Backyards Are Creating More Opportunities for Multifamily Operators and Residents

The backyard retreat is an obvious perk of renting or owning a home that many residents don’t always experience in multifamily. And while the latest in common-area apartment design hopes to capture that garden or courtyard experience, there’s nothing like your own personal space for relaxing or contemplating work and life.

In multifamily, backyards are seldom a part of the same vernacular of home ownership. But some operators are trying to change.

For residents, it’s outdoor space to call their own for hosting semi-private gatherings or just chilling out with a cold drink and a book on a warm day. For property managers it’s new revenue opportunities and another amenity designed to retain residents and lure new ones.

An untapped market in multifamily

Jody Marquez, president of Implicity Management in San Antonio, said backyards are an untapped market, especially for B and C apartments. The outdoor areas can command an additional $75 to $100 per month in rent while offering residents a little bit of extra personal space and fresh air within arm’s reach of their apartment.

Many A-plus properties, except for high-rises are prime candidates for backyards, she said. They are “definitely a value-add for B and C properties.”

One Dallas developer is adding backyards to suburban ground-floor apartments as residents request them. The backyards, usually cordoned off by wrought iron, are built to order, which saves the property from a massive capital spend converting all first-floor units and raising rent when some residents don’t see the value.

“To me, it’s one of the biggest ROIs,” he said. “You don’t have to spend money until somebody commits. For the resident, it feels more like their personal space.”

New design allows for openness and added security

Chris Lee, president at Earthworks, has noticed an increase in backyard spaces in the last couple of years as apartments battle for more residents by offering non-mainstream amenities. He said several new properties have backyards and suburban communities built since 2000 are adding them.

One four-year-old property in Mansfield, Texas, recently installed 32 backyards.

The concept isn’t entirely new—townhomes and apartments on larger plots have offered wood-fenced areas for years. Spaces typically run the width of the unit—about 8 feet—and are 10-12 feet in depth.

What’s different is that yards are being fenced with wrought iron to retain openness and for security.

“With wrought iron, it’s more open and you can see around you,” he said. “There’s no chance of somebody hiding in the yard,” Lee said.

Photo courtesy of Earthworks

Residents should be protected from liability

With new territory comes things to consider, industry professionals say. Just because the resident may have a backyard doesn’t mean that anything goes. City codes and property rules for grilling, safety, how the space is maintained and used, even liability, are at the top of the list.

Residents should understand they are responsible for what goes on in their backyard and cover themselves accordingly, say insurance professionals. Renter’s insurance should be a part of the equation to protect the resident and property.

“Third-party liability policies typically cover apartment backyards when it comes to things like accidental fires,” said Ed Wolff, president of LeasingDesk Insurance, a renter’s insurance provider. “Unless the damage is caused intentionally, you should be covered.”

Renter’s insurance also covers personal items like furniture, grills and bird feeders left outdoors that could be damaged by weather or theft.

Size and access matters for maintenance

Maintaining backyards typically is left up to a landscape provider but in some cases may fall on the resident. Either way, size, access and a consistent look throughout the property matters. “Most everybody wants the maintenance done by the maintenance provider rather than the resident for consistency sake,” Lee said. “With all the backyards being open they need the consistency of everything being taken care of at the same time.”

Marques said the dimension can dictate whether the resident or a landscape crew takes care of the space. Also, having a way to get into the area to maintain it is something to consider.

“We haven’t done it on all yards, but a gate is preferable so that either the landscaper or individual, depending on the size of the yard, can perform maintenance.”

Lee said all of the backyards Earthworks maintains have gates. A string of eight yards at one property even is connected by gates from one unit to the next.

Maintenance isn’t difficult as long as residents don’t clutter them with furniture and yard décor.

“People look at it as their yard and set out patio furniture, which can be an issue from an appearance standpoint,” Lee said. “It also can create maintenance issues. It’s more difficult to manage, weed-eat around, and not damage any of the resident’s stuff.”

Lee said keeping backyards orderly takes more time and adds to maintenance cost, something some properties don’t always consider.

Backyards can improve retention, attract new residents

The advantages to offering backyards are clear. A small, fenced backyard off of first-floor apartment can not only generate a little extra rent but at least temporarily satisfy a resident’s urge to move into a single-family home. At the same time it can be a nice perk for landing new residents.

“It seems to be more and more of a trend,” Lee said. “It’s something that can help properties retain residents and even attract prospects. And anytime these properties can find a way to get a little more revenue and offer another amenity, it’s a good thing.”

Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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