A Truly Zero-Maintenance Outdoor Space Does Not Exist

A Truly Zero-Maintenance Outdoor Space Does Not Exist

Any good property manager knows that staying on top of maintenance is key to attracting and retaining great tenants. They are pros at keeping things looking good and up to date, while being careful to avoid overspending. 

Often property managers feel that improving outdoor apartment amenities adds unnecessary tasks to their maintenance staff’s workload. Reports of overburdened maintenance staff cause developers to be wary of new approaches to the design of outdoor spaces. These developers get lost searching for the holy grail of the landscape realm: no-maintenance outdoor space. 

Outdoor Products vs. Outdoor Space

Manufacturers have keyed in to this relentless desire for cutting down maintenance. Now, more than ever, outdoor products with virtually no maintenance are readily available. While you can find many low maintenance outdoor products, a truly zero-maintenance outdoor space does not exist.

By focusing too much on maintenance, developers miss out on worthwhile opportunities to get the most out of their outdoor spaces. Outdoor amenities are for people to use, not just another task for maintenance crews. It makes no sense to spend money creating an outdoor space when you make every decision in favor of reducing maintenance cost. Doing so undermines the reason the space exists in the first place.

It’s far better to design for the people using the space and their experience. Once you have that right, then you can plan for how to keep the maintenance of it manageable. Don’t design a space for particular products. Design a space for people, and then fill it with the right products that will work for that purpose.

High Maintenance or High Value?

Developers write off too many good ideas as “high maintenance” when really, they aren’t going to be that difficult to maintain. It is important to remember that this isn’t your backyard we are talking about. You, the developer, are not personally responsible for maintaining the outdoor spaces of your projects. You should have full-time staff that are maintenance professionals.

So many of us have a difficult time removing our prejudices about outdoor features because we don’t want to do the work to keep up with them. But, it’s like saying your tenants don’t deserve a community garden because you don’t like weeding. You have people on staff who are professionals and you will already be paying them to take care of maintenance. 

Rather than kiboshing a design idea because of its reputation for requiring maintenance, think critically about its place in the overall space. Virtually every developer is okay with putting in a pool, even though they are objectively one of the highest maintenance items out there. Why? Because they know that by having a pool they are providing a key feature that will attract tenants or sell the property. Nobody says no to a pool by calling it a “maintenance nightmare”. It’s worth the maintenance.

Unique and exciting features in an outdoor amenity space are what make people want to be there. The right combination of materials, sounds, and textures make up the environment. Try looking more from the point of view of your future tenants, rather than thinking only of maintenance cost. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to make strategic decisions about your outdoor spaces when you recognize value as well as maintenance. 

Invest in Outdoor Amenities

How do you ensure maintenance costs are working for you? 

A smart developer knows where to invest. Invest wisely and your maintenance costs will be more than worth it.

By all means, limit maintenance as much as possible for the in-between landscape that should look beautiful but doesn’t get much use. Take the savings there and invest them in the amenities. It’s okay to dumb down the design of parking islands and planter beds to get more out of the usable spaces. This doesn’t mean you want to allow any part of your property to look poorly designed or maintained. What it means is – you have created a hierarchy of uses and have invested in each appropriately.

Put the money and higher maintenance items in the spaces that people are going to remember. When your outdoor space is a knockout, you won’t even be thinking about what it takes to maintain it. You and your tenants will be so excited about the space it won’t matter anymore.

What is your outdoor amenity space worth if you attract and keep more tenants? It is worth keeping your maintenance crew qualified and busy? Is it worth saying yes to that fresh design idea that will make the difference for your property?

With this approach, it’s easy to avoid wasting money on outdoor maintenance.