The Great Outdoors: Creating a Community for your Residents

Last year, the 202-unit Western Station repurposed a seldom used laundry room and volleyball court into a cozy community area that encourages residents to gather and relax, and hopefully entices prospective residents on board.

It’s too early to tell how well a new outdoor gathering spot charged with all the king’s men is contributing to new leases and renewals at Western Station Apartment Homes at Fossil Creek, but the Texas-sized remodel of a common area has certainly made a mark.

Western Station Chess Pieces“It leaves a very positive and very unique impression on prospective renters,” says Community Manager Kristi Greer. “It’s gotten phenomenal reviews from the residents.”

A large outdoor chess set and fireplace is the centerpiece of the makeover that now leaves a lasting impression. In the new Lone Star-themed community room, comfy seating and a festively lit connecting patio with trendy grills have replaced washers and dryers. These are just some of the ways multifamily properties are using outdoor amenities to attract residents.

The area, completed in June, is an upscale amenity twist that gives the community something others don’t have, Greer says. The oversized kings, queens, rooks, bishops, knights and pawns that can be moved about on the black and white synthetic grass that composes the chess board are hard to forget.

“We tell people that when you’re leaving remember that we are the place with the big chess board,” Greer said. “We have had people come back because it stands out.”

Area helps create sense of community which can lead to renewals

Greer said occupancy has maintained 96.5 percent or higher since the end of November for the Class A-minus property owned by Arthur Hill & Co. and managed by Greystar. The new area that stimulates interaction between residents has been a reason why.

When the weather is good, the area buzzes during the evening and on weekends.Residents can reserve space in the community room, which features comfortable built-in furniture that frames a large, open concrete-stained floor. A wall-mounted flat-screen TV hangs over a wet bar that includes an ice maker and fridge, and a restroom is a few paces away.

Western Station Jenga pitThe covered patio is outfitted with a pair of grills encased in stone, and a short walk away are four conversation pits where residents can relax. One area has an outdoor Jenga game. Greer has already seen residents of Western Station bond. The area gets used by all ages and is a great complement to the swimming pool.

Because it can be closed and centrally heated and cooled or open from both ends to capture a breeze, the community room offers a place to get out of the sun. The community room certainly has an adult appeal but kids find the large sofas a place to spread out and do homework or watch TV.

“This area almost forces you to get to know your neighbors,” she said. “When people know their neighbors, they are more likely to renew their leases.”

Creating a unique amenity from those that have seen better days

The area is an example of how apartments can take something outdated and create new amenities for residents by thinking outside the box, Greer said. Ownership decided to revamp the area at the 17-year-old property after traffic to the laundry room declined, since in-unit washers and dryers became more popular. The sand volleyball court seldom saw activity and became a pit for leaves during the fall.

As construction pressed on during the eight or nine months it took to build the area, anticipation among residents built, Greer said. At the grand opening pool party and barbecue on the last day of June, most of the community showed. A local radio station broadcasted live for a few hours and Western Station gave away prizes.

Western Station Chess Board“We had about 150 people show, which is a great turnout for a community this small,” Greer said. “We had residents asking us when it was going to open. There was a lot of excitement leading up to it.” And afterward, too. Social media channels were aflutter as residents posted photos and comments on the community’s Facebook page and other sites.

“It was, ‘Look at what my apartment did’ kind of thing,” Greer said.

Chess board is a key marketing piece when showing off community

Today, the area is a key marketing piece for the community. Prospective residents get a tour of the area, and there is no rush to leave. Property managers might want to consider revamping their outdoor areas.

The chess board, which is commercially available, usually gets a double take. Greer often encourages new prospects to move a piece or two around to get the feel. The pieces are made of lightweight material and can be easily manipulated. Imagine, if you will, a leisurely game on a crisp Texas night in front of the fire place.

“You’re not going to see this at other communities,” Greer said. “It’s just different.” And a marketing strategy that helps keep residents in check.


(Image Source: Tim Blackwell)


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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