly. Remember also, in the Pacific Northwest, grass will turn brown in the summer unless watered regularly. Watering grass so that stray animals will have luscious green bedding on which to do their thing will only increase your water bill. So be frugal with grass!
Peter and his wife, Grace, are avid real estate investors in the Puget Sound Area. Peter and Grace focus on the acquisition and management of small apartment buildings (thirty units or less) located in areas that less than fifteen minutes from downtown Seattle (e.g., Queen Anne Hill, Ballard, Magnolia, Capitol Hill). Peter and Grace have two daughters, Sydney (7 years old) and Ashley (2 years old), and they will live in Redmond, WA. To find out more, go to www.peterku.com
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