When it comes to selling a house, landscaping is crucial. But what about renting? The fact of the matter is that in every city there are dozens of ways to approach the landscaping question. Some landlords hire professionals to trim and care for the lawn every week whether there are tenants or not. And some don't care if the lawn grows wild with onions and clover.
Interestingly, these two examples might be equally successful in the local housing market. When it comes to residential real estate, landscaping is always a question of circumstance, not universal best practices. Whether landscaping matters for your rental will depend on everything from location to target audience. Today, we're here to examine whether you should be landscaping and, if so, how much.
Most landlords know how to tackle the basics of lawn care. Keeping the lawn mowed is the absolute minimum for most rental house landscaping. The only exception is if the house is on a rural property (pastures instead of lawns) or on a particularly shabby street where a shaggy lawn doesn't matter.
That said, the minimum only has to apply to the front yard. For a fully fenced and visually occluded backyard, the policies will be up to the neighborhood. The minimum landscaping for an enclosed backyard is safety. As long as the yard is safe for children and pets, and not a home for dangerous debris or wild animals, then the appearance is up to the preference of the landlord or the current tenant.
For many homes, initial landscaping is all you need and it's reasonable to ask tenants to take care of weekly or monthly mowing to keep the lawn relatively tidy.
Neighborhood Standards and HOAs
The first serious landscaping consideration is what the neighborhood standard. What do your neighbors expect to see, and what will/won't stand out on the street of your rental house? Your rental house needs to keep up with the appearance standards of every other house on the street. Not only is this important for attracting and keeping good tenants, but it may also be required by the neighborhood itself.
If the house is in an HOA neighborhood, there are almost guaranteeably landscaping standards. You, as the owner, are responsible for keeping rental house lawns at the neighborhood standards because you are the one who can be fined if they fall below CC&R defined standards. This usually involves keeping the lawn mowed, edged, and possibly a few guidelines for non-grass planting. Be absolutely clear on any HOA landscaping policies and remember that you are the one who will be fined for violations. Make sure all your flowerbeds and inorganic lawn decor
This means you will need to not only set lawncare standards, but also stay on top of the situation from month to month.
Maintaining Curb Appeal
Of course, you also want your house to make a good showing compared to other rental opportunities in the area. Great curb appeal is important to attract high-quality tenants and to achieve quick tenant turnover when it matters. The landscaping curb appeal shapes how good the house looks from the street and even how happy tenants will be to live there, coming home to a beautiful house every day.
For some landlords, maintaining curb appeal means hiring a landscaper only for the time between tenants. But in an active market and high-turnover areas, maintaining the reputation and appeal of the house can matter a great deal. Many landlords in more upscale and suburban neighborhoods invest in regular landscaping to keep homes attractive even if tenants are too busy to weed and trim hedges.
Decide how much constant curb appeal matters to you and when the lawn needs to look it's best. There are many different ways to approach curb appeal as well, from low-maintenance lawns to hiring professional landscapers. A landlord's best friend is a lawn that looks beautifully landscaped and stays that way with minimal maintenance through all the weather your region experiences. For this reason. Xeriscaping (low water gardening) and even decorative gravel yards are gaining in popularity along with low-maintenance flower gardens, shrubs, and trees.
Tenant Maintenance Expectations
Speaking of lawn maintenance, this is another serious consideration for rental house landscaping. You can either ask your tenants to keep up the lawn or take care of it yourself, at your own expense. Most landlords, understandably, prefer for tenants to take care of maintaining the front and back yards. Lawn mowing is normal for tenants to take over, however, there's only so much you can expect.
Most tenants will be able to run the lawnmower once a week, but won't edge and don't know anything about flower beds. If you want tenants to handle lawn maintenance, make it easy with sturdy bushes and wide spaces. And don't forget to assess whether a tenant can reasonably take care of the lawn. If you rent to the elderly, disabled, or otherwise limited tenants they may not be able to do the outdoor labor required. In these cases, you might consider connecting tenants to an affordable service or even a friendly neighbor who can help with the lawn if you don't normally cover this cost.
If you plan to take care of the landscaping yourself, you can do whatever you're willing to pay for. Which takes us to our next point.
The Cost of Professional Upkeep
Many landlords, especially those with HOA houses, choose to hire a landscaping service instead of relying on tenants for lawn upkeep. This has a number of valuable perks. It simplifies the landlord-tenant relationship, allows for tenants who can't do yard work, and gives you near-complete control over the landscaping. But it does come with a cost.
Of course, taking on the landscaping also means absorbing the cost. Some landlords arrive every 2 weeks to do the mowing themselves. Some hire landscapers to maintain the flower beds. The ultimate decider should be cost. Decide what you can afford, or if your tenants would tolerate the added cost to their rent.
Landscaping as a Tenant Perk
Finally, don't forget that landscaping can be a serious perk for tenants when it comes to attracting and keeping great people. Some will love living with beautiful gardens but don't have the time or skill to make that happen themselves. Many will appreciate having the chore of lawn maintenance taken off the list. From busy professionals to families to retirees, having a professional landscaping service for a rental house can be considered a luxury perk.
The key is to be unintrusive. Mowing at the wrong time of day or service when the family wants to use the yard is not appreciated. If you want to offer landscaping as a perk, especially if the cost is included in the rent, it's important to work with your tenants. Let them know your landscaping schedule or offer to adapt to their schedule instead. You also want to check in to make sure tenants aren't actually expert gardeners planning to take over the flower beds as a hobby. Which, of course, is a perk for you instead.
What Should Your Landscaping Policy Be?
Landscaping policies don't just vary from landlord to landlord. They can be different from house to house. And choosing the right policy is vital. Know your neighborhood, know your tenants, and keep the housing market in mind. If you're renting an HOA home with strict CC&Rs, you're more likely to need a reliable and capable tenant or to hire landscapers. However, if you're renting out a rural farmhouse on an acre or more, it may be fine to let the yard run wild as long as it's kept safe.
Make the right decision for each house you manage, start by deciding what the lawn maintenance standard should be. Then decide if it's worth taking this on yourself or adding the cost of professionals to the rent. If not, be up-front with tenants about needing them to maintain the lawn. And have a few solutions ready for great tenants who don't' have the time/ability for yard work. The right policies should develop naturally for each property when you start with the right approach.
Whether your building has rolling acres of lawn or an attractive strip of grass out front, landscaping is a critical part of crafting the appeal and appearance of your rental properties. Each property is unique and the right landscaping solution. In dry climates, a xeriscaped yard can be beautiful without requiring water or maintenance, while wetter climates might need constant mowing and trimming to control the enthusiastic growth of greenery.
If you own a rental property, it's important to have all your maintenance tasks and expenses worked out ahead of time. Here at Vertical Rent, we are dedicated to helping landlords build a profitable portfolio to be proud of. We provide a variety of online tools and available services to help you make each one of your properties both profitable and occupied by tenants you can trust. Contact us today for more landlording insights or helpful landlord services.
About the author
Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America.