The front yard is usually the first thing seen when evaluating a property's curb appeal, so rental yard care, or overall yard care for that matter, is important. Over the last 30 years of property management, we are often asked questions, such as:
- What sort of front and rear yard should my rental property have?
- How much does rental yard care cost?
- Will the renter care for the yard, or should I hire someone to do it?
Often one can discern, or at least accurately guess at, the interior condition of a property based on the condition of the front yard. That front yard is informative in that if it is not being cared for, a good percentage of the time, neither is the interior of the house being taken care of. It's not perfect, but it is a decent baseline.
Let's address these questions, and while doing so let's looks at the small picture and the big picture simultaneously.
What sort of yard should my rental property have?
Front yards come in many sizes, from near postage-stamp-sized to "OMG who's going to mow this nightmare" sized, be it a rental property or the property where you hang your hat. Simply driving through any neighborhood, you will likely see divergent types of yards: all grass, trees and shrubs, decomposed granite yards, and sometimes even derelict, overgrown, weed-infested yards. Once in a blue moon, you may even spot a front yard that resembles a playground. Near me, there is a yard that looks like an honest to goodness theme park. Not only that, but any mix of the above is certainly possible.
First Thing’s First: Yard Upkeep is Important
Straight away, never, ever, EVER let your yard become an overgrown weed infested mess whether you are a renter or a landlord. As a property owner myself, I cannot fathom how anyone can just let their yard go. That is right up there with parking on the grass, you just don't do it. Code enforcement, if your city has it (most do), if they do their job (jury's out on that one), they will cite you for your overgrown weed-infested jungle, or aforementioned car parked on the grass.
The Property Police
Is there a HOA at the subject property? If so, be absolutely sure you are clear on their yard requirements. I have seen and heard all sorts of horror stories about folks having to remove, and/or plant certain species of grass, and/or shrubs per HOA requirements, or risk being cited. Clearly know what they require first.
Rental lawn care best practices
Barring any rule or legislative prohibitions, such a HOAs, or requests to limit or to not water, as California had in place for a while, you are good to go in terms of designing your yards.
If you're a "Buyer Keeper" sort of owner, (or a resident who takes great pride in appearances), this is where the fun starts.
The most cost-effective yard, in my opinion, is grass. Hands down. Period. An average size yard can be seeded and covered in decent grass seed and manure for $100 or less. However, there are downsides:
- Labor. That grass has to be cut weekly in warm months.
- Grass has to be fertilized periodically, at least once a year.
- Grass can use a fair amount of water, more so in warmer months.
- Not all renters think to themselves "Golly, the yard is drying out and dying, I better increase my watering and thus cost myself a higher water bill. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true much of the time.
Counterpoints to the above include:
- Rental yard care labor. The resident can hire a gardener to mow, aerate, dethatch, etc. The downside, expense. The landlord can hire a gardener or a property management company can provide a gardener at the property owner's expense. This would be written into the management agreement.
The upside to providing lawn service is that the landlord has just been granted another set of eyes with which to monitor the property.
I'll be perfectly honest here, as a property owner, I am, at times, less than motivated to mow my own yard. That directly affects my curb appeal, and in a way, my property value. I have a vested interest, and there are a good many weeks I say to myself, "Yard, you're on your own".
- Fertilizing a yard is no big deal, remembering to fertilize is the challenge. Cow manure works great, it is cheap, but it smells bad for a couple of days. So long as you water the yard thoroughly after applying cow poop, the grass will not usually burn. I highly recommend steer manure.
- Each blade of grass belongs to its own little grass plant. As long as each plant gets the right amount of water and nourishment, it generally stays green. It's not rocket science. However, water costs money to somebody, and most home renters also pay their own water bill. It can be a challenge at times to get a renter to think the same way an owner would. Renters have no issue cutting the watering down when it rains; however, when temperatures rise, it can be hard to get renters to up the water. Install an automatic sprinkler timer, and encourage your renter to use common sense in watering. It is their part of rental yard care.
Other yard types
The urban jungle
When I lived in Claremont, California, there was this little old lady who spent hours in the front yard every morning working on her yard. Trimming, pruning, planting. Sadly, it did not look all that great, but she enjoyed doing it, and that's all fine. However, a renter will never do this. They have jobs, and the odds of finding a renter who will take the same care of your jungle is slim to none. And it really is not all that attractive, in a curb appeal sort of way most of the time.
Decomposed Granite for your yard
Decomposed granite yards were a growing segment during the drought conditions in California not long ago, and for good reason: They require little maintenance, and they require little water. Pretty great, huh? However, decomposed granite is not cheap. A 500-square foot front yard can set you back nearly $850 according to this calculator. By the way, that does not include any extras, such as plants and watering systems for any plants. Not only that, but decomposed granite is NOT forever. Periodically you have to add more, because it, well, decomposes.
Astro Turf Front Yards
Grass really is best when it comes to rental yard care
The cost of the grass is low. It warms and colors any yard wonderfully, adding a natural warm element to nearly any elevation. And I know I'll catch some flak for this, but it IS environmentally responsible. WHA?!?!? Stick with me here.
In California, we just went through this whole drought business where watering ones yard was discouraged. In fact, water agencies and the state spent millions of dollars on campaigns extolling the public to cut back watering. Just before that, the state was offering up rebates between $1 a square foot and $4 a square foot depending on the region to convert yard to low or no water yards. As soon as the drought was in full swing those offered conversion funds suddenly evaporated. Ironic, no?
Some of the side effects of this "lower your water use" campaigns included people completely shutting of their yard water, killing their yards. This spawned some short lived entrepreneurial enterprises that offered to paint people's dead yards green. It also spawned an explosion of insect proliferation, mostly spiders. Not watering means not mowing, which means not killing off lawn borne insect populations.
Another irony is that the folks posting the theories of global warming are largely the same crowd who somewhat shamed the folks who grew lawns in their yards. The irony is that those lawns actually absorb low hanging CO2, carbon dioxide. CO2 is heavier than air. The ground is the lowest you can go, grass grows there, and growing grass is actually a method of sequestering (storing) CO2 gasses into growing solid matter carbon. Grass can also be composted, recycled in away. For rental yard care, grass really is the way to go!